Category Archives: Day by Day

Green Goes Far

When Community-Supported Agriculture and Idealism Intersect

We began the day with a presentation focused on the development of Garden Cooperative Freiburg, a CSA located in the Rhein Valley which sets as its primary goal the farming of organic produce for stakeholders. Each family is given the same level of influence and voice regardless of how many shares they possess, representing a departure from more conventional shareholder models. We learned how the cooperative began, how it has grown, logistics behind its current operations, and challenges faced along the way.

A slide used in the Garden Cooperative presentation showing their somewhat unique business model. A key feature of this model is the fact that, unlike in a traditional market economy where the farm works for the customers, here the customers work for the farm.

The Garden Cooperative seeks to provide for its members a wide variety of organic produce, and this entails beginning from pure, unhybridized seeds. This is crucial as, even though the latter possess more attractive features for a traditional market setting (pest-resistance, homogeneity, drought resistance), the former are often tastier and more enjoyably consumed. With this in mind, the Cooperative accepts that some crops will fail, and take each failure in stride as an organization. Just as failures are shared, in times of bounty produce is shared evenly amongst members without preference being given to more financially solvent individuals.

Farmers are the most vital element to the success of a farm, and Garden Cooperative Freiburg was very lucky when it came to farming talent. Many youth who grew up in the valley had a wealth of knowledge concerning the maintenance of a farm, but did not think they would ever be able to afford land themselves. These were some of the founding members of the Cooperative, which needed talented and hardworking individuals to get it off of the ground.

Another integral element to the Cooperative’s model is the mandated work which each stakeholder must do on the farm each year. For each share, the shareholder(s) have to volunteer five times throughout the year. If the shareholder is a family with multiple people in it, each individual can fulfill one of those commitments. For instance, if your family has five able-bodied members, they may all head down to the farm one weekend and knock out the entire year’s worth of work then and there. While much of the more skilled labor is still performed by the full-time employees, these volunteers are shown around the area where their food is grown, instructed on how to go about basic tasks and put to work for several hours. Older people who may not be physically capable of completing manual labor may work in the kitchens to cook the communal lunch.

Being competitive in the market has never been an aim of the Garden Cooperative Freiburg. Their business model is inherently placed outside of normal capitalist exchanges, with the entire cycle of production and consumption regulated by a group of private stakeholders who are all held as equals in the eyes of the Cooperative. This model may be difficult to scale up, but it was never intended to. Unlike other solutions we have seen in Germany, this CSA is not looking to solve the world’s problems. They are merely trying to supplement their diets with healthy produce while simultaneously lessening their ecological footprint.

These cubes are comprised of compressed cardboard leftover from incoming product shipments. Since investing in the compactor, Rinklin has increased its recycling capacity from 2 tons to 20 tons of cardboard per week.
One of Rinklin’s shipping trucks. This particular truck is part of a new section of their fleet devoted to sustainability. The truck has solar panels on the roof which keep its contents refrigerated while en route.
Our group sitting down to a meal at Rinklin Distribution. The meal was made using some of the products that Rinklin houses.
The entrance to a refrigerated hallway inside the Rinklin Distribution warehouse. One third of all Rinlin products need to be refrigerated, but that one third accounts for 75% of the company’s total revenue.

-Forest Schweitzer

Human connections are essential to sustainable environments

How social sustainability and infrastructure improve quality of life

We started off the day with a group reflection in the hotel. In our conversations about our first two class days in Freiburg, we pointed out differences we saw in the lifestyle and behavior of people in Germany and how these differences relate to city planning and the transportation infrastructure .Multi-modal transportation infrastructure along with the development of public space allow for easy access to city centers and the development of social capital. Our lecture on Germany’s shift toward renewable energy in Shonau and our bicycling tour through sustainable neighborhood projects in Freiburg gave us some new perspectives on how sustainability can be implemented and how these actions can make positive impacts on overall quality of life while minimizing environmental impact.

Farmer sell fresh berries and produce in the Freiburg Farmer’s Market in Munsterplatz.

After the reflection, we went to the farmer’s market as a group. This was a fun way for us to be a part of the culture of Freiburg and see how many residents interact in public spaces and get their food. One interesting point that we have discussed several times on the trip is how with the farmer’s market culture and community agriculture projects, people and farmers can develop relationships. These relationships help societies become more connected to its food sources and thus make the systems more economically sustainable, stable and environmentally conscious.

