Sustainability expert Dr. Colin Bien on climate neutrality

Will the world go back to how it used to be? And... do we even want that? Because while we are sitting at home and making our contribution to #flattenthecurve, many smaller and larger changes are happening to our climate. An unexpectedly positive impact that literally lets our environment "breathe" during this time of crisis. What effects will become apparent after just a few weeks, what the world could look like after Corona and what we can do to ensure that this positive impact continues in the future - we have sustainability expert Dr. Met Colin Bien for an interview.

Do you think the world will ever be the same again after the current situation? And should we even want that? 

No, I do not think so. The decisive question here is how strong the changes will be and in which direction they will develop. There are opportunities and risks in the current crisis, it will be a while before we see what will take hold. But one thing is certain: there is a lot at stake. First of all, however, I would like to warn against overemphasizing the opportunities of the crisis at the moment. The impression must not be created that "we" would exploit the crisis for environmental protection and the like. People are dying, financial livelihoods are threatened and the world economy is just pulverizing. In the short term, we must cushion these effects, but we must not forget the long-term goals and risks. More than ever, integrative thinking that combines both perspectives is required. 

Back to the risks: In my opinion, these range from a strengthening of protectionist or even nationalist tendencies, to a relaxation of environmental protection regulations (to get the economy going again) and a loss of relevance of sustainability, to social decline, e.g. due to scarcity labor or resource markets. In Germany in particular, we know all about the fatal developments that high unemployment can unleash. We must prevent these steps at all costs. 

On the other hand, there are powerful opportunities for the urgently needed transformation towards sustainability. Many are feeling for themselves how deeply the crisis is affecting the question of how the economy and society should be organized. For example, while sitting in the home office, we notice that more things can be controlled digitally than we thought. At the same time, one observes with astonishment how capable politics suddenly becomes (when there is a risk of system failure) and how much we as a society are able to change. We "only" have to have a common goal in mind. We should definitely transfer these personal experiences and learning effects into the time after the crisis and make them fruitful for climate change. There is also a great opportunity if we link the support for starting up the economy to ecological requirements and promote sustainable industries (regional tourism, renewable energies, regional agriculture, local (medicine) production, electromobility). We don't have to bail out every low-cost airline or every diesel producer. There is also an economic argument behind this: anyone who saves unsustainable industries now in order to restore the status quo from before the crisis has to spend a lot of money. However, many industries need to be rebuilt to become sustainable, which costs even more money. So it makes sense to tackle a sustainable transformation right from the start. 

What I would like for a time after the crisis can therefore be summarized in three points: transfer the learning effects of the new forms of life and exchange to coping with the climate crisis, link economic aid to eco-social standards and strengthen regional value chains. In my opinion, that's what we should want and I'm also optimistic that it can be achieved. There were great examples of this even before the crisis. If you would like to listen to inspiring stories about the sustainable transformation of the economy and society, you are welcome to do so in my podcast MASTERS OF CHANGE. Anyone who wants to learn specifically how to bring sustainability into a company will find practical knowledge on topics such as sustainability management , sustainability communication or sustainable business models at nRole. 

Airplanes stay on the ground, cars stand still and after just a few days you can read about the positive influence the current situation is having on our environment. What are the most positive effects on our climate so far? 

Cynically, one crisis (corona) has a positive effect on the other (climate), at least in the short term. As a result, Germany surprisingly achieves the climate targets for 2020, since the restrictions on public life and the economy are reducing CO 2 emissions. This can be seen as a positive side effect, but whether this also has a long-term effect depends, among other things, on the necessary ecological modernization in the energy, agriculture and mobility sectors described above. A short-term "breathing" allows the crisis of nature, which can be seen impressively on satellite images from NASA and ESA of China. This shows that the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ) has fallen significantly as a result of Beijing's containment measures, which improves air quality. 

Our waterless piece products have been CO2-neutral since March of this year, and we want to follow suit with all products and the company by the end of the year. What would happen if all companies switched to climate neutrality overnight? 

Climate neutrality always has to be viewed in context. I think it's good when companies deal with the issue of climate and take the first steps. But the principle of effective climate management is 1.) avoid, 2.) reduce, 3.) compensate. In this order. First of all, it should be checked whether CO 2 -intensive processes or routes can be avoided. Of course, this doesn't work for everything. But perhaps the unavoidable emissions can be reduced, for example through better technologies. Compensating for the CO 2 emissions that cannot be avoided or reduced then creates climate neutrality. The remaining amount of CO 2 is saved through climate protection projects (e.g. afforestation) and thus compensated. 

If all companies were now to become carbon neutral , it could happen that this happens without prior avoidance or reduction. That wouldn't make sense, because we want to emit less overall and not simply compensate for CO 2 emissions by growing lots of new trees (the area on earth wouldn't even be sufficient for so many trees). Thus, a switch to climate neutrality would be very welcome if previous attempts were made to avoid and reduce. Then we would see a real effect. 

Climate researchers are currently calling for a “climate corona treaty”. What does it mean and what do you think this treaty would achieve? 

The climate researcher Hans Joachim Schellnhuber brought the idea of ​​the so-called "Climate Corona Treaty" into play, as did other scientists such as Volker Quaschning. This does not mean a real contract, but a kind of "deal". The idea behind this (which has already gone viral in different formulations on social networks) is that the young now take care of the elderly and show solidarity because they are more at risk from the virus, e.g. through little/no contact or the acceptance of purchases. In return, older people should show solidarity when it comes to climate protection, since it is younger people who are more at risk from the consequences of global warming. It would be nice if we could agree on mutual solidarity with such a "generation contract" and then live it more strongly. Since we are not dealing with a legal instrument here, but with a kind of solidarity metaphor, the effect depends on the actual solidarity and assumption of responsibility. In the end, however, something like this would be beneficial for both sides. So let's try! 

What responsibility do you see in social businesses or sustainable start-ups and small businesses like us? 

First of all, there is a great opportunity for social and green startups to show that there is no such thing as “the” economy, but that there are different forms of companies that pursue different goals. Sustainable entrepreneurship helps to illustrate that companies are not only part of the problem, but above all part of the solution. Few organizations structure our lives as much as corporations, and it is clear from this that they are far more than profit-maximizing machines. They are social builders. 

Through their way of doing business, social businesses or sustainable start-ups can shape new forms of business that others can build on. Even if there are often still niches that are occupied, anyone who has dealt with transition theory knows that transformation usually begins in niches and then expands. Thus, this vanguard of entrepreneurship (which should be the norm!) is a major driver of change. It shows that there is another way, and especially after Corona, the argument "that doesn't work" is a very weak one. We now know that a lot is possible if we want it. Among other things, your responsibility is to show that it is worthwhile to solve urgent problems that do not address economic goals. This regularly triggers disruption that reshapes entire industries. 

What can each one of us do now to save our climate from the sofa? 

I heard one of the most beautiful sentences on this question from Ingo Pohlmann at the last deep dive club conference . His battle cry is: “Half speed ahead”! Eat half as much meat, buy half as many clothes, book half as many flights from the sofa. And should you ever drive out the door, cycle twice as much. What is left can then be based on sustainable criteria. This poster, for example, offers a great overview of sustainable consumption . That would have done a lot. 

But that's not all. From the sofa you can, for example, check the electricity provider (green electricity?) and change if necessary, go to a sustainable insurance company or become a customer of a sustainable bank. There are now climate-neutralized accounts. 

Last but not least, the time on the sofa can be used to consider which learning effects from the current situation could help the climate (video conferences) and which ones can also be used more frequently in the future. 

What headline would you like to read a year from now? 

"The vaccine for Corona is finally here!" 

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