Category Archives: Innovation

CleanTech Innovation Center’s Start-ups and Culture

Three Start-ups in the early stages of development

Today we spent our afternoon at the Clean Tech Innovation Center. Although it may have been hard to find, it was a very interesting space with a lot of early stage startups. While here, we were able to check out three very different startups that all share the same space.


Nuventura is looking to find a way to make a cleaner grid by producing an IP based technology that converts synthetic CO2 into naturally decomposable substances. The founder took some time to speak with us about his motivations and his struggles being an early stage start up. Formally an electrical engineer, the founder quit his day job to work on a technology he believed would solve the world’s future problem regarding CO2 emissions. He focuses his work on the technology and not on creating a marketable product since his background his not in advertising or manufacturing.

He also shared his thoughts about working in a shared workspace. Something he said that was intriguing was that he liked that he was able to bounce his ideas off of people, but also that they all had a connection because of the fact that they were all trying to become something from nothing. They all face struggles with funding. Yet, he told us that he doesn’t feel competitive against the other workers because they are all working on such different ideas.

A representative of Shoutr Labs explaining the innovative technology to our group

Shoutr Labs:

Shoutr Labs is creating a beacon Wi-Fi network for museums. These beacons offer an interactive audio guide for patrons of the museum, which allows people to use their existing technology without taking up any storage or using any data. This auto-syncing technology even allows people to view 360-degree photos, by simply scanning a QR code upon entering an exhibit. One interesting feature that this technology offers is a type of virtual experience. Shoutr Labs created a system for the natural history museum that makes it seems like there are dinosaurs in the room via your phone screen. With this function, people can take selfies and feel close to live dinosaurs!

A QR code for Shoutr Labs’ beacon network. It allows museum goers to enter a world of virtual reality when walking through exhibits.


Skypoint is working on producing storm resistant fix drones equipped radar, camera, and surveying systems. These drones are tethered to the ground and produce energy through wind collection using the small turbines on the product’s shell. The product’s founder and CEO has a lot of visions as to where this technology can go. For example, it could be used for property protection, open pit mining, delivering goods after a natural disaster, filed management, control of an unmanned vehicle, herd management, and border control. Border control, specifically for the US-Mexico border, seemed to be the main target for this product as he was marketing to private security companies.

All the functions and uses that Skypoint technology was looking to solve. Although still in the early stages of design, this product seems to be a very versatile option for the future.

-Megan Gwynn

Clean Tech Center

The Benefits of Creating an Industry Cluster

On the east side of Berlin, the Clean Tech Business Park and Innovation Center are growing to become the hub of clean technology. The Clean Tech Center is focused on supplying co-working office space and manufacturing space for any startup or business that contributes to sustainability and environment consciences. When we visited, they explained to us the benefits their park and greater Berlin offers to its customers and how the formation of the center forms an innovative cluster.

The logo of the Clean Tech Innovation Center in Berlin.

The property contains office space, production space, and large outdoor testing lot. The Clean Tech Center is forming spaces suitable entrepreneurs by giving them areas to create, test, and produce a product. This all-inclusive area is one of their selling points and something they hope will draw people to the area. Also, they hope will draw more people with the attractiveness of Berlin. As Berlin is being reshaped since reunification it has become the startup hub of Europe and a central city for research universities and economic opportunities. The Clean Tech Center hopes this environment will draw innovators to their campus.

A communal kitchen and eating area for the workers. This area is surrounded by four or five open room offices where different startups are working on their ideas.

The Clean Tech Center also offers incentives to increase the area’s desirability. They receive funding from the European Union which allows them to lower rent to a cheap price of €99-129 per month. The area is located near transportation stops, to cheapen the cost of transportation. On campus, they offer networking and collaboration services so innovators can meet with each other, share ideas, or network. Also, younger companies can learn and grow from the older companies. Conjoining an innovation center and a business park also has many benefits. By connecting the two parks people can now stay in one area as their business grows.

The property and facility brochure the Clean Tech Innovation and Business give out. These pamphlets discuss the benefits that come from working in a shared space, and having the ability to share knowledge and infrastructure.
The partners of the Clean Tech Center, notice that universities (local and international), companies, and the local government are all involved in the future of this cluster.