Our first business day was a visit to Ika, a trade company for industrial equipment. Their work spans across industries and over 70 countries. Ika is classified as a mittlestand company or a small-scale company in Germany that is characterized by a family ownership structure. These companies promote innovation, social responsibility and community ties within their industry as these values increase social sustainability while also making the company more competitive. Enhancing relationships with communities, customers and employees are focuses that are good for business and essential in maintaining long-term success.

Freiburg residents congregate during lunch time on a sunny Thursday to eat and shop in Munsterplatz.

Mittlestand companies often develop machinery or other technology and create dominance in these markets. They are dedicated to continual development and improvement of products, personnel and purpose in order to ensure quality. These investments in their employees improve quality of performance and improved work culture while also allowing the employees to be a part of the decision-making process. These are all contributing factors that make Germany one of the strongest economies in the world.

-Marques Wilson

IKA and the German Middelstadt: A Model for Economic Stability

We explored a Mittelstand company and what makes similar companies Germany’s economic backbone

Our day surrounded the idea of the German “Mittelstand.” These are small to medium sized companies that are family owned for multiple generations and their annual profits do not exceed €5 billion. Some other characteristics of Mittelstand companies include being incredibly innovative, leaders in their respective industries, keeping out of the public eye, and focusing on the long term stability of the company rather than enjoying short term profits.

As the professor from Innovation Academy and Dr. Gangi informed us, Mittelstand companies make up around 60% of jobs in Germany. What is even more incredible concerning the Mittelstand is it’s sustainability. By most metrics Germany is not an innovative country. In a list of entrepreneurial countries Germany is rarely at the top among the likes of Israel and the United States, countries that have many start ups and are celebrated for their numerous entrepreneurs. However, in an age of constant innovation and globalization Mittelstand companies remain at the top of their industries globally. Dr. Gangi told us Mittelstand companies are incredibly innovative and reinvent themselves to ensure their place in an always changing global market.

The Mittelstand is a business culture that is studied by many economists and businesses worldwide but is difficult to reproduce anywhere but Germany. They have allowed Germany to remain a top global economic player. In fact, Dr. Gangi joked that recessions should be German companies’ business strategy because numerous studies have shown German companies expand their market share shortly after an economic downturn. Their stability, focus on long term goals, and strategy of scaling back hours not firing workers allow them to hit the ground running before other companies following a recession.

In the afternoon after our visit to the market we visited a Mittelstand company called IKA. It was originally a drug store when it started in 1910 before developing and reinventing into the laboratory equipment and technology manufacturer it is today. It is now owned by the fourth generation of the family that founded IKA. The company employs 800 people on four continents and leads the world market for most of its product groups.

IKA was the Middelstadt company we toured today. They showed us many of their laboratory equipment and we learned some of the company’s history.

IKA officials gave us a tour of their different products in their experimentation room. Unfortunately, they did not allow us to take pictures inside their facility. They walked us through their many product groups including shakers, centrifuges, grinders, magnetic spinners, heating baths, photo bioreactors, calorimeters, and many other instruments. It displayed their innovation and impressive product field that keeps IKA at the top of its field. Like many Mittelstand companies IKA enjoys incredible notoriety in its chosen niche but is not well known to the general public.

Our visit lasted for a few hours and ended with banana milkshakes made using IKA equipment. The German Mittelstand is a model for economic sustainability and will hopefully inspire other US companies to adopt similar values and goals.

-Duncan Richey

The German Mittelstand

Germany is an “export champion,” and many of these exports come from Mittelstand companies.

IKA is a Mittelstand company located in Staufen. They build laboratory equipment. (Photos were not allowed inside the facility).

Companies that identify as a part of the German Mittelstand are often considered “hidden champions.” These businesses are frequently smaller and family-owned with a low level of publicity. They have a turnover of approximately five billion Euro and are considered either a Top 3 enterprise on the world market or they are ranked number one on a single continent.

Germany has 1307 hidden champions (16 per million inhabitants), placing it at the top of the chart. There are fewer in eastern Germany than in western Germany. This is likely due to the fact that eastern Germany was occupied by the Soviet government post-WWII when it split into four. It later became the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) before Germany was reunited in October 1990. Still, 1307 is a large number. The historical system of mini states may have influenced the number of hidden champions present today. At that time, there was an openness to internationalization and a competence of international business. Today, these businesses create nearly 98,000 jobs each year.

But Mittelstand companies are not enormous organizations themselves. They can range from fifty to several hundred employees. Their media presence is also small. A hidden champion’s share of media presence with a big corporation is roughly 16%, while the big corporation is the other 84%. But hidden champions employ 80% of people, while big businesses employ a mere 20%. Hidden champions hold a social responsibility and view the working world as a social place. Employees and customers are very significant, even in decision-making processes. The top five qualities of a hidden champion (rated by a customer) are the product quality, delivery schedule adherence, economy, consulting before a sale, and customer proximity.

