Gauck: “You have encouraged other people with your persistence, your wealth of ideas and your vision”

DBU: German president today presented Europe's most lucrative environmental prize in Kassel

German President Joachim Gauck today honoured the new winners of the German Environmental Award of the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU). Gauck: “All three prizewinners have shown us: we can do many things differently even where iron necessity seems to dictate otherwise. We have various options to act: politically, economically, socially, technologically. We can influence developments.” Gauck and Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, chair of the DBU, presented the most lucrative environmental award in Europe, worth 500,000 euros, to the economist and energy efficiency expert Emer. Prof. Peter Hennicke (72, Wuppertal) and the scientist and founder of the company UNISENSOR Sensorsysteme, Prof Gunther Krieg (72, Karlsruhe). The honorary award of the DBU, which has been presented only three times previously, went to Hubert Weinzierl (78, Wiesenfelden) for his lifelong commitment to nature conservation.

German Federal Environment Minister Hendricks and Hessian Environment Minister Hinz among the guests

Speaking about the three prizewinners before some 1,200 guests– including German Environment Minister Dr. Barbara Hendricks and the environment minister of the state of Hesse, Priska Hinz – Gauck described how Hennicke had shown that it was possible to make much more from much less with his concepts for saving resources and energy in the economy. The sensors produced by the other prizewinner, Krieg, detected pollutants and provided the information necessary to avoid damage to the environment and to reuse valuable resources, Gauck said. And, the president went on, Weinzierl had caused people to reflect and won great respect by so doing. Gauck: “And today I would like to personally convey this respect to you and express it very clearly in the name of our country.” Addressing the three winners, Gauck said: “I am delighted to be with people whose persistence, wealth of ideas and vision have encouraged others.”

President sees transformation as a major effort requiring the resolution of all those living in this one world together

Gauck said that it was necessary to develop alternative ways of treating resources and ecosystems if we did not want to destroy the foundations of our well-being. Such a transformation was a major effort requiring the resolution and solidarity of all those living in this one world together, the president said. But he pointed out that the world community in fact consisted of states with very different social and economic systems, very different interests and forms of development. Even though there were people who speculated whether open, free societies perhaps had a harder time that authoritarian regimes in coming to grips with long-term challenges such as climate change, he said, democratic and open societies were more successful, in his opinion. According to Gauck, these socieites were able to learn, kept their options open, considered progress to be a task for everyone, established rules for themselves and allowed and promoted competition to find the best solutions.

Gauck warns Europe to set up a functioning system of emissions trading

Gauck stressed that it was and would remain the task of politicians to set ecological guidelines and to regulate markets in such a way that damage was paid for by those who caused it and that prices reflected the real costs. Then the innovative energy of researchers, businesses and citizens could be directed towards the goal of sustainability, he said. We were not just starting out on this path, Gauck pointed out, because many business people already knew that only those things that are ecologically acceptable are economically viable in the long term. He said that one decisive question here would be whether a price would be put on climate-damaging emissions everywhere at last so that environmentally friendly methods of production, innovative technologies and resource-saving products would become profitable. Such price systems for carbon dioxide were already being worked on worldwide, and some countries already had them in place, Gauck said, but stressed that Europe had to continue trying to establish its own functioning system of emissions trading.

Gauck underlines Germany's co-responsibility for global climate-protection policies

Germany, as the holder of the G7 presidency, carried a share of the responsibility for advancing global policies on climate protection next year, Gauck said. And, he said, the UN world climate summit in Paris at the end of next year should produce an effective global agreement. This could be a “crossroad”, according to Gauck. Gauck: “And I would be happy if I didn't have to speak in terms of mere possibility.” He said such an outcome was all the more desirable in view of the fact that the compromise reached after the last European Union summit in Brussels was certainly not able to satisfy everyone. Gauck pointed out the Germany had much to contribute to bringing about a sensible development in the long term – politically, technologically and also economically – and its citizens as well, “probably its most important resource”. He quoted the prizewinner Hubert Weinzierl as having once said that people should really all have dual citizenship: that of their country and that of the world community. Gauck: “We should at any rate act in the awareness of this double role. And in the awareness that we – more than all the previous generations – have the means to do so.”

Simpler and faster to save a kilowatt-hour of electricity than to produce it

Prof. Rainer Griesshammer, a member of the executive board of the Freiburg Institute for Applied Ecology and a former winner of the DBU's German Environmental Award, and Hermann Josef Schulte, founder of the company HJS from Menden and also a former prizewinner, also spoke of the achievements of the 2014 prizewinners. Both were members of the jury that suggests each year's winners to the DBU Board of Advisors. Griesshammer praised Hennicke as the “efficiency pope” of Germany's transition to renewables, who had worked on this theme for 35 years and whose studies from the 1980s had made today's transition possible in the first place. He said that Hennicke had early on highlighted the neglect of energy efficiency. As an economist, Hennicke had made it very clear that it was cheaper, simpler and faster to save a kilowatt-hour of electricity than to produce it from scratch, Griesshammer said.

Krieg credited with having made a major contribution to the protection of resources

Schulte lauded Krieg's achievement as a “wonderful example” of how cooperation with universities – an important factor for small and medium-sized enterprises – could function. Krieg founded his company ten years after being appointed professor, Schulte said, going on to describe how Krieg mastered the technology of recycling reusable plastic bottles “off pat” and was now an important supplier for the bottle and drinks industry in this sector. He was able to select millions of bottles in the recycling process and process them for reuse. In this way, he made a major contribution to protecting resources and represented a sustainable industry that should see much more consistent demand, Schulte said.

“Giving a man the respect that he has long earned”

Another jury member, the “Zeit” journalist Christiane Grefe, spoke about the winner of the DBU's honorary award, Hubert Weinzierl. Weinzierl was the personification of nature conservation in Germany and had been a key figure with an “enormous impact” for six decades, Grefe said. He was a mentor and pioneer in many areas who had introduced the topic into a variety of fields, above all that of politics, and had protected nature “from bulldozers and pesticides by moving between the chicken coop and the Reichstag,” according to Grefe. Weinzierl had promoted the politicisation of nature conservation at an international level as well on the basis of philosophical and ethical arguments, she said, while at the same time founding a centre for environmental education with his wife from a sense of local rootedness, where many young people had been “infected” by his ideas. These young people now worked in ministries, NGOs and schools and infected other young people with these ideas, Grefe said. The honorary award gave a man “the respect that he has long earned,” she added.

Prizewinners Prof. Peter Hennicke (l.), Prof. Gunther Krieg (center), Hubert Weinzierl and his wife Beate Seitz-Weinzierl (r.) with the German President Joachim Gauck (2nd from the left).
© DBU/Peter Himsel