Würzburg. “The will to tackle problems head-on is a decisive factor for success in protecting the environment – for your success, honored Prize recipients, and for the successful work of the environmental foundation. Your achievements confirm this to me: we can look optimistically into the future. We can be of good cheer about learning behavior which involves appreciating the riches of our planet and respecting the limits of Earth’s resilience.” – With these words, German President Joachim Gauck honored today in Würzburg the new recipients of the German Environmental Prize from the German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, DBU), and the DBU itself, in the 25th year of its existence. The President personally presented the award – the highest-endowed independent environmental prize in Europe -- in Würzburg to the entrepreneur Bas van Abel (39, of Amsterdam), the scientist Prof. Dr.-Ing. Angelika Mettke (64, of Cottbus) and the entrepreneur Walter Feeß (62, of Kirchheim/Teck). Van Abel receives 250,000 euros. The other half of the prize money will be divided between Mettke and Feeß.
The tough work of persuasion – inspired by ecological responsibility
In front of around 1,200 guests at the ceremony – including Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks, the President of the Bavarian state legislature, Barbara Stamm, the Bavarian Environmental Minister Ulrike Scharf and her counterpart from Lower Saxony Stefan Wenzel, the Chairperson of the Ecological Working Group of the German Bishops’ Conference and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Freiburg Dr. Bernd Uhl, the Nobel Prizewinner in Physics Prof. Dr. Georg Bednorz – Gauck emphasized that the construction industry is among the economic areas for which particularly large amounts of high-quality raw materials are required. The recycling of these materials is thus even more important. Through the efforts of Mettke and Feeß word has gotten around about how successfully raw materials for road- and building construction can be reused and recycled. The readiness to do so has been decisively advanced by both of them – in their roles as scientist and as entrepreneur. The crucial factors in their success have been the tireless search for new possibilities, and the persistent work of persuasion – inspired and driven by ecological responsibility.
“Providing an impulse toward making sustainability an everyday thing”
The Prize recipient van Abel, too, has pointed out paths leading to responsible action. With Fairphone the issue is a balance between environmental protection, economic interests and social justice. Gauck indicated great respect for the Prizewinner’s achievement in mastering this complex task – from the extraction of the raw materials, through the production of the devices, all the way to repair and recycling. Environmental protection always depends on many people working together, on imagination and scientific curiosity, and on the passion and persuasive power of the many, he said. Because the optimism about the success of green growth, which holds that the compatibility of economy and ecology is not a utopian fantasy, is based on the many opportunities for people to get involved and participate, the President stated. He went on to indicate that he fervently hopes that the example set by all three Prize recipients would act a lesson to all and that their achievements would “provide an impulse toward making sustainability an everyday thing”.
DBU makes millions of people in Germany aware of the significance of ecological interrelationships
In his address the nation’s Head of State also honored the German Federal Environmental Foundation on the occasion of its 25th birthday this year. A long and outstanding partnership binds the President and the DBU. The very creation of the DBU, he said, demonstrates that economy and ecology must no longer represent opposite poles, whereby its founding fathers had staked their hopes on the potential of small- and medium-sized business -- because environmentally-friendly processes, products and services are the motor for growth and jobs. He reminded his listeners, however, that 25 years ago skepticism regarding the “Green Economy” in the major classical industrial branches was still widespread. The DBU’s support measures had therefore produced a twofold effect: they drive the development of environmentally-friendly products and processes. At the same time, worries about environmental protection hurting economic competitiveness are being reduced. The DBU has raised the awareness of millions of persons in Germany about the significance of ecological interrelationships. Its support projects have proven how many opportunities exist for improving living conditions through protecting environmental and natural resources. The spectrum extends from protection of climate, soil, and water to the protection of biodiversity, from the minimal and efficient use of resources and energy, to environmentally-compatible waste recycling and responsible approaches to nutrition.
