Companies and climate protection

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A sustainability strategy’s success is also contingent on all employees pitching in. Mobile working and the home office have rendered office spaces uneconomical in their current form. In AOK Baden-Württemberg’s Projekthaus 13, Fraunhofer IAO has developed a design for a flexi-use space.

The path to a climate-neutral world of work is not a straightforward one — there are enormous challenges that society must address and Apart from what every individual can offer, businesses also have responsibility. Whoever embraces the change will have an advantage.

Although llamas are native to South America, we have recently also come across them in German cities: They now appear as a turquoise pictogram on an anthracite-colored background at parking lots in Hamburg, Hannover, Stuttgart, Munich, Leipzig and Dresden. “Laden am Arbeitsplatz”, which translates to “Charging at Work” in English, or LamA® for short, is the name of a joint project from over 40 Fraunhofer institutes and is the German word for the llama, a cloven-hoofed animal from the Andes. The overall objective is to construct a cohesive infrastructure for researching electric vehicles.

“We want to find out whether acceptance of e-mobility will increase if people can charge their electric cars while they work,” says Dr. Daniel Stetter, Head of the Smart Energy and Mobility Solutions research division at Fraunhofer IAO. At the same time, the project is also contributing to the development of e-mobility in Germany. After all, Germany’s eleventh-largest charging infrastructure won’t just be used by the Fraunhofer workforce. Anyone who would like to charge their electric car is welcome to do so.

The mammoth Energy Transition project

There were approximately 517,000 fully electric cars on the road in Germany at the end of the third quarter of 2021. In order for the mobility transition to succeed, this number must increase significantly. The idea of one day being stranded in no-man’s-land because of an empty battery has stopped many people from making the change to an electric car. This concern is not entirely unwarranted: there were only 25,800 EV charging stations in Germany in the third quarter of 2021. This is another reason why Fraunhofer IAO and its partners are looking for solutions. 

For example, the institute is carrying out a study on behalf of Munich Airport, which will serve as the basis for an e-mobility strategy for the airport. In turn, the LamA® project can be seen as the pilot for a large-scale charging structure for a large organization with many locations. Further, it is based on the idea of the BANULA project, which aims to make sure that all users can recharge at any EV charging station in the country. Furthermore, it investigates key questions with regard to the energy balance of charging processes and the future of grid management. “For the holistic and integrated progression of the energy and mobility transition, interfacing expertise is vital — at Fraunhofer IAO, this is exactly where we excel,” says Stetter.

Germany has set an ambitious goal when it comes to climate protection: The previous government had already specified — and the current administration is in agreement with this matter — that, by 2045, Germany will be climate-neutral. However, the answer to the question of how this will be achieved is not so obvious. It is clear, however, that the goal can only be achieved if everyone pitches in: from politics, society and — of course — industry.

“We are currently sensing a clear growth in interest in the topic of climate neutrality from businesses,” says Stetter. A reason for this may be society’s growing awareness of climate issues. Framework conditions like the price of CO2, which is already having an effect on costs, are equally important. According to a study from the Office 21® joint research project, which has been successfully operated by Fraunhofer IAO in Stuttgart and their partners from industry for decades, more than half of German businesses are already planning steps towards climate neutrality.

A whole range of measures are possible here — from the switch to sustainable energy and electric cars, to the use of energy-saving materials, establishing climate-neutral production processes and services, right through to modern, intelligent offices.Stetter states that a consistent climate strategy will help businesses to save energy and resources, to reduce emissions, dependency on the energy market and, as a result, their costs, and to increase their attractiveness to young professionals. “If you have already made the best preparations possible, you are at an advantage,” says Stetter. 

Four steps to climate neutrality

So where should we start? This is a question that Dr. Anna-Lena Klingler hears on a regular basis. She is the head of the Energy Innovation team at Fraunhofer IAO, where she takes care of concepts under the “energy” umbrella. This also includes the LamA® project, which was designed as a business-related research project to show what one of the four steps towards climate neutrality might look like. It is precisely because the topic is so complex that Fraunhofer IAO founded the “Climate-Neutral Companies” innovation network, where members can discuss obstacles, challenges and solutions, while gaining momentum regarding the ways in which the transformation might be successful in their own businesses. 

In addition to these exchanges, Anna-Lena Klingler recommends that most businesses follow a four-step plan. The first step is a “quick check”, which helps to provide an overview of the current state. In the next step, a road map must be drawn up. “This should answer questions like Where do we want to go? What is important to us? And when do we want to achieve this by?” says Klingler.

After the roadmap comes the third step: prioritizing and implementing measures, as “it is not possible to do everything at once,” says Klingler. Businesses should therefore consider what they currently offer. Perhaps technological modernizations are waiting to be made, through which the high requirements for climate protection can be fulfilled? In return, maybe converting the vehicle fleet can go on the back burner for now.

The fourth step questions whether technological innovations can also form the basis for a company’s new business models. Just putting an EV charging station in the company parking lot does not indicate that a business is moving towards becoming a charging station operator, but according to Klingler, “there are a number of individual and unexpected solutions in this case”. 

Essentially, climate protection in businesses is possible on three levels: Reducing emissions, substituting fuels or raw materials used, or offsetting emissions. According to Klingler, the optimal solution would of course be designing completely climate-neutral products — however, this is not very common in the opening stages. For this reason, and also due to the need for prioritization, reducing emissions is an important first step. If a way to do this cannot be found, there is still the option to offset this financially by sponsoring climate protection projects.

It also comes down to individuals

Climate neutrality in business is not just a question of technology, however — it is also heavily influenced by how people use the technology every day. An example that illustrates this effect well is that of Bloomberg London. The European registered office of the US media company Bloomberg is one of the most sustainable office buildings in the world. An area of around 100,000 square meters was designed around innovative sustainability concepts; the lighting system, for example, requires only 40 percent of the energy used by ordinary high-rise buildings. Rainwater, water from the cooling tower and wastewater are sterilized and reused. Waste is recycled, composted or transformed into a source of energy. This is climate protection technology at its best.

The building will only tap its full potential for protecting the climate if all of the around 4,000 employees working there conserve resources on a daily basis. To do so, they might refrain from using the printer when it is not necessary or use the stairs instead of the elevator, to name just two examples. This is where little “nudges” in the right direction come into play. These might be in the form of a “sad face” displayed on the printer when it has printed out too many pages or a display by the elevator announcing that it will be faster to use the stairs at lunchtime rather than wait for the next lift. These gentle reminders add up to have a positive effect on the carbon footprint.

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The ideal type of “green office” is a place where green buildings, green IT and green behavior interact, according to findings from the “climate protection survey”, which was conducted as part of the Office 21® joint research project.The study was carried out by Milena Bockstahler, Dennis Stolze and Klaus-Peter Stiefel with the aim of figuring out how ready businesses and individuals are to act to protect the environment and the climate. “We found that climate protection is becoming an increasingly important topic for businesses, and we see a lot of potential in making little adjustments to trigger big changes,” says Milena Bockstahler from the Organizational Development and Work Design research division. 

Incidentally, Stuttgart is home to another example of a futuristic green building. Its energy concept is based on a geothermal system, with an innovative automation system that adjusts the heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting throughout the building. The sprinkler system’s tank is used as an energy store for the building’s waste heat, e.g. from the computer rooms or the high-power projectors in the virtual reality laboratories. The effect of each measure is analyzed using an energy measurement and monitoring system. And where is this office building of the future located, you might be asking? It is the Center for Virtual Engineering ZVE at Fraunhofer IAO.