How to kill a great organisation?:

How to kill our earth: Ignore the real pressure for change and stubbornly follow the old way.

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If we want to keep the world livable, we need a profound rethink in many areas. With the awareness that raw materials are finite and that we are confronted with urgent global problems, it becomes clear how important it is to act. 

For Christian Abl, managing director of the environmental management and recycling company Reclay, faster decisions and faster action are needed. Working in the circular economy for over 20 years, Abl shows how it relies on active and adaptive initiative.

He talks about sluggish approaches, single-use deposit bottles, too slow solutions and why the rapid change in awareness of many people nevertheless makes him hopeful.

Circular economy as an early field of interest

Christian Abl’s heart has been beating for the topics of recycling and sustainability ever since he worked for the waste collection company during the holidays as a schoolboy. During his business administration studies, he then devoted himself to the topic of innovative environmental management and thus ended up with the Circular Economy. In particular, he was interested in how valuable waste can be recycled and used as fuel in industry instead of ending up in landfills.

Abl sees the problems in the circular economy, especially in Austria, in a too sluggish approach to the topic and in a too slow implementation of solutions. As an example, he mentions the introduction of the deposit system for disposable beverage packaging, which has already been implemented in many other countries.

It will not work without a change in consciousness

Abl is hopeful about a more rapid change in consciousness among many people:

„We are now becoming more aware that raw materials are not infinitely available, raw materials that we carelessly dispose of every day. And that it would be good if we really kept these raw materials in circulation. And that of course now leads directly to these materials gaining in value economically.“ 

Abl’s philosophy and also that of his company is to act:  

„Because only when we act will we bring about change. And of course you can’t always know exactly in which direction that will happen.“ 

Abl sees the need for a system break to give more momentum to the topic of circular economy and cites the introduction of the deposit system for disposable beverage bottles as an example: „this also led to a very lively discussion about all areas of packaging management, disposal and recycling“. The European Commission’s target is to recycle 50% of all plastic packaging by 2025. 

For a break in the system, everyone must pull together and actively take the initiative

The aim of the process is to get all actors to work together in this cycle:  

„I don’t think it’s even about what the policy framework is now, it’s about bringing the participants in this cycle to the table, keeping them at the table and focusing on collaboration rather than confrontation.“ 

Abl describes the corporate culture at Reclay as one of active action and setting initiatives. This means going ahead and testing things out.

„A lot of communication, a lot of energy input. For that we need people, that’s what we’re working on and for that we also need the appropriate structures and communication technologies. That is what we are counting on.“ 

Abl’s wish with regard to profound change he describes as follows: „I would wish that we come to a global realisation in the area of circular economy. That means that the problem must be recognised and understood globally and then it will also be implemented accordingly.  

We summarise

How to kill a great organisation: 

  • Trust others to recognise the importance of problems and work on solving them in time.
  • Tinker with the ideal outcome for longer – it is never too late for some solutions.
  • Make important decisions only at longer intervals.
  • Trust that the future can be planned.
  • Leave your silo organisation as it is – this way it is clear who is responsible for what and who is informed on which topics.

This is how you tackle large, complex issues, such as the sustainable use of finite resources. 

  • Don’t wait for others: act immediately! Only in this way will you bring about change.
  • The last few years in particular have shown how unpredictable the future is; constantly question the appropriateness of your approach and adapt it as often as necessary.
  • Build your business model around a powerful purpose and trust that people will be interested in working with you, on whose motivation and commitment they can rely.
  • Focus on problem solving. Bring all participants to the table and focus on collaboration.
  • Keep the whole team informed about the overall portfolio: communication, knowledge sharing, group work, project presentations etc.

The full length interview:

This text was translated by a machine and clearly shows that we still have a long way to go before we are in danger of being rendered obsolete by A.I..

