Professor Dr. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker is pioneer of sustainable business. For many years, he has accompanied Daimler as a member of the Advisory Board for Integrity and Corporate Responsibility. His vision: An economy that brings climate protection and mobility together. On the occasion of the World Environment Day, he calls for dialog and rethinking on the way to a climate-friendly world.
Professor Weizsäcker: Climate protection and mobility – how do the two fit together?
First of all, mobility is something wonderful! People have a great need for individual mobility. The automobile was the epitome of the freedom pledge. But it is not the epitome of a climate pledge. Like everyone else, Daimler is called upon to change and become climate neutral. There is no way around this and Daimler has already made some strides. The transformation should continue to be designed in such a way that mobility is not lost in the process.
Professor Dr. rer. nat. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker is environmental scientist, climate expert and former member of the German Parliament. He has been awarded the Grand Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Order of Merit of the State of Baden-Württemberg, among others. From 2012 to 2018, he was Co-President of the Club of Rome - an international association of experts who are committed to the sustainable future of humanity. Today, he is the honorary president of the Club of Rome. Weizsäcker was a member of the Advisory Board for Integrity and Corporate Responsibility and an important partner for Daimler from 2012 to 2018.
How do you see societal development from the perspective of sustainability?
Cities are struggling for space, roads are battling congestion and supermarkets are luring customers with increasingly cheaper food from all over the world. This "crowded" world is out of balance - and I am not just talking about our climate. The saturated world must therefore finally begin to focus on stabilization and ecological recovery.
Statistically speaking, every German emits around 9.6 tons of carbon dioxide per year. According to the German Federal Environmental Agency, in the long run, nature can only be able to tolerate two tons per year. What are you suggesting?
We must all work together to increase the productivity of available resources and reduce CO2 intensity - approximately by a factor of five. The technologies required for this are no longer dreams of the future. The behavior must also change, particularly regarding flying!
So, more resource productivity lowers the environmental impact. Can you give us an example?
To get a vehicle rolling, you need energy. You know this better than anyone. Thus far, this energy is provided by fossil fuels, which, of course, cause CO2 emissions. With the switch to electricity or fuel cells, this disadvantage can be reduced significantly. It is also possible to produce carbonaceous fuels from solar or wind energy. So, this would lead to the climate-neutral combustion engine.
In your view, what is slowing the transformation?
In the last ten years, we have seen rapid technological progress everywhere, but the burden of CO2 emissions has also increased. To ensure that progress is also beneficial for the climate, it is necessary to correct the general framework. This is a job of politics. The burden on nature and the climate has to become more costly. For consumers, too!
Thus, you are an advocate of a CO2 tax. How green can things get without endangering economic sustainability?
Instead of a specific number, I recommend a long-term approach: In particular, the cost of energy containing CO2 should be increased each year by a percentage equal to the increase in resource efficiency that was achieved in the previous year. Right now, it's like this: Efficiency leads to cheaper use. This doesn't exactly encourage us to use this resource sparingly; instead, it has the opposite effect. Therefore, a gentle, socially and industrially acceptable price increase is the right way to go.
The consequences being...?
The pressure to develop or consume climate-friendly technologies, products and infrastructure is rising.
What would this mean for us?
A rising CO2 tax would accelerate your transformation toward a climate-friendly economy. Your product range as a mobility service provider could soon also impress the "Fridays for Future" generation!
Do you believe that the automotive industry will continue to be an attractive employer for this generation?
If you place a stronger focus on your activities in the area of climate friendliness, some of the Friday protesters would indeed apply for a job at Daimler!
Growth can only be sustained in the long run if it is ecologically and socially sustainable. What do you advise Daimler?
In these times of transformation, Daimler must continue to involve and listen to society intensively. In this context, the focus should be on future generations. Think about your stakeholders more than ever before.
You are also one of our stakeholders – what specific wishes do you have for us?
Through my many years on the Advisory Board for Integrity and Corporate Responsibility, I know how exemplary Daimler is in many areas. That is why I would encourage you to continue working in cooperations and to actively seek out dialog - whether with school kids, communities or the State. This is the only way to get any change of perspective.
How did you perceive your work on the Advisory Board for Integrity and Corporate Responsibility?
The cooperation has been extremely enriching and fruitful, both at the working level as well as for me personally. During that time, I myself also learned a great deal and I am now happy to see that together we have given impetus in the right direction for many things.
What role should Daimler play in the social shift towards environmentally conscious individual mobility?
When it comes to technological progress in the automotive sector, you are at the top. From this "pole position" you can, should and must develop your mobility offering in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way - so that as many people as possible follow your example.