ABB is a leading global technology company that energizes the transformation of society and industry to achieve a more productive, sustainable future. Formerly ASEA Brown Boveri, it is a Swedish–Swiss multinational corporation headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland. By connecting software to its electrification, robotics, automation and motion portfolio, ABB pushes the boundaries of technology to drive performance to new levels. With a history of excellence stretching back more than 130 years, ABB’s success is driven by about 105,000 talented employees in over 100 countries.
1. Sustainability at ABB in 2020
2020 marked the concluding year of the sustainability strategy adopted by ABB for the previous decade. They used 11 measures and targets to quantify ABB’s progress toward the nine sustainability objectives they set in 2014. As an organization, by year-end 2020, they met or exceeded nearly all of our quantitative targets. Notably, the company exceeded our targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions, water consumption in water-stressed areas, employee safety, and the closure of identified supplier risks. ABB also exceeded targets for integrity and human rights trainings and recognized that it is now time to adopt new ways of measuring our performance in these areas.
Their 2020 sustainability objectives covered three areas: leading technology, responsible operations and responsible relationships. Each area has a direct or indirect impact on ABB’s business success. In 2020, the teams reviewed their 2013 baseline data in order to track internally the environmental performance of each of ABB’s present divisions over the current reporting cycle, in a manner that reflects the organizational changes at the company, while maintaining the consistency of the reported information.
2. Sustainability governance
ABB’s governance structure enables the business to deliver sustainable growth every year. As part of its overall responsibility for the company’s strategy and targets, in 2020 ABB’s Board of Directors oversaw the company’s sustainability strategy. Over the past year, ABB’s Sustainability Board, comprising the Group Executive Committee, was the operational body that oversaw sustainability policies and programmes, reviewed developments, and monitored progress toward targets.
In 2020, the ABB Sustainability Affairs and HSE (health, safety & environment) and Security functions were responsible for the development and coordination of Group-wide policies and programmes related to their scope of work. ABB’s global management system for HSE and Sustainability Affairs (The ABB Way for HSE and Security Management System), which sets the minimum standards that must be implemented across all ABB operations and activities, included a comprehensive global audit assurance programme. The structure of ABB’s HSE/ SA management system was based on internationally recognized sustainability standards, principles and commitments, including ISO 45001 and 14001:2015.
3. COVID-19 measures
When the pandemic broke out, their first priority was to safeguard the health and safety of all stakeholders, and above all, employees. ABB personnel continuously monitored the evolving situation around COVID-19 and took all necessary precautions in line with local government and WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines to protect people. These measures included restricting access to ABB premises, promoting physical distancing, restricting travel, and promoting good personal hygiene practices. Wherever possible, they made appropriate arrangements for employees to work from home.
ABB also stepped up its response to help employees and their families who were impacted by the crisis, as well as to support relief efforts in the world’s most vulnerable communities. To this end, the Board of Directors, the CEO and many other senior managers decided to voluntarily take a 10% reduction of their compensation. The donated funds have been used to help employees whose jobs and livelihoods were impacted by the crisis.
3.1. Keeping critical infrastructure up and running
While top priorities during 2020 were health and safety, they also did everything to support customers, partners and suppliers. ABB serves society by supplying and maintaining critical infrastructure for many essential goods and services. During the pandemic, they worked with customers and partners to maintain power supplies and services deemed critical by local governments. Teams across the globe also helped customers and partners leverage their existing digital services to keep critical services running safely; at the same time, they found new ways to connect with each other and the stakeholders virtually.
To support customers further, ABB decided to make some of their software services available for free to ensure uninterrupted power for critical healthcare applications and to strengthen the management of commercial and industrial facilities. The Group also found new ways to drive efficiency for customers and partners. The company introduced virtual and remote Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) across many of its divisions. FAT now serves a vital role in the delivery process, which, in most cases, had previously required a physical visit by the customer to the factories.
3.2. Answering the call
In 2020, they worked with governments to assess where ABB could use its technology and expertise to support the manufacture of critical equipment, such as ventilators and masks, as well as to support other aspects of the pandemic response. In New York City, the company partnered with long-time customer Boyce Technologies to rapidly retool and upgrade their production line for the manufacture of emergency “bridge” ventilators. They are working with Boyce to equip an automated production line for the manufacture of N95 masks.
