Ladies and Gentlemen:
The previous year was marked entirely by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this crisis (which was largely a health crisis), voestalpine gave top priority to the protection of its employees. Comprehensive safety and hygiene measures were implemented at all of the Group’s facilities worldwide immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic. Wherever organizationally possible, employees worked from home. In addition, voestalpine offered comprehensive testing and vaccination options to its workforce in accordance with the respective national rules and regulations, thus making an important contribution to containing the pandemic.
In economic terms, the outbreak of COVID-19 at the start of the business year 2020/21 triggered a massive meltdown in demand in almost all customer segments. The voestalpine Group reacted promptly by instituting short time work, capacity cutbacks, and cost-cutting programs, all of which made it possible to maintain operations. The economy began to rebound from the middle of the business year. Surprisingly, the momentum in the automotive industry accelerated at a rapid pace, causing a renewed, substantial increase in demand for high-quality steel products. With the exception of the aerospace industry that was hit particularly hard by the crisis, voestalpine’s other business segments, too, recovered as time wore on and have once again returned to high manufacturing capacity utilization. At this time, we would like to express our thanks to all employees who showed true dedication and flexibility despite the most difficult conditions imaginable and thus made a critical contribution to our ability to overcome the crisis.
That challenging time, which is now behind us, once again shed light on companies’ responsibilities in the global context—irrespective of whether the matter at hand concerns protecting employees’ health, securing jobs, or maintaining international supply chains. Climate action has also moved yet further into the spotlight, especially because it has been embedded in the reconstruction plans of both the EU and the US.
For many years now, voestalpine has followed a proactive approach to its economic, social, and environmental responsibility. The company supports the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and participates in industry policy initiatives such as ResponsibleSteel that focus on sustainable production. In order to give due consideration to the growing significance of sustainability to internal and external stakeholders, in 2021 the voestalpine Group adopted a new Sustainability Strategy that defines the quantitative and qualitative targets for our contribution to a better and secure future (see Sustainability Strategy).
One of the key targets concerns climate action. voestalpine is committed to the climate goals and has submitted a clear plan for decarbonizing the production of steel through its greentec steel program. We aim to bring about an incremental shift from the coal-based blast furnace route to green-powered electric arc technology by 2030. This will lower carbon dioxide emissions in steel production by about one third. Over the long term, our plans are to boost the use of both green power and green hydrogen in order to achieve climate neutrality by the year 2050. The voestalpine Group has been pushing this technological transformation through several research initiatives. The EU’s flagship H2FUTURE project at our Linz (Austria) plant is considered the world’s largest electrolyzer facility for the production of green hydrogen in the steel industry. The Sustainable Steelmaking (SuSteel) project at our Donawitz (Austria) plant is developing a process for producing steel directly from iron ore using hydrogen. Furthermore, voestalpine also participates in research projects aimed at converting and recycling CO2. As an industry trailblazer in both climate and environmental action, the company recently obtained a patent for manufacturing CO2-neutral pre-material used in green steel production.
All of our plants continually work to leverage untapped potential with respect to both environmental efficiency and the circular economy. When selecting suppliers, we have always placed great value on their ability to adhere to environmental and social principles, and we use our own Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM) program to consistently verify such compliance.
But our products also make contributions to an environment worth living in. voestalpine supports its automotive industry customers on their journey to sustainable mobility through innovative solutions for lightweight construction and electromobility. In the railway sector—the most climate friendly mode of transport—we already are the world market leader in fully digitalized railway track systems. In addition to the mobility sector, voestalpine also is an important supplier in connection with the expansion of the renewable energy sector, providing materials for wind and hydropower turbines as well as photovoltaics installations. The Group’s intensive research and development activities, which are reflected in a record research budget of EUR 185 million for the business year 2021/22, provides the basis for real sustainability at the level of both products and processes. Strategically, we aim to ensure that all of our R&D projects contribute to our sustainability goals.
These goals can be achieved only with people who contribute heart and soul to the effort and offer their ideas and know-how to the company, day in and day out. The COVID-19 crisis made clear yet again that voestalpine is “one step ahead,” not only technologically but also in terms of the knowledge and commitment of its employees. We can say today that we have emerged from this crisis stronger than before—and that this achievement would not have been possible without the dedication of our global workforce of just under 49,000 employees. One aspect of our Sustainability Strategy thus focuses on their continuing professional and personal development. We will keep pushing the education and training of our own young, skilled workers and will once again enroll some 400 new apprentices in the Group’s training programs this year. Safety and health as well as equal opportunity for all employees have the highest priority in our corporate culture.
Globally, the awareness of sustainable practices—whether at the corporate, social, or political level—grew yet again in the past year. For us at voestalpine, this development points primarily to opportunities. Through our processes and products as well as our highly qualified workforce, we want to help shape the transformation toward a more sustainable world. With this in mind, I hope that voestalpine’s Corporate Responsibility Report 2021 will be an interesting read that will give you exciting new insights into our activities.
Chairman of the Management Board of voestalpine AG