Creating a space for innovation in an environment that will sponsor it is a fantastic idea and needs to start happening in America more. Currently, America has large clusters like Research Triangle Park and, on a larger scale, Silicon Valley. These American clusters lack the shared infrastructure that makes the Clean Tech Center so appealing. The clusters in America are located well, surrounded by research universities and economic markets. But they are less dense and normally involve innovators working in their own building, and staying within their company. These places lack denser shared workspaces, and normally only have the occasional incubator or shared building.

American entrepreneurs should look into creating attractive workplaces with shared space. Having places like the Clean Tech Center could change the culture of working in America, shifting from getting a job in a pre-existing company to creating one’s own job in one of these shared workspaces because the social benefits and creative freedom is so attractive. Also, surrounding one’s self with people with like ideas and a place to collaborate will foster growth and innovation. I think shared spaces will motivate more students and people with ideas to feel their idea can become reality.

-Emily Bulla

Berlin: A City of Opportunity

Learned from the past, focused on the present, planning the future

Staying consistent with the last few days, a steady drizzle once again persisted as students transferred from Hamburg to Berlin to round out the study abroad trip. Upon arriving in Berlin, they were amazed by the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Students had visited many multimodal train stations over the course of the trip, but nothing like this in Berlin. Not only did the main train station have many forms of transportation integrated within it, but it had multiple levels for train lines as well. Many call this Hauptbahnhof “the greatest train station in Europe.”

Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, one of the biggest and most impressive train stations in Europe. It features a multimodal transportation hub as well as multiple platform levels for long distance trains.
Sign located on a German long distance train that informs riders that this train runs on renewable energy.

Upon arrival at the hotel, students did some quick exploring. A unique feature of the Berlin Plus Hostel is its location. Just a block away is the location of the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin. Although the wall was torn down in 1989, part of the wall still stands a couple blocks away from the hotel. This wall is a tribute to the cold war and has been decorated by professional graffiti artists making various political statements.

The rest of afternoon was spent visiting Adlershof, one of Berlin’s biggest technology and research sites. Located in East Berlin, Adlershof employs roughly 17,000 workers in a 4.5 square kilometer campus. They employ the triple helix management structure which works to integrate education, research, and products/services. Here, large companies work with smaller start-ups to match innovation with the money to back it up. On-campus, they have main tech areas specializing in photovoltaics and renewable energy to IT and media. Each of these tech centers has their own specialized hub which is customized for specific needs. Generally, all the hubs receive high speed communication systems as well as high-tech equipment which include things such as labs and workshops. Adlershof provides resources and equipment to start-ups and students that normally they would not be able to use affordably.

Frank explains how Adlershof has expanded over the years and the location of specific tech hubs on the campus.

The campus is not all sunshine and rainbows however; they do face some challenges when it comes to its workforce. The campus is located forty-five minutes away from Berlin’s city center. As a result, the young workforce they rely on for breakthrough ideas has to commute this distance every workday. A possible solution is to create housing very close to the research park which would significantly reduce commute time. With this solution however comes a few requirements. For employee satisfaction and the general “want” to live there, the local area must have the right infrastructure. This includes necessities such as good schools for their children, recreational facilities, and everyday stores needed for a high quality of life. These are all improvements that Adlershof is working on for the good of the employees in the park.

This is an example of some the housing in the vicinity of Adlershof. This location significantly cuts down commute time for employees compared to many who live in downtown Berlin.

Adlershof is a bright point in East Germany, competing for national and international business. They provide start-ups a brand name to build off of and promote their product. To stimulate this innovation, they provide an open space with no fences and many common areas for easy, casual interactions among different companies. This is a company that is continuing to expand and contribute to global innovation.

-Basil Rodts

A Visit to Bayer

Stepping Inside the Life Science Company

While leaving Eindhoven after such a short visit was disappointing, the prospect of returning to Germany had all the students excited, myself included. We took a bus to Dusseldorf, a pit stop before traveling to the Ruhr Area, and stored our luggage in the train station. From there we took a train to Leverkusen to see the Bayer headquarters. Bayer, a major pharmaceutical company, did not originally seem like a visit to be included on a program surrounding smart cities and renewable energy. However, after a walk through the campus and tour of Baykomm, the communication center, there were many ideas to take away from the visit.