In Singapore, they supplied four IRB 910 SCARA robots, including simulation and programming support, to help enhance the nation’s COVID-19 testing capabilities. And in the laboratory of Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital, one of ABB’s collaborative robots is helping technicians process the millions of medical samples that are handled there every year.
3.3. Providing aid
As well as protecting people and supporting customers, they helped efforts to limit the spread and impact of COVID-19 in communities around the world. Among their CSR initiatives, ABB used their global resources to procure and deliver hundreds of thousands of masks and respirators to hospitals and frontline workers in China and Italy, among other countries. They also launched a Group-wide, global effort to support communities that are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
ABB made an initial contribution of CHF 1 million to the COVID-19 prevention and support effort of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Additionally, the company’s employees from 72 countries made contributions to the initiative, which were matched by the company on a one-to-one basis. Altogether, ABB donated CHF 2 million to the ICRC. More than 90% of donations made to the ICRC are used directly for its work in the field. The money raised by ABB is being used to provide infrastructure for healthcare centres, sanitation infrastructure and crucial goods such as soap and masks in countries such as Nigeria and South Sudan.
In December 2020, the company also made a donation of CHF 1 million to the World Childhood Foundation (Childhood). This will go towards helping vulnerable children worldwide, whose lives have been made even more difficult by the pandemic, which has placed many of them at greater risk of abuse, exploitation and neglect.
Childhood is a global children’s rights organization, founded by Queen Silvia of Sweden. It promotes better living conditions for vulnerable and exploited children all over the world, focusing primarily on preventing violence and sexual abuse directed at children. Finally, at the local level, employees made many valuable contributions to help their communities manage this crisis.
– In Italy, employees donated the value of some of their working hours to support the Abita la Cura (“Live the Recovery”) initiative. All told, 1,069 people donated over 6,600 working hours to help stem the tide of the pandemic. ABB matched their contributions in cash, resulting in donations of more than €300,000.
– In the U.S., employees donated to local food banks across the country, with ABB matching their donations.
– In China, our teams helped with COVID-19-related infrastructure, such as hospitals, in Hubei province.
4. Approach to CSR
ABB’s approach to community-based welfare is to combine strategic corporate partnerships with country-level projects to address local needs. By design, the CSR initiatives aim to provide assistance for the most vulnerable and help sustain progress in the fields of education, diversity and inclusion, and care in the community.
Among the largest programmes, they have a corporate-level agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to support innovative water and habitat projects, while the Jürgen Dormann Foundation assists financially disadvantaged engineering students. They are also members of the select group of Nobel International Partners. Their assistance for local and international educational institutions and programmes provides students with better learning opportunities and helps to recruit qualified engineers and other staff. Support for healthcare and diversity & inclusion can deliver positive social and economic benefits to employees, customers, suppliers and the communities in which the Group is present. Supporting impactful, community-building projects demonstrates our values and helps secure promote social progress.
4.1. CSR of ABB in 2020
In 2020, ABB contributed to more than 340 community projects and charities worldwide. Out of the 67 countries that report on their social activities, 53 countries hosted ABB operations that engaged in community-level projects. While restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic limited our ability to implement many projects and activities, they carried out many new CSR activities in response to the unfolding crisis. In addition to implementing measures to protect the health and safety of employees and contractors at ABB sites around the world, the Group launched a range of new initiatives to help employees, their families and contractors get through this challenging year.
During the opening stages of the pandemic, the company mobilized to support hospitals, healthcare workers and first responders, among others. They directly procured and donated protective masks along with supplies of hand sanitizer and other critical medical supplies. Together with employees, ABB made direct contributions to hospital or community relief. The Group’s employees also took the initiative by, for example, applying their technical skills to the design and manufacture of goggles and face shields for paramedics, nurses and doctors. Notably, they leveraged the company’s unique domain expertise to help customers repurpose assembly lines for the manufacture of ventilators; the company also provided emergency response services for hospitals to ensure their electrical systems stayed online.
To address the pandemic’s many secondary effects, they have reached out to help the most vulnerable. ABB donated money and food to food banks in Egypt, Spain, United Arab Emirates, and the United States, among other countries. In Brazil, they gave non-perishable items from their canteen to restaurants serving affordable meals to underprivileged communities. In India, they delivered packages of essential food supplies to over 22,000 children and their families. In a number of countries, local ABB operations donated personal computers and laptops to schools so that disadvantaged students could attend remote classes during school shutdowns.