Markus Petz: Welcome to the new episode of the „How to Kill a Great Organisation?“ podcast. Here we talk to people who are crucial to the long-term success of their organisation. My name is Marcus Petz. I am one of the founders of MetaShift and today I would like to welcome Christian Abl, welcome!

Christian Abl: Good afternoon. I am pleased to be here.

Markus Petz: Yes, dear Mr Abl, you are the managing director of Weekly Austria and also of a number of other organisations. Before I ask you to introduce yourselves, I would just like to introduce our main topic today, namely: We want to deal with the topic of circular economy, sustainability and regenerative economy today. Yes, and at this point. Perhaps you would be so kind as to tell us a little bit about what makes you tick – to introduce yourself briefly.

Christian Abl: I’d be happy to. I’ve been in business for almost 20 years now, and I’ve never done anything other than circular economy. I have always had something to do with the circular economy, with industry and the circular economy. Have you been travelling a lot outside Europe in the last few years? That’s why I’ve seen a lot of what’s happening in the field of the circular economy in other countries, such as Latin America, the USA or the Middle East. This is quite different from what we know from Europe. And I have been on the management board of the Reclay Group since 2019. With all of our initiatives in the area of the circular economy, all the way to topics of producer responsibility, and primarily responsible for the area of recycling, i.e. where the materials that are collected are sorted and recycled. For all the countries, especially in Europe, but also in Canada, where we are active.

Markus Petz: Up to now you have said that you have been working for 20 years and always in the field of environmental services. Now my question: How did you originally get there? What was the decisive factor that made you enter this field? What was the decisive impulse?

Christian Abl: It was. That has. That’s a funny question. It has funny and serious reasons.  One of the first reasons was that I had simply stopped when I was a pupil and then I was already allowed to work in the holidays, that you would earn the most money in refuse collection. That’s why I applied there and then, since I was 16 years old, I rode in the back of the rubbish truck in the summer, and more or less really saw and felt it in my body and in my nose, what happens. What was happening. And at that time, at the end of the last millennium, the landfill site was still the one in Austria, that is, everything was collected together. There were separate collections, but in principle most of the household waste was dumped in landfills.

Christian Abl: And that already looked relatively problematic to me. And then I came across the topic of innovative environmental management during my studies in business administration and heard about recycling systems, which probably already exist in other distant countries in Scandinavia, where industries join forces and use waste heat to reuse it, dry waste streams to reuse them as fuel, etc. That fascinated me and that’s why I got involved in the project. That fascinated me and that’s why I approached a company in the circular economy during my studies and had the chance to start my career there and precisely in this topic, namely to bring materials into the cycle, to use energetically valuable waste again in industry as fuel. That was the start, that has shaped the first half of the last 20 years and I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Markus Petz: Now the topic of circular economy is a very, very powerful one, in the sense of multifaceted, also this topic of regenerative economy. If I have it right in my head, Austria, Austrian society, currently consumes almost four earths. Which is too much, if there is only one. So, and this is a big topic now. What is a particular concern for you at the moment? How can you address this big issue? What do you personally want to do about it?

Christian Abl: So let’s go a bit further here. Is it for a person like me who likes to move things along quickly and also achieve goals quickly? Is it already, even though it’s a big topic, depressing in a way. I already thought 20 years ago that we will have solved certain things in 20 years, today, that we simply still haven’t solved today. There has been a lot of fig leaf politics. There are activities that do not really lead to the goal. I spent many years, especially after the. Dan, after the eastward enlargement of NATO and the EU, I was also on the road in these countries. Not much has happened there today. That is sobering. And there is actually something that I would have liked to see as one of the great goals, socially, namely that at least on this continent we no longer simply dump waste here, i.e. dump it unseen. Making it a problem for future generations. We still haven’t managed to do that and we still haven’t moved away from that goal. That is a central point. Today, of course, everyone is talking about decarbonisation and the Green Deal. These are all noble goals. But on the basis of which we always say yes, that is one of the goals. Nevertheless, not much has happened yet. This means that it is still important to talk about these things and make them tangible. To make them smellable.