Entering Baykomm, the communications center for Bayer. Inside is where we met one of our guides for the day and had the opportunity to engage with some of their interactive learning tools.
Bayer’s campus is covered with walking paths and beautiful gardens. Walking through this campus makes it clear that the employees have access to plenty of green space and can stay active throughout the day.

First and foremost were the innovative education tools the Bayer communication center is using to promote lessons on the life sciences as well as the projects they are working on. Teachers in the area can bring their elementary school children into classrooms and laboratories here that contain equipment many schools cannot afford. Merle Jackel, our guide for the afternoon, showed us a lab specifically used to teach children about the importance of a healthy bee population. The decline of bee colonies in parts of the world is of major public concern; of the 100 crops providing 90% of the world’s food, 70 benefit from bee and other insect pollination. The lab not only shows young students how they themselves can help bees stay healthy, but introduces them to a world of research and science. Inspiring students at a young age to pursue an education in science is important for the future health of our world’s ecosystems.

Inside one of the labs that school teachers may bring their students to. This one specifically is devoted to learning about bee health, its importance, and how students can help improve it.
Inside the communications center, employees and visitors stay up to date with facts and figures about the health of the world. Pictured here is the square meters of arable land required to feed one person today (1,995.56) and people still affected by poor nutrition (738,309,030).

Bayer was founded in 1863 as a synthetic dye production company, but in the 1890s they developed their first synthetic insecticide. Dye production turned crop protection company, it is not surprising that bee health is not the only environmental-based project Bayer works on. While Bayer now concentrates in human and animal health, a major focus of theirs remains crop science and researching arable land and nutrition. With a predicted population of 10 billion people by 2050, providing enough healthy food is a goal for this life sciences company. Unfortunately, the presentation did not go into depth on the agricultural research and innovation Bayer is pushing forward. They also glossed over the deal with Monsanto, one of the biggest takeovers of its kind at a value of 60 billion euro, describing it simply as the key to having the “complete solution” to agricultural technology. With Monsanto’s representation for engineering food and pesticides, I am curious to see the affect this has on crop technology worldwide. Additionally, with Monsanto and Bayer owning 30% of the seed market combined, it will be interesting to see how seed prices for farmers are affected.

One of the program’s students participating in the interactive learning at the communications center Baykomm. Here he is putting on the “Senior Simulator” and tasked with opening up pill bottles. This allows Bayer to see what improvements can be made to make their senior consumers more at ease.

An intriguing part of the presentation was the stress they put on Bayer’s separation from their chemistry counterparts. Bayer is a purely life sciences company with a separate chemical industrial area is located next door – Chempark Leverkusen. Merle Jackel explained that the separation was necessary in order to stay competitive. Bayer did not have the budget to keep the chemical processes under its company, and the chemical group could be more competitive with other chemical based companies if it separated from Bayer. A tour through the Chempark revealed that the entire operation was still supported by coal, and not much innovation was occurring to make production more efficient and sustainable. The emphasis on cost-benefit production as opposed to innovation and sustainability seems like a theme that may stem from the classic shareholder model. Overall, many students left the visit wondering what role Bayer, Monsanto, and its chemistry counterparts would play in the future of smart and healthy cities.

The bus we boarded for an air conditioned tour of the chemistry park, which was nice after a long day of traveling.
During the bus tour, we were taken inside one of the buildings to see a model of the entire chemical park. This picture highlights the use of coal and continuation of a more traditional industrial campus.

-Sarah Wotus

Automotive Campus: Creating a Greener Future

Electric vehicles and innovation ecosystems will power our economic and environmental future

After traveling via train to Eindhoven yesterday, we spent our first full day in and around Eindhoven today (July 5). Within fifteen minutes of leaving the city, we were biking through the countryside, alongside a beautiful canal and a seemingly ceaseless row of old trees. Eventually, we came upon Helmond, sometimes called the “automotive city” because of its role in vehicle innovation. In Helmond, we visited the “Automotive Campus,” where we listened to two presentations focused on the future of vehicles and their intersection with smart cities. We also were able to look around a workshop on the Automotive Campus where students from Fontys University (in Eindhoven) build their own electric cars, one of which drove to Berlin with only one recharge. While we didn’t learn much about the technical aspects of these student-built electric cars, it was impressive to witness an example of the hands-on learning that students in the Netherlands participate in to further their education and to hear about the companies that financially support this technical, hands-on form of learning. We picked up a great deal of information during our first day in Eindhoven, but I thought some of the best insights were on the future of electric vehicles and innovation ecosystems.