The strength of hidden champions comes from within. The employees are loyal, motivated, qualified, and flexible. The work atmosphere is positive and productive. Many hidden champions focus on the long term and invest in sustainability measures. It is no surprise that Mittelstand companies become so successful over time.

-Kaitlyn Ave’Lallemant

Scavenger Hunt through Rieselfeld

Walk through Freiburg’s Rieselfeld district and seeing sustainable city planning and neighborhoods

Today Stefen took us on a bike tour of some districts in Freiburg: Rieselfeld and Vauban. Before we started biking, Stefen pointed out the car sharing stations. Users can pay 4 euros to use the cars and he pointed out that most trips people take in Freiburg are distances of only a few kilometers, which makes the car sharing program particularly convenient.

These are three different car sharing companies in Freiburg. Stefen told us that many of the trips people need to make in Freiburg are only a few kilometers so the car sharing service is helpful.

We began the ride by renting bikes at RadStation (Bike Station). Once all 27 of us had a bike, we rode over the bike bridge until we arrived at an electronic counter that counts how many bikers have crossed that plaza that day. On a rainy day like today, there were 1,636 bikes that had crossed the plaza at 10 a.m. in the morning.

There were 1,636 bikes that went over the bridge by 10 a.m. on this rainy Wednesday. This was tracked by this device.

One of our first stops was at an apartment complex that had been redesigned. The multi-story complex has been outfitted with solar and had reduced energy usage by a significant amount as a result. We then went to another apartment complex and Stefen explained that the residents were involved in the planning process when the city of Freiburg was renovating the complex. The citizens got to choose how many people they wanted in their apartment and even the specific people. There was a meet and greet where future residents could talk to people they might be living with and decide if that arrangement would work or not. Residents of a floor even took part in an art decoration project where they designed a circular art piece that corresponded to their floor’s number. This community participation was a big theme of the day. Stefen also explained that knowing your neighbors made the apartment complex safer and made the people more friendly and empathetic.

This was the apartment complex that Stefen told us the residents had a say in how they wanted to redesign it and they even got to meet who they might be living with to see if that arrangement would work.
This is the same apartment complex as above in Freiburg. These circular art pieces on the outside of the apartment were designed by residents of each floor. I really liked these because their creation process means that the residents get to know each other and interact. This resident was biking into her apartment and the tram was only a two minute walk away, demonstrating how prevalent and accessible alternative modes of transportation are in Freiburg.

We then biked to the Rieselfeld district in Freiburg. We went on a scavenger hunt where we walked and looked for various landmarks in the city. One was a culture center called “Kultur Glashaus” and they had activities like music and games for all ages in an attempt to engage the community. I noticed that the Kultur Glashaus was near the tram, which made a lot of sense and made it accessible to many people. As we walked through the city we noticed that the trams even went through grass at some points. It was very picturesque. The district is very walkable and our next location we needed to find was the recycling area. There were multiple colors of bins for different types of recycling. Glass had its own bin while paper had another bin. There were even bins for clothing that people wanted to discard.

This is one of the first apartment complexes that Stefen pointed out. It has been redesigned and now has solar in the middle–that’s the blue. It reduces energy usage significantly.

One of our next stops was another neighborhood with a courtyard that functions as a play place for children and also a water retention basin. If the water level rises more than the surrounding grass can handle, the water flows to the streets which works well. We also saw a garden for residents of the same apartment complex which had flowers of all kinds as well as vegetables. These green spaces are important since the residents don’t have much in the way of a lawn but still have ownership of a space that allows them to grow produce if they wish. Many of the apartments are co-housing, or Baugruppen. Residents got to make decisions about how they wanted the apartment to be designed and in many places they chose who they lived with, promoting community and a high quality of life. We finished the scavenger hunt and ate at Ciao Bella, an Italian restaurant with amazing pasta.

This is a housing complex in the Reiselfeld district in Freiburg. There was solar on the roof and there is quite a bit of vegetation surrounding the area.
Natalie and I were looking at the community garden for residents of that particular apartment complex in Reiselfeld. There were lots of flowers like the poppies pictured here as well as vegetables and produce.