Christian Abl: And says: The topic is still in its infancy, even though they now call it a big topic. Excitingly, it is now picking up speed, simply because of the fact that awareness is emerging. Or better.

Christian Abl: We are becoming more aware that raw materials are not infinite after all and that these are all raw materials that we carelessly and carelessly dispose of here every day. And that it would be good if we really kept them in circulation. And of course, this leads directly to these materials gaining in value in economic terms. And here I also have great hope that the circular economy will also have a positive effect. One. It will get a tail wind, so to speak, and perhaps develop a little faster in the next few years.

Markus Petz: It’s like that now. If we try to concretise this a bit so that the listeners can also grasp it, then I can remember. You attracted some attention with your open letter to the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber in connection with the planned introduction of a deposit system for disposable beverage packaging. I think that was already in the year 2020. In the meantime, there is also a legal implementation to the effect that, I think, from 2025 onwards, there should be a deposit on disposable beverages. How, how do you see that? Because there is always this argument, well, it’s too expensive. On the one hand, the retailers can’t afford it, and on the other hand, if it is passed on, it might be more expensive for the consumer. So if we try to hang this on this example. You have also criticised it in this open letter. Namely, that the Chamber of Commerce was very resistant to the introduction of such a deposit system and that you said, well, I’m in favour of it.

Christian Abl: Yes, well. My philosophy and also the philosophy of the company I work for and with is to act. Because only if we act will we bring about change. And of course you can’t always know exactly in which direction that will happen. In Austria we had three years ago. Today it is still very similar, but we definitely have the problem that we have a lack of capacity.

Christian Abl: Plastic waste, especially from the packaging sector. That is the large amount of plastic waste that needs to be sorted and then recycled to a high quality. That is a capacity/ a capacity problem. And so it was only logical for us that very, very valuable packaging, such as a disposable PET drinks bottle, which is very valuable even if it is often thrown away carelessly, should be recovered in the same form and condition.

Christian Abl: And with the system of the system, the consumer is obliged to either invest it for the environment and leave your deposit behind with the container. Then you can reinvest it or you get your money back. That was the idea, to say that we have to change something here. We see that it works in other countries.

Christian Abl: And. And in general we have to set a system break in motion, because that not only led to the introduction of the deposit system, but it also led to a very lively discussion about all areas of packaging management, the disposal of recycling in Austria and that also affects other, other countries, where deposit systems are also in place. Fortunately, the discussion is behind us. I would also like to state very, very straightforwardly that we have made a positive contribution to the fact that the discussion is over. So what you mentioned, that it would now have terrible consequences for the economy. And so on and so forth. These things are no longer discussed today. Today, people are talking about how such a deposit system should be implemented.

Christian Abl: What is problematic today is, of course, the time it takes to get there, because you could do something faster and you could also do something more modern. We are now working on this again. So there will be a lot of activity on our part in the next few months, because we are of course now busy with the implementation and would like to cooperate accordingly.

Markus Petz: That is, do I understand you correctly? 20 25 Starting first is too slow for you.

Christian Abl: Yes, that is. This also has something to do with the targets of the European Commission, which we have more or less set ourselves. And we have said that we want to recycle 50% of all plastic packaging in Europe by 2025.

Christian Abl: And we won’t succeed, because we won’t start explaining to consumers until 2025 that they have to take the plastic bottle to the reception system. Then he will have many other tasks that we will burden the consumer with. Where we expect that to be understood so easily. That will be a challenge. That is why I believe that in Austria, as in many other European countries, or for Austria I find it almost, if I may say so, embarrassing, because we have always said that we are a leading country in Europe in the circular economy. We are going to miss these targets by a massive margin. That’s why it’s too late.

Markus Petz: In other words, are you confident that this will be brought forward or has the train already sailed?