Just ten minutes out of Eindhoven, we already reached beautiful green areas surrounding the city.
We were able to bike alongside a beautiful canal for much of the bike ride to the Automotive Campus.
We arrived at about 1:00 at the Automotive Campus.

Both presenters prefaced the importance of transitioning to electric vehicles by mentioning the impending threat to the Netherlands from climate change. While Eindhoven would be safe, most other major Dutch cities could be underwater in mere decades if no major action occurs to combat climate change. That’s why the innovation occurring at the Automotive Campus is so crucial. Our first presentation focused on smart and green mobility, with our presenter Daniel introducing us to facts and goals for the Netherlands. The largest ambition for the nation is having one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in 2025, a huge increase from the current amount of 113,000 registered EVs. It’s pretty appealing for the Dutch to embrace EVs because gas costs are very high here, making electric a better economic and environmental option. Along with the increase in EVs will come an increase in public and private chargepoints for EVs, although our presenter emphasized that he thought the main increase would occur in private chargepoints (either at workplaces or homes).

After our presentations at the Automotive Campus, we went to a workshop where engineers and Fontys University students were piecing together electric cars.
We left the day having learned a great deal about Automotive Campus, Fontys, and all their partners. All in all, this day was fascinating and a huge success.

When electric vehicles are mentioned, the conversation often focuses around cars. But the Netherlands is truly looking to the future by investing in heavy duty electric powertrains and e-buses. As of now, 43 e-buses operate in Eindhoven and 100 operate in Amsterdam. The most complex question around e-buses is the time it takes to recharge the buses, but there seems to also be a solution for that in the Netherlands. Faster chargers, also known as superchargers, can charge a bus in as little as twenty minutes. Fast recharging could make e-buses a more viable option for public transit across the world. Because of more and more e-buses, public transportation will cause less pollution and more cars can be taken off the road, decreasing traffic and increasing efficiency.

Here is the electric engine of a beautiful white convertible, showing that while expensive, it is possible to move from a typical gas vehicle to an electric one.
Fontys students work together on elements of their “homemade” electric car.
Students listen as more is explained about building electric cars and about some specific successes of Fontys students.

In these two presentations, we also learned more about innovation ecosystems and knowledge clustering, an important part of smart cities that we have already looked at earlier in the trip. Our second presenter, Bram, discussed the so-called “triple helix,” otherwise known as the cooperation between knowledge institutes, government, and industry. This close cooperation allows innovation to occur in an environment where it is in the best interests of economic growth as well as individuals’ well-being. The triple helix is a form of knowledge clustering, with different parties bringing different viewpoints to the table and helping to create a smarter region, country, and world. These concepts are economic boons for startups and innovation and could be successfully implemented more in cities across the United States and the rest of the world.

-Joseph Womble

Automotive campus is a playground for transportation innovation

Green mobility innovations will make for an exciting future for cities

Our first class day while in Eindhoven began with the group biking to the Automotive Campus in Helmond. The Automotive Campus hosts a variety of startups that focus on innovations that will improve the efficiency of automobiles as well as help move toward the transition to electric vehicles. After our lecture we visited a workshop on the campus that is an extension of Fontys University of Applied Sciences. We made a trip to the university yesterday and today had the opportunity to see more of the kind of technical work that universities in the Netherlands do in order to foster relationships with universities and help prepare students to enter the workforce and think like “gamechangers.”

In the hall of the automotive campus is a map of automotive organizations in the Netherlands.

Our class time was in two parts: one lecture focused on innovations that are being worked on that will enable full automation of transportation and the other one focused on the transition to electric vehicles and how this would operate in an urban system. As part of the development of smart cities, we mostly talked about electric vehicles in the context of public transportation in urban areas. Green Mobility would include private cars and car sharing in addition to electric trains. Electric vehicles and automation together will decrease energy demand while also eliminating fossil fuel emissions with platooning, or the communication between automobiles and traffic lights.

