Climate protection through progress? An impulse

A post by:     Sven Behrendt
Executive Board Member
Last updated: 2023-11-20

How can climate protection be implemented effectively? There seem to be two camps in the public debate: Some prefer renunciation and restrictions, others rely on innovation and progress. Which approach is the right one? An impulse from the world of practice.

The common goal: effective climate protection

The climate must be protected effectively - that is beyond question. However, I have long been preoccupied with the question of the right way to do this. As a member of the management board of a company in a seemingly critical industry, I am constantly confronted with this issue outside of work. Are plastics inherently climate-damaging? Our CEO Michael Kundel has shown this in an article here on the blog: No. They can even help to protect the climate. As Michael Kundel explains, our instinct alone will not help us.

Renunciation will not be enough

I am firmly convinced that organizing climate protection solely through renunciation or even degrowth is doomed to failure. This will not find a democratic majority in the long term and the effect will never be sufficient. I observe with concern that the acceptance of the idea of climate protection is declining and fear that this will also be due to certain autocratic forms of discourse.
But one thing is also clear: the fact that renunciation alone is not a solution is not a carte blanche for "business as usual". If it makes sense and is possible, we should accept restrictions.

Progress is the most powerful tool

However, in order to master the challenges of climate protection in a truly sustainable way, we urgently need more and faster progress. For me, progress in this context means: In addition to new innovations, we must also finally drive forward existing technologies and solutions and put them to use. If we succeed in making important areas of life and the economy climate-neutral and affordable, that would be a greater quantum leap for climate protection than any restrictive measures could ever be. Many things would already be possible today, but fail to be implemented consistently.

Three key areas for more climate protection

For an industrial company like RENOLIT, I see three major and closely interlinked key areas in which progress and innovation can massively advance climate protection: 

  1. renewable energies, 
  2. the production of alternative, non-fossil raw materials and
  3. a genuine circular economy. 

Let's be clear: if we succeed in actually implementing these three areas, a climate-neutral industry is possible. For RENOLIT, this means that the progress made by civilization through plastics can be maintained and we can do without sacrifice.

Why we have failed so far: a concrete example

Why has it failed so far? An example will illustrate this. At RENOLIT, we currently burn natural gas to operate our systems. Switching to hydrogen would not be a technological problem.

However, unlike natural gas, hydrogen cannot simply be obtained from a pipeline, but would have to be produced by us at our sites, e.g. in Worms, at great expense. One possibility would be to split the available natural gas, liquid gas or biogas into its components. The resulting hydrogen could be burned for energy supply without further harmful emissions, the carbon is available in solid form after decomposition and could either be reused in the industrial network or disposed of in a climate-friendly manner.

Why is this not being done? Because even a company as large as RENOLIT would be overwhelmed. Substantial investments would be necessary and the business model would have to be massively changed. That is not affordable.

Nevertheless, we at RENOLIT are sticking to the topic of hydrogen for thermal energy supply. What we need, however, is a reliable infrastructure for the corresponding supply. We can't take care of that, it's not our core competence. What is needed here is rapid implementation by politicians, energy supply companies and the authorities. Otherwise, the hands of industrial companies will remain tied.

Focusing on progress together

What can we learn from this? I see two major fields of action in which we need to improve.
Firstly, we can no longer afford to be distracted by ideological debates and excessive bureaucracy. In politics and business, we should concentrate fully on what can and must be advanced - and not on slowing things down. Secondly, individual companies can never achieve sufficient progress on their own. We need more cohesion and cooperation. This applies both to politics and to us in business. We still too often set ourselves apart from our competitors and other companies, which should be viewed self-critically. We also need to accept that a bridging technology is also important for progress - this will also help us move forward.

Innovations at RENOLIT

At RENOLIT, we are fully committed to a wide range of innovations that will lead to greater sustainability. In collaboration with our partner Photanol, we are working on fossil-based polymers, while with RENOLIT bio@ we have launched a bio-based PVC film on the market. A genuine circular economy is also one of our most important goals. And these are just some of the areas in which we are involved. Now it's about scaling up these measures and gradually making RENOLIT more and more climate-friendly.

Progress creates sustainability and prosperity

My conclusion is clear: yes, progress and innovation can be the most important allies for more climate protection. But progress does not come from talking or waiting. Rather, we need to drive it forward in a targeted manner. Unfortunately, this is missing far to often in German business and politics. I see it as my task to drive this forward with all my strength in the coming years.