According to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, 200 billion euros is the amount of investment required annually in the EU to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement against the climate crisis. Another figure is even higher, but of the same order of magnitude: 6.1 percent, which is a high three-digit billion euro figure, is expected to account for the decline in gross domestic product in the EU this year due to the corona crisis.
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There is no question that there will be comprehensive stimulus packages to boost European (and global) economies after the coronavirus pandemic. How these will look in detail is currently being decided. For many it is now clear: the reconstruction after Corona should be “green”. The aim is to close two crises – the corona crisis and the biodiversity and climate crisis – with one stone. It is a goal that was at least partially communicated by the Austrian federal government.
“Flatten the curve” also in the biodiversity and climate crisis
The problems can of course not be bought from the world with any amount of money. “The biodiversity and climate crisis, like at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, is also about flattening the curve. We will no longer be able to prevent it completely, but we can make the situation manageable, ”says Viennese entrepreneur Markus Linder. He achieved his international breakthrough with the product advice software of his first start-up Zoovu. Customers such as Amazon and Microsoft were won, which in turn made it easier for their customers to make consumer decisions with the B2B software solution. With his new startup Inoqo, Linder remains on the subject of consumer decisions – but in the spirit of the fight against the biodiversity and climate crisis. The startup’s app, which is currently still in development, is intended to show users the effects of their buying behavior and make them comparable.
Consumption as a sticking point
It should be precisely the topic of consumption, which will now show particularly strongly whether the envisaged “green reconstruction” after the corona crisis is a realistic perspective or just an empty phrase. Because a typical goal of stimulus packages, as they are currently being worked out, is to stimulate private consumption. In view of the climate and biodiversity crisis, however, this is more than ever under discussion. Be it resource consumption and ecosystem destruction such as rainforest deforestation in production, CO2 emissions from global supply chains in transport or pollution from waste generation in waste disposal – consumption in many areas contributes massively to the worsening of the environmental crisis.
“In this context, I like the term ‘glocalization’, which is currently being read again,” says Sören Lex. He sets this principle, that is, the combination of global and local thinking and acting, with his company Doing Circular and the product Plasticpreneur around. With the machine sets of the GreenTech startup, consisting of a plastic shredder and an extruder or an injection molding machine, plastic recycling can be carried out on a small scale. This should enable people in developing countries, for example, to build a small local business with the almost inexhaustible resource of plastic waste. In the corona virus pandemic, devices such as “face shields” can be used to produce local waste.
Lex generally believes that people’s consumption patterns need to change to overcome the biodiversity and climate crisis. “Both the economy and growth must be thought differently and in a new way,” he says. But how? While the principle of growth has often been questioned in public discourse in recent decades, Markus Linder sees it “per se not a problem as long as it is sustainable”. A prospering economy is also possible within the “planetary boundaries”. “You can spend 200 euros a month eating steak from Argentinian beef with your friends several times, and you can also spend the same money in a noble vegan restaurant for regional food from organic farming,” says Linder.
Philipp Stangl, founder of the FoodTech start-up Rebel Meat, gives a formula for what this “green growth” should look like: “We finally need the long-cited ‘de-coupling’, that is, economic growth without increasing the use of resources or emissions” In this context, Stangl, whose company wants to reduce consumer meat consumption with “hybrid meat” made from 50 percent beef and 50 percent mushrooms and cereals, also has clear political ideas: “The true cost of products must be priced in. For example, it is about outsourcing environmental or social problems abroad by importing improperly manufactured products. In addition, there is a need for a significantly higher taxation of ‘harmful’ products and therefore relief for environmentally friendly products, for example through a CO2 tax or a VAT relief for organic food ”.
But the founder does not see politics alone as responsibility. On the contrary: “Currently there is still a strong top-down approach to solving the climate crisis and the responsibility of the individual is underestimated. But I think that will change in the future – it has to, ”says Stangl. Many startups would therefore rely on bottom-up models and address “small things”. In general, the founder does not yet see GreenTech startups in Austria where he thinks they should be: “They still live in the shadows alongside digital startups, but they definitely gain attention and importance. They are also slowly coming out of the purely university environment into a broader spectrum, and can thus address and attract more and more talents and different profiles ”.