Electric vehicle single-passenger charging outside of the automotive campus building.

The social implications of automation include more efficient use of space in cities. This is really important when thinking about the challenges that many European cities face when trying to expand outward. Automated vehicles and car sharing services within cities come with great potential for the development of public space due to less of a need for parking space within cities. Although less parking would mean a decrease of revenue for cities there could be more housing developments within the city. The introduction of more green spaces would improve water retention within cities as well as protect the air quality in cities.

Students watching engineering students in the Fonty’s university workshop.

Shared workspaces are an important aspect in supporting an innovation ecosystem with the development of new and improved technologies and data collection. Chapel Hill and many other cities in the United States would greatly benefit from more investments in public transportation. Public transportation intersects many different aspects of sustainability as it can decrease the carbon footprint while decreasing the collective cost of transportation resources within a city. Transportation also promotes social equity by making more of the city accessible to more people.

Timeline graphics in the hall of the Automotive campus show automobile development and innovation. They also include pivotal legislation restricting air pollution and the transition to more sustainable solutions.

As we have seen modeled in our visits to universities is that there is great potential for knowledge sharing when using triple helix solution models; using partnerships between the government, industry and universities to solve problems and improve cities. What we have found during our time in the Netherlands is how the transition toward renewable energy solutions and smart city planning is much more urgent when considering the serious consequences of climate change. Hopefully government and industry in the United States will soon realize the benefits of these innovations in strengthening the economy using the triple helix model to move the US to the forefront of innovative technology.

-Marques Wilson

Priva: Specialized Agricultural Technology

Applying the German Mittlestand-like approach in the Netherlands

After a long stretch of company visits and sightseeing tours across the Netherlands, students finished the week traveling to De Lier to visit the agricultural tech company Priva. To get to the the company’s headquarters, students ventured through the countryside from The Hague over the course of two hours. Along the way, students observed many of the construction projects occurring in the city. The city has shifted their focus away from constructing new urban areas. Instead, an effort to develop and revitalize current urban areas have taken place and led to construction projects not located on the outskirts of the city. These projects will increase the quality of life in these areas and offer a more attractive location closer to the city center and the main train stations.

In this photo, construction projects take place just outside of the Hague. The city is moving away from creating/developing new urban areas and instead to revitalizing current urban areas.

Arriving to De Lier in the early afternoon, students received a short reprieve to eat a snack before continuing on with the program at Priva’s headquarters. Here, students were met by Dr. Jan Westra who takes the role as a Strategic Business Developer for the company. He explains that Priva was started in 1959 as a family owned agricultural tech company. Even though Priva is small compared to many other businesses, they are still a competitive global company whose core industrial objective is to produce software and hardware to successfully implement greenhouses around the world.

Priva Headquarters, a global company that provides software and hardware to greenhouse farms. The second picture is an overview of their spacious lobby area which includes a refreshment stand as well as a comfortable lounge area.

The company currently employs 320 workers within the Netherlands as well as 130 additional employees abroad. They have headquarters located in most continents including three in North America. A viable comparison to Priva is the German Mittlestand concept. This is a company who has stayed relatively small and has maintained their family-oriented values. They constantly employ interns internationally for research as well as for job specific development leading to future employment. As a result, 80% of Priva employees have received a University education and the company is top 30 for research and development spending in the Netherlands. Additionally, they have also found their own special niche within the agriculture industry becoming one of the top specialist for greenhouse technology.

Priva is active on two markets: Horticulture and Building Management Systems. On the horticulture side, many developments are made in-house by designing and building their own greenhouse systems. They make their systems SMART by integrating things such as heat, carbon dioxide and electricity together. They then continue on with their Building Management Systems. With the technology systems they have already perfected, they take on many projects across the world implementing their systems into existing greenhouses. An example of this implementation is through the UrbanFarmers company located in The Hague that we visited a week earlier. Priva constructed the intricate aquaponics system that UrbanFarmers relies on to yield fresh produce as well as home-grown tilapia to sell to local restaurants.

