Sascha Pallenberg is Chief Awareness Officer of aware_, Germany's first sustainability platform with a cross-sector network. In the first part of our three-part interview, //next author Markus Sekulla discusses with the tech and sustainability blogger how the climate crisis could be effectively combated - and how Pallenberg, as former "Head of Digital Transformation" at Daimler's corporate communications, assesses the current eco offensives in the mobility industry.
Hi Sascha, it's great that we can talk about sustainability. Considering your time at Daimler, I bet you have some exciting insights! My first question is about how your interest of the topic of sustainability started ...
There were two key moments in my life: The first was the second geography lesson in fifth grade, when I learned about the greenhouse effect - that was in the early 1980s. And the second followed at the beginning of the 2000s, shortly before I founded my first company, when I sat in front of my grey, noisy computers and asked myself: Why can't they look smart and work more energy-efficiently? I then started exporting these more efficient systems from Taiwan.
I quickly realised that a sustainable lifestyle makes me healthier and happier. For example, in the last year and a half I have stopped travelling and realised that I can do many things from home without pumping 20 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere by flying to Europe and back.
If you look at technology and climate change, how strong is the connection? Would we even be able fight this climate crisis without technology? Or in other words, how much can new technology help to prevent climate change at all?
I have always seen technology and sustainability as two systems that go hand in hand in terms of their dynamics. Digital transformation refers to the process of developing more efficient strategies and ultimately, of course, using them. The fact that these are often also more sustainable solutions is of course good for all of us.
A very simple example: I live in Taiwan. A country where heating is not so well known in winter, but air conditioning is in summer. Last year, I decided to replace my air conditioner and, after ten years, to bring in the latest technology. By the end of the year, it was clear that I had used two-thirds less electricity. This not only vividly illustrates the energy savings of new technologies, but also the savings in our wallets.
In the media, unfortunately, narratives à la "Once we have this or that technology, everything will be better" are often used. In my view, this is total nonsense: all the fundamental technologies that could be used to combat climate change are already available today.
Let's just consider the two forms of energy that we need: One is the energy we need to run this very thing - this interview. In other words, we need electricity. And that leads us to the question: How can we make the complete switch to renewable energy sources?
The second form of energy that we need to power our bodies is our food. Food production on our planet is costly in terms of resources, it is costly in terms of energy, it is costly in terms of logistics - transport from A to B - and last but not least, it is one of the most wasteful industries we know. At the same time, however, we have to contend with food waste of more than a third, and this takes place after the food has already landed on the plate or at least on the retail shelves. So it has already gone through all the energy consumption - the whole value chain of growing, all the pesticides, the effort of packaging, marketing, shipping and preparation. And then we just say "I can't do it anymore" and put it in the recycling? That's a huge problem!
If we manage to make these two energy pillars climate-neutral, maybe even climate-positive, then we are already on the right track. Incidentally, these are also the two pillars that offer the most potential for climate positivity. In other words, how much renewable energy sources can I tap in order to bind CO2 or extract it from the atmosphere in addition to my electricity needs?
One example would be Krombacher's commitment to Borneo, which has received many a shitstorm and accusations of green-washing for its - to put it casually - "booze for the rainforest" campaign. But the fact is: what Krombacher is doing worldwide in terms of renaturation of swampland saves us a comparable amount of CO2 as if we were to actually introduce the speed limit of 120 kilometres per hour in Germany that was discussed in the election campaign. This shows me that good and sustainable solutions do not have to be complicated! Often it takes lighthouse projects with cities or companies that are climate-neutral or climate-positive and thus inspire others.
From your professional past, you are of course very close to the developments in the mobility industry, let's think of electromobility or green hydrogen. How do you assess the potential of these technologies in the fight against the climate crisis?
Well, the share of transport in total CO2 emissions is - depending on the region - between 20 and 40 percent. To put it simply: if we eliminate these, and preferably the emissions from cows as well, we have won! Looking at the car industry, I am not worried at all: manufacturers are investing more heavily in green technologies than at any time in their history. For example, they are now fully geared up to transform their business towards e-mobility. There's no doubt about it: for them, the electric drive is the most efficient thing there is, the most advanced thing there is and also the best thing there is in terms of maintenance and longevity. And it is as clear as day to the manufacturers that they have to make this transformation - otherwise they would no longer be relevant in the future.
Every classic carmaker - I can say this at least for the German suppliers - has long since developed a roadmap on how to become 100 percent climate neutral. And that applies to the entire value chain, including more than 2,000 suppliers. But the questions are: Where does the raw material come from? From which mines is it extracted? Under what working conditions does all this take place? And what diversity considerations are there? I am confident: All this will also become sustainable!
All the justified demands for more sustainability that have become louder and louder in public in recent years have also had an impact on the car industry - if only because of competition. The manufacturers know very well that the kids who take to the streets today and demonstrate for a more climate-friendly world will be their core target group in 20 years' time. And if nothing climate-neutral is offered then, the brand is out. In addition, there is regulatory pressure: if the increasingly stringent emission standards are not met, this will have a noticeable impact.
Do you also see movement in air traffic?
Absolutely, there's a lot happening there, too. I know, for example, that Airbus in Hamburg is working intensively on fuel cells and hydrogen. And United Airlines wants to have an eco-fuel aircraft in the air by the end of the decade that looks like the Concord back then - but flies 100 per cent climate-neutral.
What I think is also socially important: with modern and future technologies, we should be able to get away from the current flight-shaming by the end of the decade. Because flying will also become climate-neutral in the 2030s. Here, too, the regulators will exert so much pressure - also with regard to CO2 pricing - that manufacturers and airlines will have no chance to resist. Incidentally, the same applies to the climate sin of "cruising": already in the coming years, it will no longer be allowed to enter the fjords of Norway with previous fuels. These are all very positive developments!
Thank you, Sascha, for your insights. @All, in the second part of the interview we will talk about artificial intelligence and similar technologies that also help us in the fight against climate change. Until then!
Interview: Markus Sekulla