Tag Archives: sustainable

From Black Coal to a Green Role

A look into Essen’s history as a coal powerhouse and how the city turned green

We started out the day with a recap of the prior week we spent in The Hague and Eindhoven. We mainly discussed smart city aspects involving innovation and technological advancement. Then we made our way to Essen which contained Zollverein, the most modern coal mine in Europe during the 1930s. Many countries and coal producing regions would take visits to Zollverein to study the techniques used that made the coal mine more efficient than other mines. The facility was incredibly large and industrial. The inside housed large machines, conveyor belts, coal carts, and mine shafts. We started atop the main building overlooking the town of Essen and surrounding area. It was easy to see the vastness of the mine and understand how long it took miners to get to and from the wash station where they would start and end the day.

Overlooking a large portion of Zollverein, which was one of the most modern coal mines of the 20th century. Also pictured is some restored green space.
A view from the “ceremony place” where marriages took place in the mine. It was surprisingly common for workers to get married in the mine despite their daily involvement for work.

Next we took a look at one of the mining areas and sampled some of the tools miners used in the mines. Work techniques for breaking off coal evolved from a simple hammer and chisel to a safer more complex hammer and chisel to the jackhammer. The jackhammer was the heaviest and most dangerous tool. It kicked up a lot of dust which caused black lung and also sent workers home still shaking from the vibrations. Bad working conditions in mines was something I had known for a while but getting to see the environment out of context firsthand was startling. Eight hours a day would be spent in the mines and an additional 4-5 hours was spent traveling and washing causing many miners to just sleep in the mines for multiple days. We also learned how horses were used in the mines to carry loads of coal. Horses would stay 4-5 years at a time in stables in the mines. We concluded the visit to Zollverein by going to the loudest part of the mine where coal was dumped to lower level and sorted by workers. The noise was 118 decibels which is 2000 times louder than moderately loud speakers. Workers spent 8 hours a day here with no ear protection in shifts of 18 months at a time which left many of them practically deaf.

The loudest place in the mine. Tons of coal was dumped from here to lower levels daily at a volume of 118 decibels.
A look at some of the tools used to break off coal. Hammers and chisels were used first and then the jackhammer became more popular because of its efficiency.

Zollverein was an important part of the history of Essen and prompted us for our next small tour which was an exhibit dedicated to Essen’s prize of being Europe’s green capital of 2017. This is surprising considering throughout the 19th and 20th century the area was a major contributor to global warming. After much destruction of the environment in the 19th century Essen recognized the problem and put in conservation and restoration programs to achieve a healthier environment. The exhibit featured park plans, animal exhibits, gardens, and forest samples. Essen and the Ruhr area actually took grade pride in leading the green revolution. A lot of the initiatives have come from locals with garden initiatives. The Ruhr area also plans on putting in a cycling superhighway as a main means of transport. The main goal the greening of the Ruhr area is for all citizens to live only a couple minutes from any parks or green space. This exhibit concluded our journey for the day.

An overlook of the Essen ‘Green Capital of 2017’ exhibit. After many years of environmental destruction, the city recognized its new role in green restoration and focused an exhibit on some of the projects put in place.
Some local species on display in the Essen exhibit. Deer, bobcats, fox, squirrels, and fungus are all featured.
An overview of a park project in the exhibit. The major goal of the revitalization was to have green space within a few minutes of every citizen.

Both Zollverein and the Essen exhibit were located on the same industrial grounds which is a unique way to display the change in mindset that has occurred in the area. What used to be an industrial area has shifted to an eco friendly hub for green space. If it was not for the industrial roots and environmental degradation caused it is likely that Essen would not be the green capital of Europe. This is a prime example of how an old town has changed from high impact to low impact on the environment and maintained citizen participation. I think the US can use Essen and the Ruhr area as a guide to creating livable healthy environments from old unusable coal mines.

-Charlie Garnett

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

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