We meet Tina Teucher at the Impact Hub in Munich. The co-working space for the creative scene is located in what was formerly a large kitchen warehouse very close to the Grossmarkthalle. In the hub, young people sit at tables with laptops or engage in lively discussions in glassed-in rooms. Tina Teucher walks quickly through the floor in search of the room she has booked for our conversation. On the way, she says that a lot is happening already in the field of sustainability and that this is a good sign.
That’s exactly what we want to talk to her about …
So, what are you observing, Ms Teucher?
Ich sehe zwei Trends: Zum einen ist das Thema Nachhaltigkeit so Tina Teucher: I see two trends: On the one hand, the topic of sustainability has penetrated the consciousness of the masses as never before. Not least through movements like Fridays for Future, it has literally arrived at the kitchen table. And it is via the generation that will be directly affected by the predicted consequences of climate change. It is the young people who are demanding that we change something. For them, climate change is not an abstract problem in the distant future; they care about their own future. For them, it’s not about hugging a few trees – it’s about survival.
And the second trend?
The coronavirus crisis has also changed people’s thinking. Life literally came to a standstill for many months, and now we can think about what we want to retain from the time before the pandemic and what we want to change.
What about sustainability in the corporate world?
There, too, it’s more relevant than ever, because customers demand it and government regulations require it. No company can avoid dealing with its responsibility today, let alone tomorrow.
We have been talking about the necessity of sustainable business for decades.
Yes, but in the meantime, action is also being taken, and more and more often it’s because people are now intrinsically convinced that there is no other way. There’s a shift underway from shareholder value to stakeholder value.
You mean statements like those of Laurence Douglas Fink, CEO of the world’s largest investment company, Blackrock, who called on companies to operate more sustainably?
He even said that, in future, Blackrock would only invest in so-called purpose-driven companies – that is, companies that operate in both a financial and meaningful way. Or consider the landmark ruling of a court in The Hague against the oil company Shell, which now has to change its business policy with a view to climate protection. Now is the time when most companies can still voluntarily and actively shape the change. Those who miss the boat run the risk of having their licence to operate withdrawn in the future. By 2050, companies in the EU will have to be climate neutral; the CO2 price will rise and, with it, the economic pressure to operate more sustainably. Those who do not do so are taking enormous economic risks today.
Nevertheless, the majority of cars on the roads still have combustion engines, and the world does not look much different than it did 10 years ago.
Well yes, of course it won’t happen overnight, but from today’s perspective one can be optimistic and ask when, if not now. I see a growing conviction everywhere that we have to do business sustainably.
The term ‘sustainability’ has already been overused in our conversation, and even more so in the public debate. How do you define it?
For me, it’s primarily based on the idea of a circular economy – nature shows us how. But you’re right. We have to focus more on what sustainable actually means, what possibilities there are. Take sustainable building: that is one of the most important levers to reduce greenhouse gases. Yet the subject is almost completely absent from architectural studies today. This knowledge gap is a big problem. I’m convinced that we already have all the solutions and technologies we need for sustainable and climate-neutral building. It’s just that too few people know about them.
What can we do about that?
We have to get to grips with materials much more. Not only high-tech – wood, clay and straw are also sustainable building materials, and a lot of knowledge about them has been lost in the past. There would be no shame in reanimating it, and together with digitalisation and artificial intelligence, we would have enormous opportunities.
But isn’t that the problem? There are many possibilities, but they’re usually too expensive to extend beyond use in pilot projects.
But that’s only true if we don’t calculate the real costs. The CO2 price will rise sooner or later. Together with other measures, we will get closer and closer to the true costs, and then sustainable projects will no longer be more expensive. We have to stop still thinking in terms of pilot projects. Sustainable technologies are no longer dreams of the future – they could have been standard long ago. And for that to become reality, the public will to shape things is, of course, also required; in public tenders, for example, price must no longer be the only criterion.
In the Netherlands, up to 50% of the award decision can be based on criteria other than price, namely sustainable and social aspects. And of course, market-leading companies like STRABAG are also called upon to make offers to the clients, to show what is possible. They can push innovations for sustainable technologies, or use their influence to motivate suppliers to work sustainably.
Is there anything you miss these days on construction sites?
I regularly go on little construction site tours with my godchildren, and the boys can watch the action there for hours. But we never see a hybrid excavator, and I wonder why not, given it’d be a simple step to save a remarkable 25% of fuel. And when you realise that 60–80% of all climate-damaging emissions in road construction are due to fuel, I can’t fathom why no one in the construction industry exploits such potential.
Perhaps there is a lack of supply?