Not only does Priva help create SMART systems for other companies that are environmentally friendly, but their own headquarters building also takes into account this mindset as well. In De Lier, the Priva headquarter complex sports sustainability through thermal energy storage, moss covered roofs, heat pumps, and clean electricity from Norway. Additionally, they are looking into the BlueRise project which harnesses ocean thermal energy through the difference in temperature in between deep cold water and shallow warm water. As a company, they continue to push for environmentally friendly methods to gather and save energy.

We concluded our trip with a visit to the history room which detailed the background of the company and how it was started in the 1950s. We then moved on to the showroom which is used primarily for displaying new products to potential clients. Finally, we ended in the quality control center where we were able to see the hands on approach the company took to inspect their technological products.

Overall, the students were impressed by the unique niche and Mittlestand-like approach Priva takes, one that focuses on their products and not necessarily just profit for shareholders. As a result, Priva looks set for a long and prosperous future in the agriculture business.

The Hague University sports complex. The building seen is not one big futbol field but instead many different athletic spaces for exercise.
Old-fashioned windmill located in Loosduinen. Majestically standing erect against a stormy backdrop.
Location of Parkpop. Occurred last Sunday. Big music festival with some of the top European bands/artists.
Kerosene heat generator that originally was used in Florida to keep crops from freezing at night. Later, it was found that this releases CO2 which is a key component in growing crops in a greenhouse setting.

-Basil Rodts

The Netherlands as a Food Exporter

Using advanced greenhouse technologies to increase food production

Today, on our way to Priva headquarters, we got a good look at the agricultural area just outside of The Hague. The area consisted mostly of large greenhouses, with some areas for livestock to graze as well. The soil in this part of the country is not very good for growing crops, and the climate does not allow for production year round. The Netherlands has worked to solve those problems through the use of advanced greenhouse technologies, such as the systems offered by Priva. Greenhouses and advanced climate control systems allow growers to control every aspect of the growing process, from humidity and temperature to carbon dioxide concentration. This creates the conditions for much higher crop yields than conventional farming tactics, and allowed The Netherlands to become a huge exporter of food and agricultural products.

Students bike along a canal on the way to Priva headquarters. Even outside of the city, the bicycle infrastructure is quite extensive.
On the way to Priva, we passed through an area with a lot of greenhouses. Advanced greenhouse technologies helped The Netherlands become the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world.

In fact, The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of food products in the world, second only to the United States. In 2016, the country exported a record 94 billion euros worth of agricultural products, according to the government website. Of that, the top exported agricultural product was materials and technology, which accounted for 9.4% of exports. A large part of the exports in this category are Priva products, as well as products from KOBA, one of the largest greenhouse builders in the world.

This building is where local food producers bring their products to auction. It is also one of the largest buildings in the world by square footage.
Cows graze in a field next to the bike path. This was a very common sight in the area with the greenhouses.

Global food security will become a much bigger problem in the coming years as the world population continues to grow and the effects of climate change become more pronounced. The world will have to continue to shift away from conventional farming techniques and towards more sophisticated farming techniques such as greenhouses or vertical farming. These methods use resources such as water much more efficiently, and produce higher crop yields. High-tech farming in greenhouses will play a large role in food production in the near future, and Dutch companies will likely continue to dominate the market for both greenhouses and advanced climate control systems.

This is the entrance to a public orchard just outside of The Hague. The orchard is part of a park, and when the fruit is ripe, citizens can come pick apples and pears for free.
Houseboats are a common sight in the canals of The Hague and other Dutch cities. This one in particular has solar panels on the roof.

-Eric Fitch

SICK and the Solar Info Center

Companies and facilities maintain environmental values and thrive

This morning, we met our tour guide from the Innovation Academy, Steffen, outside the Theater Freiburg ( and took the train to visit SICK Sensor Intelligence ( 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.

Our tour guide Steffen and SICK representative Mrs. Lena Lungstrauss walk with us from the train station 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 ( 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.

SICK welcomes UNC to their headquarters in Freiburg.
Students explore the technologies that SICK produces in the display room.

After a leisurely two-hour lunch break, we met at the train station again to visit the Solar Info Center ( 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 ( and The Underground in Durham, NC ( 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.