Christian Abl: Well, from my point of view, the train has sailed. That is. There were. There were certainly very, very good talks in the background, which we in the public did not hear, about who and when this should happen, if it should happen. And we are now at the mercy of that. That’s something where I don’t think it could be brought forward in any way, is also, I think, not in the interest of those involved. But that is a pity, because we have just seen in neighbouring Slovakia that it can also be done much, much faster. More or less within one and a half years, from the decision to the implementation. The deposit system went into operation on 1 January this year. Was it possible to pull it off then? Of course, it is still very much characterised by inefficiencies at the beginning, but at least from a conceptual point of view it is quite feasible.

Markus Petz: Now I recognise a bit of a pattern when it comes to long-term effects, that we push people away a bit, that is, we push them into the future and don’t want to deal with them now. But now the topic of the circular economy and sustainability is something that, if we are to make a difference, invites us to act now or almost forces us to act? What is your reasoning? How can we resolve this tension?

Christian Abl: Well, it’s also a very exciting question, because the last two and a half years have shown us that more or less nothing can be planned. So who would have expected to be stuck in a pandemic for years? Who would have expected that we would see a terrible war of aggression in Europe? We could not really have imagined that in 2020 at the beginning. And that also shows that the change is happening so quickly and that…

Christian Abl: Yes, that certain decisions can no longer be made in such long legislative periods/cycles. That means that we have to act now.

Christian Abl: And now we are trying to get all the actors who are active in this circular economy to cooperate in this cycle. And that is no small complex task, because here we have transport companies, companies that provide sorting services. Large industrial companies, both in terms of corporate culture and asset structure, have to be brought together around one table. And that is what is urgently needed now. I believe that it is no longer only a question of what framework conditions the politicians prescribe, but it is a question of bringing these, these, these participants in this cycle to the table, keeping them at the table and putting cooperation in the foreground and not confrontation.

Markus Petz: On the one hand, this issue of the long term plays a role in our society, and now we have talked about embedding it in ecology. At the same time, and it is also a topic that I or we deal with very intensively, long-termism also plays an important role in corporate development, at least from our point of view. Now my question: If you operate in such a long-term embedded ecological environment with your organisation, what are aspects or topics of sustainability and long-term development within your company? What is important to you?

Christian Abl: Yes, we are. In our company, we are in the fortunate situation that we also have a goal on the part of the owners to grow in the long term.

Christian Abl: And that also in connection with the activities in the area of sustainability and above all in the area of plastics recycling. Plastics recycling, among many other topics. There is also glass and paper, but we are very committed to this very problematic – or problematic is perhaps the wrong term now – this very important working material, plastic, which must also be properly recycled. We are focused on this material and have a clear commitment to develop it further. And that’s why we are betting. In this, in this market, the circular economy, which from our point of view, is still in its infancy, is very strong on growth and growth. For us, and I mentioned it earlier, this is only possible if we really actively set initiatives on a daily basis. Like us. We must not be reactive here. We must not wait here to see what others do and follow accordingly, but we must go ahead and also test things out. That is what we are doing. So we try a lot of things that also work well. And that’s where the big challenge is, when you have an innovative team, which we work on very intensively, that also generates and produces ideas, that you then also have corresponding operational units in the countries.

Christian Abl: And we are an international company that is also able to implement these ideas, its business models, its technologies with the appropriate energy. And this is where we see our strength compared to the competition, and this is where we are also massively expanding, because we say that ideas alone are not enough. It’s easy to copy ideas, but the implementation and especially the international implementation in different cultural and linguistic environments, that’s something that can’t be copied, that’s not easy to manage, that’s connected with what I would almost call hard work. A lot of communication, a lot of energy. We need people for this, we are working on it and we also need the corresponding structures and communication technologies. That is what we are counting on.