-Jennifer Craft

Vauban

From mobility to housing, Vauban, a district of Freiburg, has created a vibrant, efficient and dense community

On June the 7th, the fourth day of our Summer Burch program, the nearly thirty people that comprises our group cycled about twenty kilometers between Freiburg, Reiselfeld, and Vauban. In the kilometers in between, we witnessed beautiful nature, undisturbed by hordes of suburbs. Thanks to impressive bicycling infrastructure, even in rural areas, the trip was a huge success. Attempting to stay in a single file line on our bikes, we first stopped in Reiselfeld and later stopped in Vauban, both expertly planned districts outside of Freiburg. This blog post will focus primarily on Vauban, from its remarkable mobility to its diversity of housing projects.

In this image, you can see the main road that passes by Vauban – not through it. Even on this main road (this only one near the district), you can see that well-maintained bicycle infrastructure and the pedestrian-friendly features.
Here you can see another view of our bike ride to Vauban. From the beautiful landscape to the well-maintained bicycle infrastructure, this was a very pleasant ride.
In this photograph, we are cycling from one district to the next – from Reiselfeld to Vauban and all the while experiencing the beautiful and well-maintained countryside.

Our group leader, Stefan, who biked with us and helped us understand the area, explained the necessity of both discouraging individual car ownership and giving rewards for using public transit and bicycles. Vauban successfully embraces both of these concepts and thereby reduces car ownership to a fraction of its population. Of that population, many people often use the tram instead of their car because tram stops are more convenient than their car, which cannot be permanently parked in front of their home. Vauban has done several things to ensure that this pro-communal transit concept is successful. Firstly, the trams come about every seven minutes. When tram arrivals are kept under ten minutes, ridership is more likely to be high because the tram becomes more convenient for individual riders than taking their own car. When cars do drive in Vauban, they are generally guests on the road. Everyone else has right of way most of the time – cyclists, children, and pedestrians. This encourages other modes of transit over cars and provides for a safe environment for families. Vauban’s expert planning with a focus on the tram, bikes, and pedestrians, provides a number of lessons for United States suburbs on mobility.

Here is a view of a public space that the citizens of Vauban decided would be a community garden and green space rather than a parking deck. If sentiment changes within a community, this area could become a parking deck.
This is a view of a street in Vauban. Notice that there are no cars – parked along the street or in carports. This allows a safer, more child and bicycle-friendly community.

Vauban’s variety of housing also provides many insights for the United States. Rather than creating a suburb with individual houses, large yards, and a lack of social interaction, Vauban creates high-density housing that encourages social interaction and discourages crime. However, rather than creating identical housing projects that eliminate a sense of identity, Vauban attempts to create a huge range of housing. One of the most interesting buildings we looked at was a mixed-use building. Some of the building was used by people who financed the cost of their apartment entirely on their own, other rooms were social housing, and other rooms were used for people with disabilities and the elderly. This cohabitation helps people realize the importance of relationships with people of different incomes, backgrounds, and experiences, something sorely lacking in the individualistic culture of America. Another interesting housing project was a largely subsidized set of housing in the district, paid for by a group whose mission centers around ensuring housing for everyone. In every housing project in the district, bottom-up decision making plays a key role and citizens are on the front lines, versus the top-down approach considered the default in so many other places.

This is a picture of a building with Pippy Longstocking painted on the side. This art is a symbol to the people of Vauban of their cultural and social identity.
Here is an example of another housing community in Vauban. This project brings together people of all different socioeconomic backgrounds to achieve higher levels of social capital.

Consider rethinking what you view as sustainable development. In your community, are new suburbs encouraging sustainable housing and transit with significant social capital? Or is there something you could do to make your town more like Vauban?

-Joseph Womble

Energy in Schonau

 

The Anti-Nuclear movement has led to renewable growth

For the second half of the day, we visited the EWS (Elektrixitätswerke Schönau) in Schönau, Germany. To get there, we took a bus towards the Black Forest. We walked into a building with solar panels covering the roof, and immediately started a lecture with one of the anti-nuclear activists, who now works at EWS. She presented to us many of the arguments against nuclear power that began the entire Energiewende movement in Germany. It was really interesting to hear about how the Chernobyl disaster affected the Germans, and through that, their energy policy.

The sun shines on Schönau, Germany. We had a walking tour after our discussion, and were shown wind turbines and a small hydroelectric plant, as well as the original offices of EWS.

The clouds from Chernobyl rolled into Germany and across Europe, leaving effects that still hurt people today. Nuclear resistance was reinforced by the Fukishima disaster. Now they are in the process of completely phasing out nuclear plants.

Chernobyle and Fukishima made it clear to many in Germany that nuclear disasters leave a hole on the earth that is basically non-recoverable for many lifetimes, not to mention the impact on human lives. The anti-nuclear movement has more subtle reasoning behind it than just the risks of a nuclear disaster, as well. Nuclear power plant waste can be used to create nuclear bombs, so many believe that one of the reasons governments push for nuclear is so that they can use that funding to go into the military.