“We must still address the substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions”
Gauck assessed the dynamic by which the ratification process has driven the progress of the Paris Climate Agreements as an encouraging stimulus. He represented the fact that the USA, China, India and the European Union have ratified the agreements as a great diplomatic success, in the realization of which the German government has played a strong role. As the President stated, in recent weeks we have experienced a gratifying coalition of nations which were able to agree on the coming into force of the agreements less than a year after the Paris Climate Conference. Gauck: “But we know, too, that the actual challenge, the substantial reduction of greenhouse gases, still lies ahead of us.”
Protection of climate and environment: ultimately, a question of our behavior
As the President indicated, this is not only a challenge for the political sphere: the protection of the climate and the environment is, ultimately, an issue of behavior, including the buying patterns of the individual. This is not a new conclusion, but taking it to heart is still not easy for us. Thinking about environmental protection everywhere and always is a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable learning process. Technological progress can, in many respects, simplify environmentally-friendly behavior. Gauck: “But that does not mean that the critical self-questioning, regarding how we live and get around, what we consume and what we do with things we no longer need, is not necessary.” Because, he said, more energy efficiency does not mean that resources are actually saved: sometimes we humans react – in our excitement about the energy efficiency of such products – by buying more and consuming more than necessary. Here, every consumer can and should make responsible decisions. Gauck: “We should dare, from time to time, to take a good look at our own consumer habits and demands. What can be changed, what can I improve?”
With an unbelievable amount of courage, commitment, and idealism, against great resistance
In a discussion round moderated by “Tagesschau” news anchor Judith Rakers, two members of the jury for the German Environmental Prize – based upon whose proposals the Foundation chooses the Prizewinners for a given year -- Prof. Dr. Katharina Hölzle, holder of the Chair for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Potsdam, and Max Schön, President of the German Club of Rome Society, discussed the achievements of the 2016 Prizewinners.
Hölzle and Schön emphasized that all three Prizewinners had solved “tricky problems”, for which there were no simple solutions, with an unbelievable amount of courage, commitment, and idealism, and had done so against great resistance. As “doers” and idealists they had succeeded in implementing solutions ,and coming to grips with the extremely complex United Nations Sustainability Goals.
Concrete made more environmentally-friendly and raw materials consumption steered onto a new track
Hölzle underscored the fact that Mettke and Feeß stand for a rethinking process in a traditionally very conservative industry. They have made concrete more environmentally-friendly and have steered raw materials consumption onto a new track. Mettke has worked for 40 years on this issue. The fact that recycled concrete must be used in Berlin for new building construction now and in the future can be attributed to Angelika Mettke’s work. With his economic and ecological concepts, Walter Feeß and his model company are approaching the recycling of building materials from the practical side. He has never allowed resistance to slow him down. In his industry he has always taken the lead and made progress.
“Creating a new balance between economic viability and ecology”
Speaking of van Abel, Schön emphasized that he has found a global solution to a problem which large companies in the industry were not addressing, and has shown that things can be done differently. In his mobile phone production he also takes into consideration the wellbeing of persons in a transparent manufacturing process, including their working conditions and their pay scale. Banks did not support him, and he financed his work via Crowdfunding – through the solicitation and organization of financial supporters – and successfully brought his repair-friendly, longer-usable product on its way. Schön: “They have created a new balance between economic viability and ecology, and have demonstrated that using sustainable economic practices, it is possible to combine fairness and the pursuit of profit.”
“The slogan for our work is ‘Protecting the environment must be something that makes us happy’”
After Gauck and the DBU Board Chairperson and Parliamentary Secretary of State in the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, had presented the awards, DBU General Secretary Dr. Heinrich Bottermann pointed out in his closing words that today environmental protection and sustainability – after some real setbacks – have arrived at the center of all social and political institutions. The breakthrough was finally produced by the Paris Climate Agreements of last year, which will now actually come into force. President Gauck has been instrumental in encouraging this process, he said: first through his authoritative words regarding the importance of environmental protection, according to which environmental protection is a learning process incumbent upon civilization, which accompanies us throughout our lives. In addition, Gauck has presented the German Environmental Award five times in a row, although it is certain that other matters were much higher up on his agenda. Bottermann addressed Gauck directly: “One thing we will always associate with your time in office: the phrase, born in Osnabrück in 2013: ‘Protecting the environment must be something that makes us happy’ is now the slogan for our work.”