Companies and facilities maintain environmental values and thrive
This morning, we met our tour guide from the Innovation Academy, Steffen, outside the Theater Freiburg (http://www.theater.freiburg.de/) and took the train to visit SICK Sensor Intelligence (https://www.sick.com/us/en/?saveCookie=true). Our guide for the day, Mrs. Lena Lungstrauss picked us up from the station and we took a beautiful ten minute walk to the SICK headquarters in Freiburg.
SICK, founded in 1946, is a world leader of sensor manufacturing for industrial applications with more than 8,000 employees worldwide. SICK products include everything from factory automation (e.g. automated technology used to manufacture cars) to logistic automation (e.g. technology used to sort Amazon products for distribution) to process automation (e.g. refineries). In total, they offer over 40,000 products and products solutions. Product solutions are combinations of SICK products that can be used to address specific industrial problems. We visited this tremendously successful company to learn about how large manufacturers can still participate in environmental protection and social engagement. At Sensor Intelligence, these tasks are accomplished by the Environmental Department (https://www.sick.com/us/en/corporate-social-responsibility/climate-and-environmental-protection-management/w/csr-environmental-protection/). The Environmental Department has outlined a three part strategy to act as sustainably and environmentally friendly as possible: “1. We avoid what we can. 2. We reduce, what we cannot avoid. 3. We optimize what we cannot reduce.” As Ms. Lungstrass described during the presentation, SICK carries out these goals by installing solar roofs, using renewable energies, promoting electro-mobility and car sharing, increasing energy efficiency, outlining a green car policy, participating in CO2 compensation, maximizing use of space, and minimizing label material, among other practices. SICK also does a great job of retaining workers long-term by providing good working conditions and considering employee input during decision-making, which has resulted in 15 consecutive awards, recognizing SICK as among Germany’s best employers. They have observed that it is important to protect the wellbeing, happiness, and motivation of workers because these qualities lead to productivity.
After a leisurely two-hour lunch break, we met at the train station again to visit the Solar Info Center (http://www.solar-info-center.de/sic/start.html). The Solar Info Center is a facility that houses approximately 45 companies and 500+ employees, all of which work with renewable technology or green initiatives in some way. I consider this facility an incubator because it brings together companies from the same industry with different strengths and skillsets; the close proximity to similar businesses helps them to be more successful. The Solar Info Center reminds me of Flywheel Co-Working in Winston-Salem, NC (https://www.innovationquarter.com/community/flywheel/) and The Underground in Durham, NC (http://americanunderground.com/). One of the main takeaways from this presentation was the importance of establishing several sources of renewable energy to combat the inconsistency of some sources (e.g. solar, wind). We also learned a lot about the facility itself. The glass windows are made of triple glass, are insulted by rubber siding, and are covered by automatic external blinds, which were optimized to maximize the light in rooms without overheating them. The concrete ceilings allow for ventilation and cooling. The garden courtyard in the center of the facility filters water, and then guides it back into the groundwater reserves below the surface. It was really amazing to see such a well-designed, environmentally-friendly space for innovation.