Sören Lex is also optimistic about this question, but sees room for improvement: “GreenTech is a topic that is gaining ground, especially because Austria is technologically very advanced in some areas. But where there is certainly a lot of catching up to do, there is support in bringing these domestic green tech solutions to global markets and thus positioning the country more strongly. ” So here too – to a certain extent – politics is on the move.
Politics: Learn from the corona crisis for the biodiversity and climate crisis
Markus Linder says that she can learn a lot from the corona crisis when it comes to dealing with the biodiversity and climate crisis: “Clear policy learning is that it can take very drastic measures if it is really necessary and people understand it”. A strategy had been observed that had proven itself: “Initially, ideas were launched, then the mood in the population was checked and the measures were then implemented based on this mood or not. It was nice to see, for example, the push to make the Stop Corona app mandatory, which was brought into the game and then quickly taken back, ”said Linder. In the long term, politics can only implement measures that are supported by the population. “Otherwise there is a risk that the progressive government in terms of environmental policy will be voted out and there will even be a turn in the opposite direction, like from Obama to Trump,” says the entrepreneur. It is important to act “as consumers, entrepreneurs and employees” in order to give politicians the courage to “do things that are necessary”.
Even in this bottom-up perspective, one can learn a lot from the corona crisis for the climate and biodiversity crisis, says Philipp Stangl: “People have to be made clear about their individual responsibility, as is now the case with not shaking hands anymore. And they have to understand that there must be limitations in life so far, such as social distancing, to cope with the crisis. ” And Markus Linder explains: “Many have had the experience that the loss of daily consumption frenzy is actually not that bad”. You could also have a happy life without having “fashion shopping twice a week or constantly having food from the other end of the world”.
“Not everything has to be Instagram-compatible”
What Linder most desires is that “take as many people as possible”: “Not everything has to be Instagram-compatible. You can also define yourself as making a positive contribution ”. For Sören Lex, in turn, the greatest learning from the corona crisis confirms its approach of “glocalization”: “You have seen how quickly a globally functioning and interlinked economic system can quickly start to falter. Regional and local approaches and approaches are required to deal with this. And that also applies to the climate and biodiversity crisis ”.
But what are the chances that coping with the economic crisis triggered by Corona will trigger a boost towards sustainability and green tech? At least in Austria there are clear expressions of will and signals from the government. Three pillars have been defined for the economic stimulus package that is being prepared. One of them is “Investments in greening and regionalization”. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler: “We will concentrate on modern technologies that are able to solve several crises at the same time. This has to do with both environmental protection and digitization. In addition, a focus should be placed on regionalization.
Environment and innovation minister Leonore Gewessler met with Fridays for Future activists before a discussion with representatives of local leading companies on the economic stimulus package to get their input. Positive signals have also already come from the corporate area. For example, Wien Energie CEO Michael Strebl recently said that investments in renewable energies and e-mobility “wanted to” get out of the crisis “- the company also works with startups in both areas. 200 million euros are expected to flow this year alone, and by 2030 there will be more than one billion, according to Strebl.
The two other pillars of the stimulus package
But all of these investments are only a part, just a pillar of the stimulus package. How well you manage to close the two crises with one stone will depend on the effects of the other two pillars: “relief for working people” and “relief for the economy”. In other words, there will be a tax reform, which – as described above – aims to boost private consumption and business investments. And here, even if politics can influence laws, all people – whether entrepreneurs or employees – are again individually responsible. Startups such as Inoqo, Doing Circular and Rebel Meat show ways in which everyone can participate in “flattening the curve” even in the biodiversity and climate crisis. Ultimately, one thing is clear: As in the corona crisis, science has a clear stipulation – there is no way around a change in behavior if the situation is not to become an absolute catastrophe.
⇒ Doing Circular
⇒ Rebel Meat
This article appeared in print in the brutkasten magazine # 10 “Re-Startup after the Corona crisis”