If so, I would say, demand it of your suppliers! Market power also means responsibility. Companies have a voice; they can help shape society responsibly. STRABAG is a shaper of our future, of the living environment of many millions of people. Isn’t this a wonderful opportunity to show what is possible? Isn’t this an opportunity to ask every customer and supplier: What do you stand for? In building construction, for example, a client shows what he stands for in the way a building is designed. That is branding, image, and at best it is orientated towards the common good.
What do you mean by that, specifically?
This is exactly the question every company should ask itself today. In Bavaria, the common-good orientation of the economy is even anchored in the constitution. If a construction company wants to orientate itself towards the common good, then many issues come to mind: What can be done about high rents? How can we support sustainable practices such as urban farming or the generation of renewable energy on buildings? Can we put an end to land grabbing, to not only build in cities but also re-naturalise them and design buildings as ecosystems as well? Construction companies can certainly help develop solutions to these challenges.
What sustainable ideas for buildings fascinate you?
It’s often the very simple things – a green roof, for example. This results in a whole range of advantages: green roofs last longer, they provide cooling in summer, capture fine dust very effectively, and bind carbon dioxide. Those who unseal the soil also save on sewage fees
Are you worried about the future, or are you optimistic?
Of course one has to be worried, given the current development. None of us can imagine today what conditions we will live under in 2050. There is a song by the children’s band Deine Freunde, called `Ein ganz normaler Sommertag ́, which means ‘just a normal summer day’, and it’s about Christmas 2040: Christmas Eve everyone is celebrating on the beach, sunburned and sweating. It’s actually quite funny, but the problem is that this is exactly what will become reality in the Northern hemisphere if we carry on like this.
In your opinion, can climate change still be stopped?
It is admittedly already in full swing. But we can still mitigate it and prevent it from going beyond certain tipping points. In 2015, scientists presented their report on planetary boundaries in nine dimensions at the World Economic Forum in Davos. As of today, the limits have already been exceeded in four of these nine dimensions, climate change included. We are also seeing a dramatic development in biodiversity; for example: we are losing species every day that we don’t even know about yet, which might one day have otherwise given us a new medicine, a helpful innovation, or myriad other important things.
What else can we do?
I define a sustainable economy on the basis of six C, the first being the core business. All companies must question this, meaning they need to take an honest stance on whether their core business can be run sustainably at all. If not, it’s time for a realignment of the business model. The second is climate neutrality. Here, it’s important to set ambitious goals, preferably using the Science Based Targets, orientated towards the Paris Climate Agreement. Third, the circular economy – this is perhaps the most efficient means of sustainable economic activity. Those who no longer produce waste but instead new stages of recycling automatically protect the climate and the environment. The fourth are core indicators known as KPI´s – sustainability, like economic success, must be measurable and underpinned by concrete targets. Fifth is culture. We have to change ourselves and our ways of thinking and working, to allow crazy things to happen, to want to do things differently than before. And sixth is cooperation. One person alone will not effect anything against the destruction of nature. We have to work together, including with competitors; we have to form networks, connect with science, learn from each other. We’re all in the same boat, after all.
That sounds very complex.
Yes. That’s why it helps to tell a story from the future. What would happen, for example, if we succeeded in building in a climate-neutral way as early as 2030 and STRABAG could claim that, as a group, it played a significant role in such an accomplishment? The eyes of the employees, the suppliers and the clients would all light up. Such a goal would generate an incredibly good image, pride, innovations, savings – and it would demonstrate efficient risk management. With such a goal for the future, you can then take concrete action in the present to achieve it.
Tina Teucher studied cultural studies and completed the MBA Sustainability Management at Leuphana University Lüneburg. She is active in Think Tank 30, the young think tank of the German Association Club of Rome; a member of the extended board of the German Environmental Management Association (B.A.U.M. e. V.); on the supervisory board of Future eG; on the advisory board of Klimahelden; and on the jury of the sustainability label GreenBrands. Since 2015, she has been bringing organisations, people and companies together as a “Sustainable Matchmaker“ in order to jointly create the right framework conditions for sustainable business. In doing so, she accompanies companies and institutions in addressing the essential questions of change. In her search for sustainable solutions, she forges links between companies, universities and start-ups, true to the motto ‘Everything we need is already there; we just need to know it and apply it’. Tina Teucher traces her motivation for sustainable issues back to her childhood: she grew up in Dresden and spent a lot of time in the surrounding forests. She vividly remembers seeing the video for Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song“ in the 1990s. The burning forests in it shocked her. At that time, she said to herself: “When you grow up, you’ll do something about it“.