Don’t ask what your planet can do for you. Ask what you can do for your planet.

Toby Ord is a researcher at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. In his new book, he writes that mankind is in a decisive phase: 

Actually, we could look forward to a future that appears to be endless. The Earth will remain habitable for several hundred million years. This is enough time for millions of future generations, and enough time to banish disease, poverty and injustice for good. However, this future is in the balance, because the might that we have achieved through technological progress is so great that we could destroy the basis for our existence and ourselves with it. Our wisdom has not kept pace with our might. It is time for us to develop maturity, coordination and foresight, so that we do not fall victim to our own mistakes.

The Australian Toby Ord is a philosopher. Perhaps he could be accused of being absolutely right, but having ideas that do not stand up to harsh reality, the demands of the economy and the drive for greater prosperity. But that leaves the question, how do we solve the problem that is dominating our time? What do sustainable societies of the future look like?

It depends on everyone

For innovations and a solution to current challenges such as climate change, we need creative systems that are constantly evolving – not only in politics and society, but also in the economy. A good example of cooperation between public and private funds, research institutes and companies is the development of the coronavirus vaccine. The key technology for the vaccine from the Mainz-based company BioNTech was researched in advance at public institutes. This helped BioNTech to succeed so quickly. In general, pharmaceutical development follows a pattern where scientists work on the fundamentals and then form a start-up themselves or seek cooperation partners in the private sector. This shows how different parts of society assume crucial tasks to find answers to urgent questions. Of course, the private sector is also a significant CO2 producer in climate change. This cannot be denied. However, corporate social responsibility and innovations have the potential to make possible resource-conserving and sustainable economic activities and lifestyle at all.

There are clear signs that the business world is changing and is shifting course. “When you look at how financial centers position themselves internationally, sustainable finance is one of the key competitive factors,” says Kristina Jeromin, former head of sustainability management at Deutsche Börse.

We need to talk about it openly and discuss how companies can contribute not just to a better world but to a good one. Sustainability has become a success factor – and environmentalists also see it in these terms. The WWF says:

“The development of greenhouse-gas-neutral and resource-efficient technologies and production processes will strengthen the success and competitiveness of German business in the long term. Worldwide, demand for sustainable advanced technologies and climate-neutral business models is growing exponentially. Germany’s export-oriented industrial companies, research facilities and suppliers can benefit from smart investments in global “climate protection markets” in the medium and long term.”

This is how Continental is positioning itself

Continental has adopted one of the most comprehensive sustainability roadmaps in the automotive supplier industry and is preparing the way for a new, global industry benchmark. This sustainability ambition covers four focal areas. One of these focal areas is emission-free vehicles: From 2022, Continental will be making its global business for emission-free cars, buses, trains and other vehicles climate-neutral. 

Specifically, the Continental Carbon Neutral for Emission Free Vehicles program has the following goals:

Since 2020, the company’s electricity supply has been completely converted to renewable sources.


Our entire production activities will be climate-neutral by 2040.


By 2050 at the latest, Continental plans to be operating 100 percent climate-neutral basis. This will make the entire value chain climate-neutral.


Continental’s climate targets are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Dr. Ariane Reinhart, Executive Board Member for HR and Sustainability at Continental AG.

“With our ambitious sustainability roadmap, we are systematically following the path of transformation to a sustainable economy. This is the critical yardstick for us and for the entire mobility industry. We do not yet have all the solutions, but the markers have been put down for ourselves and for our partners. Sustainability has long been one of the key drivers of innovation at Continental. However, we are taking a major leap forward and embedding it comprehensively in our strategy. With our roadmap, we are setting a course for sustainability more consistently than almost any other company in the supplier industry to date. In this way, we are developing additional profitable growth and competitive advantages.”

How does it look generally in the automotive industry?

After being accused of having acted too defensively so far in climate protection, the global automotive industry is responding all the more vigorously. This development is getting an extra boost from the political decisions on this.

This is because the key drivers of the transformation of the automotive industry are CO2 regulations and climate neutrality targets worldwide and the European Green Deal in particular. With the “Fit for 55” program, the EU wants to save at least 55 percent of CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. For example, no new combustion engines will be licensed from 2035. Regulations will also be more stringent for aviation. In the EU, CO2 emissions are supposed to be practically zero by 2050. Other goals of the Green Deal are environmentally friendly technologies, sustainable industry, sustainable transport and reduction of environmental pollution. 

Concrete directives are then taken from these overarching political decisions. The ambitious funding plans for electric mobility in Europe are one example. But the bans on gas and diesel fuelled vehicles in California and France are also forcing rethinking in the industry. Germany is also following suit: Bavarian Premier Markus Söder is taking his cue from California and has called for no licensing of cars with combustion engines from 2035, even before the EU target. 

Politicians are exerting pressure, but society is also changing. Environmental protection is becoming important for increasing numbers of people, and sustainable vehicles are in demand. And there is yet another good reason to focus on environmental protection: Sustainable employers are attractive employers. A company’s sustainability ambition is playing a central role for current employees and increasingly also young professionals.

More than 40 percent of Continental’s current workforce will likely still be working in 2050. The majority of the no longer working have children and grandchildren.

The “Greta generation” is already entering the labor market. Any employer already positioning themselves as a thematic force and industry leader is securing the support of tomorrow’s talent.

We’re on the right track and in the middle of transition. By 2050 at the latest, we need to achieve climate neutrality, emission-free mobility, a circular economy and fully responsible value chains.

Dr. Steffen Schwartz-Höfler,
Head of the central Sustainability department at Continental



Dr. Steffen Schwartz-Höfler is Head of the central Sustainability department at Continental. He coordinates our global sustainability activities.

We asked him five questions. Click here for the short interview.