Where possible, they upheld their educational commitments to promote STEM education and careers, particularly for girls and women. ABB’s scholarships and mentoring programmes continued in China, Hungary, India, Poland and Sweden, among other countries; given the situation, most of these interactions took place online. These academic programmes also aim to enhance the employability of students by helping them develop their “soft skills” and giving them practical experience in real industrial environments.
5.1. Partnership with National Urban League
In 2020, ABB in the U.S. established a new collaboration with the National Urban League to support education and promote diversity and inclusion. An ABB Foundation grant will support Project Ready Mentor, the League’s signature education programme. Project Ready Mentor equips African-American and other historically underserved youth with the tools they need to succeed at college and in their professional career.
5.2. STEM Education
During the year 2020, ABB also announced it would support the inaugural Ashesi-ETH Master’s in Engineering Programme in partnership with two of the world’s leading universities for technology and the natural sciences, ETH Zurich in Switzerland and Ashesi University in Accra, Ghana. The programme, which is for African undergraduate students with an engineering background, will provide them with a modern, interdisciplinary engineering education over six semesters. Students admitted to the programme will receive a scholarship that covers their living expenses and tuition fees; they will also be required to complete an industrial internship with a partner such as ABB. Upon completion of the three-year programme, graduates will receive degrees from both ETH Zurich and Ashesi University.
5.3. Entrepreneurial education
In Italy, ABB continued its 15-year association with Junior Achievement Italia to mentor the young people participating in its entrepreneurial education programme, Enterprise in Action. As part of this programme, classes set up mini-enterprises for training purposes, developing project ideas from initial concept to launching the enterprise on the market. Thanks to investments in digital technologies and processes, the classes and their volunteer “dream coaches” proceeded without interruption during the pandemic, even in the most heavily affected areas, such as around Bergamo.
6. Health care
Across the world, they made donations or provided services and other forms of support to health initiatives and services. For example, in India mobile health units funded by ABB gave advice and medicine to treat chronic illnesses in the poor and the elderly in rural areas with restricted access to regular healthcare. In New Zealand, ABB provided electric-vehicle chargers to Asthma NZ’s offices as well as to the homes of its nurses so that the organization could begin switching its fleet over to EVs.
6.1. Red Cross
As part of numerous initiatives within the company to support COVID-19 relief efforts, ABB undertook a joint initiative with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This initiative is aimed at directly assisting some of the world’s most vulnerable people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ICRC specializes in providing emergency response and has been at the forefront of fighting the pandemic in places of armed conflict and other situations of violence. The joint ABB-ICRC initiative was launched in early April, with ABB making an initial contribution of CHF 1 million to the ICRC COVID-19 prevention and relief efforts. Additionally, ABB employees from 72 countries contributed to the initiative, and their donations were matched by the company. Overall ABB and its employees donated CHF 2 million to the ICRC.
More than 90 percent of donations made to the ICRC are used directly for its work in the field. The money raised by ABB is being used to provide infrastructure for healthcare centres and better sanitation, as well as crucial items such as soap and masks in areas such as Nigeria and South Sudan. Examples of the direct use of the donations on a local level are readily apparent. “With these donations we can increase our stock of personal protective equipment and support the national society, the South Sudanese Red Cross, to disseminate the message of precautionary measures that the population needs to take,” explains Filippo Gatti, Deputy Health Coordinator, ICRC South Sudan.
In Nigeria, the ICRC is using donations to help farming communities who have been affected by conflict violence and disruptions caused by lockdowns due to the spread of COVID-19. The ICRC has been distributing seeds and financial support to help farmers grow enough food for their families and communities. As a founding member of the ICRC’s Corporate Support Group, ABB has a long-standing and trusted relationship with the ICRC. The partnership has covered a range of topics over the years, most recently focusing on knowledge exchange around the electrification value chain, security cooperation and leadership development.
7. Child welfare
As part of the efforts to promote social progress, in 2020 ABB renewed the partnership with the World Childhood Foundation, a global children’s rights organization that focuses on preventive actions so kids can enjoy a safe childhood. ABB provided CHF 1 million to support the charity during times when many children across the world are particularly at risk as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ABB and the World Childhood Foundation have a longstanding and trusted partnership that started more than 20 years ago, when the company became one of the founding partners of the organization. Established by H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden, the mission of the foundation is to defend the rights of children and to promote better living conditions for vulnerable and exploited children at risk all over the world. The foundation presently supports more than 75 projects in 14 countries, focusing on prevention, intervention and education efforts.
