Media tour showcases innovative ideas for a greener future

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the levels needed to avoid catastrophic climate change will require innovation in all sectors. The second media tour in the “climate and energy transformation in action” series therefore set out to share some of the innovative ideas being pioneered here in Germany, and to examine the trends accelerating and obstructing transformational change in energy production, manufacturing, construction, transport and the way cities are designed and run. The tour brought together journalists from Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, giving them the opportunity to establish new journalistic networks and meet with some of the people powering the German energy transition, known as the Energiewende, from the top down and the bottom up..  

Organised by adelphi on behalf of the European Climate Initiative (EUKI) of the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), this second media tour took place from 10 to 12 October in Stuttgart and Freiburg in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg. The journalists met with representatives of local government ministries and agencies, businesses and developers, as well as researchers to hear about how they are using low-emission technologies and increasing energy and resource efficiency, both to raise living standards and to gain a competitive edge in the low-carbon markets of tomorrow. They also established new networks and exchanged views with their German peers about how to report on climate and energy issues.

Policy stimulating innovation

Ambitious climate targets and policies can provide the public and private sectors with the impetus to innovate more quickly towards low-carbon alternatives. Having received an overview of the main policies driving climate policy at the federal level and of Baden-Württemberg’s own Climate Protection Law, the journalists had the opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussions with different speakers with experience spanning the private and the public sectors, the “green bubble”, and the political mainstream. For example, the tour visited the team at Umwelttechnik BW, the state agency for environmental technology and resource efficiency (UTBW), to learn about the successes and challenges they have faced as a link between business, science and politics in Baden-Württemberg

Innovation in action: two case studies

Also on the programme were two very different businesses pioneering new business models and products to conserve resources and reduce emissions. Based just outside Stuttgart, recycling firm Feess GmbH has made it its mission to ensure that as many resources as possible flow back into the economy. The journalists visited the recycling plant and learned first-hand how the firm has used existing technologies to develop new processes for recycling construction materials and, as a result, create new products, such as high-grade recycled sand and its competitively priced “eco stones” made from recycled concrete. The company was awarded the German Environmental Prize in 2016, and is actively involved in spreading the word about its innovations, recently receiving delegations from China and Qatar. “Feess will make a great economic or business story,” said Dalibor Dobric, a freelance journalist from Croatia

The tour also included the high-tech Freiburg plant of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and gave the journalists the opportunity to talk with Director of Global Engineering Michael Becker, who has been instrumental in implementing energy saving systems in Pfizer plants all over the world. With around 1,000 employees, the pharmaceutical production facility in Freiburg is Pfizer’s largest production facility worldwide and is considered a pioneer in sustainable production techniques. The journalists were able to quiz Mr Becker about the site’s photovoltaic, geothermal and heat recovery technologies, as well as a solar car and energy-saving laboratories. “This will make an excellent case study”, said Naglis Navakas, a reporter for Lithuanian daily newspaper Verslo Zinios.

Green living

The journalists also had the chance to see how cities and developers are innovating to increase residents’ wellbeing, while reducing their impact on the climate and environment. Astrid Mayer from Freiburg Future Lab provided journalists with the facts and figures, before taking them on a tour of one of the town’s eco-districts. The district of Vauban features low-energy buildings and passive houses, as well as a number of buildings that produce more energy than they use. As reported in Jurnalul Prahovean by Romanian journalist Cristina Nicoleta Iancu, the tour participants were also impressed by Vauban’s car-free zones with convenient access to public transport, and the participative processes that have been used to strengthen the sense of community in the area.

As reported in Latvian daily Latvijas Avize, Ivars Busmanis was inspired by the group’s visit to Stuttgart’s new Rosenstein district. This point on the programme provided the journalists with another example of how developers are making their housing projects more attractive to buyers by raising energy efficiency, providing renewable energy and heating systems, and creating convenient access to car sharing schemes.

Looking back and moving forwards

With the tour taking place in Stuttgart, the birthplace of the internal combustion engine, the final day focused on the future of the car and new models for sustainable mobility. A visit to the Mercedes Benz Museum gave the group the historical context needed to consider the trajectories of past and future innovations, while other points on the programme offered opportunities to look into the future with top researchers and thinkers in the field. The group enjoyed a lively discussion with social scientist Frank Ruff, head of the Society and Technology Research Group at Daimler’s Vehicle Concepts and Future Trends Centre. His team are carefully thinking through how people’s behaviour and needs will develop in the smart cities of tomorrow, and he presented the journalists with a variety of future scenarios for how people will live and move around in the decades to come. As such, the tour participants learned about the potential benefits and challenges of emerging trends, such as autonomous vehicles, robotic commercial delivery systems, and vehicle sharing schemes. These ideas were explored further during a visit to the Fraunhofer IAO’s Ambient Mobility Lab, where journalists interacted with the Twizy Demonstrator, a prototype for testing how humans will communicate with autonomous vehicles. They also learned about the institute’s state-of-the-art Micro Smart Grid, which features electric vehicle changing stations and Europe’s first liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) .

Building networks

Reporting on climate and energy has its own challenges, and journalists in this area can support each other by sharing information, resources and experiences. The tour was an opportunity for journalists to forge networks and discuss collaboration with their peers across Central and Eastern Europe. Further, thanks to an evening event organised by Clean Energy Wire, they had the opportunity to engage with their peers in Germany and discuss the big stories for the year ahead and the role of the media in Europe’s transition to a low emissions economy.