Issue 10

We need to create awareness

Markus Benz

Photos by Oliver SPIES Words by Oliver HERWIG

Markus Benz has managed Walter Knoll, the Herrenberg-based upholstered furniture manufacturer, since 1993. Production takes place in Germany, a high-wage country, and the leather used is sourced exclusively from young European bulls. Knoll knows 25 different types of seam for joining or decorating leather. But what does this precision have to do with sustainability? And is leather still acceptable in vegan times?


Markus Benz
CEO of
Walter Knoll.

Markus Benz has been manager of the traditional Herrenberg company Walter Knoll since 1993. How does the entrepreneur see the sustainable future of the furniture industry?


Leather quality is something that 

has to be felt. Or smelt.

The material warehouse at

Walter Knoll is an olfactory

treasure trove.

Sustainable Quality


Interview with Markus Benz



We have to raise awareness! Markus Benz has been CEO of traditional furniture manufacturer ­Walter Knoll, located in Herrenberg, Germany, since 1993.  You have held ISO 14001 certification since 2019. An examination of the certification process shows that it extends to cover virtually all areas of a company. In concrete terms, what does that mean for your own operations? That’s quite a technical question. In general, certification — in this case, certified sustainability. ISO 14001 isn’t about a single effort or achievement; this is a long-term project. Sustainability gains its impetus to advance from a stream of new projects. As a company we live and breath certified quality, so certification is also about our self-image and one reason why we decided to engage with it in the first place. So it wasn’t just a marketing ploy… No, certification is very much part of our lived reality. As a family entrepreneur, I can’t just run away. I’m here, I’m always accessible. That means I have to take responsibility for everything I do — today, or in twenty years’ time.  What sparked your first steps on the sustainability journey? We’ve always embraced sustainability and responsibility. I’ve been with Walter Knoll for 28 years. For me, the start of a new millennium was an important milestone, throwing up the question: where do we go from here? Before that point there was always a feeling that everything had to be higher and faster, but suddenly a new colour appeared on the spectrum: the colour of the new millennium. And it was blue. The blue of clean air and clear water. What conclusions have you reached from this? There will be a new natural. People will reach a point where their self-image is crucial; not something artificial or insincere, but something profound and fundamental. This created a clear outline for my collection. We have to do things that are natural and that are celebrated naturally. Solid wood is such a sensuous thing, and so is natural leather. Our aim was to enable people to regain their feel for natural beauty, natural elegance, and this gradually permeated the entire collection. After all, we only design a few pieces every year. Minimalism has always been a priority for us; we’ve created enduring products from just a few elements. That isn’t something you can dream up as a marketing ploy and then fast-track through certification.

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