8. Gender diversity in India
Over the past three years, ABB in India has increased the number of female employees in its workforce to 14%, up from 9% in 2017. To make this promising start in gender diversity, ABB India worked closely with leaders from all of our Business Areas and divisions to identify “Diversity & Inclusion champions” in each business.
These champions were assigned to work closely with our business leaders to foster an environment of inclusion across ABB, with a particular focus on enhancing gender diversity within our organization. This further incentivized managers, teams and Business Areas with the introduction of a “Diversity Reward & Recognition” policy, which makes driving progress on Diversity & Inclusion one of ABB India’s core business goals.
ABB India also expanded its training and sensitization initiatives, introducing “Unconscious Bias” training programmes to help managers build an inclusive culture; a “Women Excellence Program” to provide female staff in the Global Business Function with new pathways for success; and the “RISE Women Leadership Development Programme,” which is designed to identify promising female employees within the organization and provide them with professional development opportunities to be ABB India’s leaders of tomorrow.
To enhance its ability to engage and retain female talent, ABB India introduced policies that make its workplace more open and friendly for women. This included permitting telecommuting, a groundbreaking step for an organization that was overwhelmingly dedicated to manufacturing, which involved optimizing digital tools and systems to increase employees’ ability to connect with the workplace from home. It also revamped its daycare centres for employees’ children and made them more inclusive.
ABB India then successfully increased its gender diversity by focusing on hiring female university graduates. The number of female university graduates recruited and retained by ABB India increased from 42% in 2017 to 49% in 2019. In 2020, this figure decreased to 45% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced hiring throughout ABB India. To complement its effort to increase the gender diversity of its workforce, ABB India worked with its vendors to encourage them to hire women, and the number of females employed by some of our manufacturing suppliers increased from 4% to 11% over the same three year period.
ABB India also launched an innovative “re-boarding programme” to connect with former female employees, resulting in the rehiring of 10 of them. Lastly, to monitor this push for gender diversity and ensure that it continues, ABB India set up a governance structure, with Diversity & Inclusion council members working together with the Country Managing Director and the Country Human Resources Officer to track progress over time.
9. Rebuilding critical infrastructure in Beirut
In response to the devastating 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, ABB is donating products and solutions to secure the city’s power infrastructure. Many public buildings, including 159 schools and several hospitals, were damaged or destroyed by the blast that occurred on August 4. More than 6,500 people were injured in the incident, while some 300,000 were left homeless.
Major hospitals and a school in Beirut are receiving products and solutions from ABB to restore and accelerate reconstruction efforts. Working with ABB’s local partner, Harb Electric, ABB’s donations include a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) System for each hospital, along with various smart power and energy distribution solutions. The UPS and smart power components are being supplied as a holistic solution from ABB to future proof the electrical and power infrastructure of the hospitals in the event of blackouts. The infrastructure is feeding all critical loads from operating theatres and rooms with power-sensitive equipment, including X-ray machines, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and respirators. This ABB initiative is enabling Beirut’s hospitals to resume operations and play their much-needed role in helping local communities, curing people and saving lives.
Among others, ABB’s donations are going to the Rosary Sisters Hospital, which was severely hit by the explosion due to its immediate proximity to the port area. The hospital suffered extensive structural and equipment damage that shut down all of its medical and administrative operations. ABB donations of electrical equipment and systems are going to the Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui – UMC and the Quarantine Government Hospital, which continued to tend to the sick and injured despite damages to their structures.
Many of the components donated by ABB are also being used in the Collège du SacréCoeur to fit and replace the school’s ageing electrical infrastructure, which was almost completely destroyed in the blast. ABB smart power and distribution components are assuring the safety of the electrical supply in time for the school year.
When CSR projects are driven by enthusiasm and provide demonstrable benefit to communities, success often snowballs into wider employee support and new project ideas. Community engagement projects typically yield results that are difficult if not impossible to quantify, so ABB is communicating social impact through powerful images and stories.
Disclaimer: This report largely contains excerpts from the ABB Sustainability Report 2020