Christian Abl: And we have also decided to align ourselves structurally so that we can also promote this growth accordingly. And we do this through cooperation, because we also see that as a large company, coming from the German SME sector, we still have a lot to learn in the area of industrialisation, process optimisation and scaling. And we are also starting to cooperate intensively with industrial companies in order to learn and work together and possibly also to be able to invest even more in assets.

Markus Petz: When you say long-term growth, a corresponding corporate culture certainly also has a contribution to make. At the same time, the image also comes to mind: How do we succeed in winning over people with the same conviction for these long-term perspectives, for this affinity to ecology? So this keyword „sense-oriented corporate management“ or „purpose-driven organisation“? To what extent does it play a role for you? To what extent are there accents to further develop the corporate culture in this direction?

Christian Abl: Well, as we say, yes, we are in a fortunate situation here, because of course we are in a time when many people, especially young people, are interested in purpose, and we can simply offer this in every workplace because of our business model. In other words, we are a company that mainly deals with the topic of plastics and recycling. And that’s why many people come to us – draw on other offers that they find in this recruiting area, which is quite difficult to deal with nowadays – come to us and tell us I want this very purpose that they are working on. But I also want to work internationally. I also want to have the opportunity to work somewhere else. We are also. We are also very open on the subject of locations. That means we have locations in several countries, also in different cities. That means there is also the possibility of working together in teams and not just being forced to be in one location. And that puts us in a position to grow quite well here. There are pendulum movements in which we grow because we find people who find us or we find them. And then we also need phases of consolidation, where we can then arrange the new know-how, the new network, the new fascination in the company and embed it in the functioning structure.

Markus Petz: And now you have said that the company per se has this purpose because of its business model. Are there any other interventions that you support or concretely implement in the company with regard to cultural work, so to speak, via the topic that naturally attracts people in terms of content? But that is also promoted further, so to speak.

Christian Abl: Well, I would like to. I don’t know if I can describe it like that, but we are also of the same size,

Christian Abl: With just over 200 employees, we are still of a size where we as managers can easily reach everyone. This means that we really try to do a lot with communication, with knowledge exchange, with group work. Knowledge transfers, project presentations, informing the entire team again and again about the portfolio as a whole.

Christian Abl: And by all means. To demand the entrepreneurial. That means not only to work through one’s own task, but also to be able to do it, and not everyone is suitable for that, it is not necessary. But it is good, if you can find and identify that, that people simply develop a broader view, begin to link things they see and experience in their daily work environment with things that happen in other work accidents and thus simply break new ground. We do that very intensively. So this exchange of knowledge and this understanding for the different work areas. And we want to expand this further.

Markus Petz: Well, I have now written down another question that ties in with what you said at the beginning, namely that it is quite sobering to see how change is progressing, especially in this area of circular economy. And that it is quite sobering to see that what one has set out to do is much slower. What do you wish for in terms of far-reaching change?

Christian Abl: That. Uh, I’m still here. Don’t worry. I think. I think.

Markus Petz: Me. That’s good.

Christian Abl: I’ll do that.

Markus Petz: Gladly. We can really hear that they are thinking.

Christian Abl: I think it works. It’s really about that being a wish.

Christian Abl: A wish can certainly be something that is not real and also not realistic. And I would like us to come to a global realisation in these areas. That is, that the urgency of the problem is simply recognised globally. And there are always only small groups, individual countries, different areas that see the need for trade, but it is really something that we can only solve together, which means that the problem must be recognised and understood globally and then it will also be implemented accordingly. Otherwise it won’t.

Markus Petz: Yes, dear Mr. Abl, but then I say many, many thanks for the interview, for the insights you have also given us. And yes, many thanks also to the listeners. If you enjoyed the episode, we’d love for you to subscribe to us via your favourite podcast app. We would be even happier if you gave us a five-star rating or recommended us to a colleague or someone in your circle of friends or family who might also be interested in this episode. Because that helps us continue to attract exciting guests and explore new topics around transformation and change for them. See you on the next episode. Kind regards from the MetaShift team and Markus Petz.