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Robert Bosch, environmental protection and resource conservation

Waste recycling, natural paradise, wool

Robert Bosch, environmental protection and resource conservation

Robert Bosch was a wholehearted lover of nature. From his earliest years on, he was passionate about flora and fauna, which is why he worked to protect them. Throughout his lifetime, nature remained a place of refuge and recovery for Robert Bosch. Moreover, as a business man, resource conservation played an important role in his thinking, because it saved money and was both ethically and morally correct. In doing so, he laid the foundation for a responsible and resource-conserving approach to business, which has been continuously expanded in his company to this day.

Robert Bosch and nature conservation

Lina Hähnle c. 1890, © NABU/Archiv/Magda & Wilfried Knöringer
Lina Hähnle c. 1890, © NABU/Archiv/Magda & Wilfried Knöringer

During Robert Bosch’s time, environmental protection as we know it today was not an issue anyone was actively thinking about, even though the first environmental consequences of the industrial revolution were already quite visible. The concept of nature conservation first originated in Germany around 1820, with the initial objective being to preserve impressive landscapes. In 1872, the Yellowstone region in the U.S. was declared the world’s first national park, while it took Germany until 1920 to create its first nature reserve in the Lüneburger Heide. As early as the late 19th century, people had begun taking it upon themselves to advocate for the protection of individual animal and plant species. Among the early pioneers of bird conservation was Lina Hähnle (1851-1941), the wife of an influential felt manufacturer. In 1899, she founded the Bund für Vogelschutz (Association for Bird Conservation) in Stuttgart, which constituted the nucleus of today’s Naturschutzbund (NABU [Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union]), of which Robert Bosch soon became a member. He knew the founder and her husband personally, and stood behind their ideas of nature conservation.

A Bosch farm

Modern fodder silos at the Boschhof, c. 1930
Modern fodder silos at the Boschhof, c. 1930

Nature conservation was not Robert Bosch’s driving concern at the Boschhof to the extent that economic sustainability was. In 1912, he had purchased some land in Upper Bavaria for the purpose of utilizing the moors located on it. However, the planned process did not prove to be successful and, as a result, he decided to transform the property with its poor soil into a model farming estate. The Boschhof was created from the amalgamation of seven previously independent farms. This turn of events led him back to his childhood roots and interests: “Agriculture in itself is one of the most interesting lines of business there is. It is more varied than virtually any other field, for it has to do with zoology, botany, geology, chemistry, and meteorology in their widest sense.”

His objective was to apply the principles of his industrial activities to farming, not in the sense of agricultural mass production, but to use of the most modern techniques so as to produce high quality products. This project got under way with the help of specialized machines, and a newly developed process of silage making was introduced. The fact that nature conservation was not neglected in this undertaking is illustrated through the implementation of a natural method of pest control for the Boschhof. By creating a true natural paradise for birds on the farm, he had no need for pesticides against insects. This idea most probably originated in discussions with the Bund für Vogelschutz.

Back to nature

Robert Bosch wearing Gustav Jäger clothes made of wool, 1886

Homeopathy and wool

The combination of modern and natural farming was a central issue for the Lebensreform (life reform) movement, which was founded in the 19th century with a focus on getting back to nature. As a young man, Robert Bosch became familiar with this movement through Gustav Jäger. Jäger promoted reform clothing made of pure wool that was intended to better regulate body moisture and thereby be healthier. From that point on, Robert Bosch almost exclusively wore wool clothing. In addition, he would also always first seek out homeopathic treatments for any ailments. His conviction that homeopathy offered great medicinal potential led him to found the Robert Bosch Hospital, which operated based on sustainable economic activity in addition to homeopathic principles.

Resource conservation

Resource-saving combined heat and power plant at the Feuerbach plant, 1937
Resource-saving combined heat and power plant at the Feuerbach plant, 1937

Sustainable business practices were also reflected in Robert Bosch’s entrepreneurship, with the conservation of resources being one of his guiding principles from the very beginning. Time and again, the reminder would come to “Switch off the lights when you don’t need them!” In addition to economic considerations, he was also concerned with ethical motives. A culture of wastefulness, whether in terms of manpower or natural resources, should be avoided. The workplace regulation of 1920 even already featured the guideline: “Waste is to be separated by type and placed in the specially designated containers provided for this purpose. [...] Greatest economy is to be exercised in the consumption of light, power, gas, water, compressed air, and other working materials. The many small achievements of the early years, having boosted the company’s economic efficiency, soon developed into clearly defined initiatives as the company developed. Bosch introduced sophisticated systems for collecting, utilizing, and disposing of waste as early as 1935. Heating is another good example of the considerable efforts made at the time: In the 1930s, the Feuerbach location set standards for saving energy with its new cogeneration plant.

Robert Bosch died in 1942. Though he did not live to see the transition from nature conservation to environmental protection in the 1970s, the conservation of resources that he initiated would become ingrained in the DNA of his company.

Kathrin Fastnacht

I am the head of Historical Communications at Robert Bosch GmbH, and I work on preserving and communicating our company’s long and multifaceted history. Before joining Bosch in 2007, I was employed for over ten years in various museums in an academic capacity. I also worked freelance in the same field. As a historian and specialist in cultural studies, I want to show that history is far from dusty and lifeless, but rather relevant and exciting.

Picture of Kathrin Fastnacht

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