We also discussed that there are a lot of public relations efforts vastly impacting how people feel about nuclear energy. With more public relations in the United States, and more money put into lobbying, we are much more open to the idea of nuclear energy than they might be here in Germany. These public relations efforts are also starting to affect Germany, and their energy policies are beginning to shift.

After the lecture, we were shown around a few of the faciliites and the town of Schonau. The EWS has a hydroelectric plant just down the road from their headquarters. There were windmills in the distance that power many homes.

During our tour, we were shown the original building of the EWS. We also discussed and passed some restaurants on the walk that were very supportive of renewables because of the aforementioned opposition to nuclear. We were also told many stories of the original protests to nuclear. One of the founders of the EWS smuggled a piece of paper into the white house to attempt to persuade former President Obama to turn away from nuclear. The EWS and anti-nuclear advocates have gone door to door asking people to vote against nuclear energy and for their own causes.

-Aubrey Patti

An Introduction to Freiburg and Smart Cities

Diving into Freiburg and the sustainable measures the town has adopted

Day one in Freiburg and it is already like entering a different world. There are trams and bike paths that fill the city, solar panels on the roofs and natural green areas everywhere. Nothing like my suburban home in Cary, North Carolina with manicured lawns, multiple cars in every driveway, and hardly a bus let alone a tramline or train in sight.

For our first educational day here, we were introduced to Steffen, our instructor and tour guide for the day. In a classroom we focused on a few main topics: history of sustainability in Freiburg, energy efficiency in old homes and municipal buildings, supply and disposal, and finally mobility. Freiburg, known for ten to fifteen years now as a sustainable city, began its environmental movement in 1975 when students and farmers came together to protest the implementation of a power plant in the town. After the 1986 Chernobyl incident, citizens truly united, energy saving became crucial, and renewables a mainstay in the town.

Our guide Steffan teaching us about the history of Freiburg and showing us around the town. Here he is explaining the history of market surrounding the church – it was first a parking lot, but was transformed into a beautiful market square where vendors come every morning to sell food, flowers, and other goods. This both discourages transportation by car and unites the community.

Throughout the different topics, one theme became clear: the importance of engagement at the local level. Citizens own over 50 percent of renewables in the city. Additionally, a convention was held in 2008 on how to make old houses more energy efficient. Architects, financial managers, designers, and many others came together to teach the people what they can do in their own homes. Lessons on waste separation and recyclables are taught in local elementary schools – kids are provided cost free lunch boxes to encourage use of reusable products, and trips to landfills inspire them to be mindful of their waste. Finally, the construction community allows people the option of multimodal houses and cohousing, which allow the people to design their own home while also being efficient in the use of space and improving social and community life.

Steffan walks us over the parking garage, which is discreetly hidden beneath the houses that were built on top of it to save space and make the town more appealing.

While local engagement was stressed throughout the presentation, a tour of the town had the group admiring Freiburg’s success in transportation and mobility. The ticket to decreasing car use was decreasing parking options. As the church parking lot was changed to a beautiful market square, parking garages placed further from homes, car ownership made more expensive, and efficient tramlines and bike paths installed, the city was transformed. There are only about 35 private cars per 100 residents, many of which are not used on a regular basis, and the centrally located train station provides an easy way to get anywhere in the region without stepping into a car.

One of the most interesting places I felt we visited on the tour was a parking garage. No, a parking garage does not sound exciting, but this one was implemented in an ingenious way. First of all, it was integrated into the surrounding area so that I could not even tell it was a garage when approaching. Second, houses were built on top so that no space was wasted. Finally, it served as a noise barrier between the town and the large road that surrounds it so that inside the town all that can be heard are birds chirping and people talking.

Here is the right side of the parking garage, where the noise from cars and other transportation that surrounds the town is masked by the design of this construction. To the left is the houses seen previously, where no car noise can be heard.

As it is the first day, we were left with many questions to look out for in our next adventures. How do less cars change daily and social life? How does society benefit from more public transportation and how does the district itself change? What kind of society arises from construction communities and cohousing? What are the keys to implementing these systems back home in North Carolina/U.S? Up next are bike tours in Rieselfeld and Vauban where we can evaluate these questions even more and look at examples of these initiatives in different towns.

Approaching one of the train stations of Freiburg, a central hub where people can take buses, trams, trains, and rent out bikes in order to navigate the surrounding area.

-Sarah Wotus