The group takes the tram to visit the Solar Info Center.
In the middle of the Solar Info Center, there is a courtyard garden that serves as a green space and as water management technology. Rainwater is filtered through the ground, cleaned, and then funneled into the groundwater deposit below the surface.
Students learn about the construction of the Solar Info Center, the role of renewables in the German economy, and the importance of developing alternative energy sources.

-Olivia Corriere

Industry and Sustainability

How two German businesses are innovating in the field of Sustainable Agriculture

We spent the first part of our day visiting Rinklin Distribution, a business which ships goods around the Rhein Valley. The business is part of the German Mittelstand, the mid sized, family-owned businesses which make up the brunt of the country’s economic force. Rinklin has been active in the region for decades. Another feature of Mittelstand companies, it has been in the family for multiple generations and represents a long term investment rather than a means to procure a quick profit. Rinklin began as a small, single-man operation hand-delivering goods directly to customers. At the time, the product lineup consisted of a pushcart loaded up with a handful of vegetables and fruits.

Bottles are loaded up to be sorted and returned to the suppliers for cleaning and reuse.

The company has grown substantially, and with 12,000 products and 250 total employees, the warehouse contained both clear organization and a buzzing energy. The interaction between the values of the company and the decisions on the business side was very interesting to note. Rinklin is very involved with each step of the process; this begins by working closely with suppliers to make sure the products are of an acceptable quality and ends with their own systems of ensuring the used materials are properly reused or recycled. For instance, we were shown a large area full of infrastructure built to sort used bottles to be sent back to the suppliers for reuse. A 100,000 Euro investment in a machine that compresses corrugated cardboard for more efficient transportation to recycling centers was framed both in terms of the business cost analysis (the machine paid for itself in about 2 years) and the environmental benefits of increasing the proportion of recycled material.

The loading ramp for the cardboard compressing machine. The 100,000 Euro machine paid itself off in just two years.
The outside of the Rinklin biomart. Everyone taking a brief rest before the trek to Breitenwegerhof farm.
The inside of the Rinklin biomart. Our group had a chance to load up on tasty, organic food after seeing the ins and outs of its production!

Sustainability remains an important tenet of Rinklin, with multiple innovative attempts at reducing the energy dependence on fossil fuels. Cooling the store room for their refrigerated products generates a lot of heat, typically viewed as a waste product. However, Rinklin uses this heat to warm their offices, helping them cut down on their usual heating costs. Also worth noting is the ongoing process of reducing the amount of diesel used by the fleet of delivery trucks. Recently, Rinklin outfitted some of their trucks with photovoltaic solar panels. The energy those panels provide goes towards maintaining a suitable temperature for the refrigerated products, energy that traditionally would have come from burning diesel. It is important to point out that this is an ongoing process, and that the company hopes to eventually have trucks that use renewable electric energy not only for cooling, but also for driving. The market for such vehicles is still trying to find solid footing, but many are hopeful that the electric car market will see a large boost in volume within the next 5 to 10 years.

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.
Photo by: Forest Schweitzer

Lastly, we visited a local farm called Breitenwegerhof. On its surface, it seems very similar to many of the other farms nearby. There are cows, woolly pigs, and over 200 hens, all raised in very humane conditions. The farm also makes its own cheeses and yogurts using the milk from the cows, also producing eggs and various meats. Sampling a few of the cheeses let us confirm that the Breitenwegerhof way of production – keeping everything organic and relying on skilled individual farmers – makes for some delicious and flavorful cheeses. That aside, this farm was particularly interesting because of the financing behind it. They, as well as many other local farms in and around Freiburg, are backed by Regionalwert AG, which means that the farm is owned by over 500 shareholders. This unique set-up helps to support smaller farms with the expensive initial costs of land and other resources. This is important as it helps to bring balance to a practice that can be dominated by large scale, machine-dominated factory farms. Many of the sustainable practices we witnessed at Breitenwegerhof are not employed in factory farms, and so finding economic structures able to support the smaller local farms is a step in the right direction; this is especially important to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as agriculture remains one of the largest contributors to overall emissions.

Luciano addresses the group at the entrance to Breitenwegenhof. Shortly before this picture was taken, a farmer passing by waved and chatted with Luciano. The farming community here is a supportive bunch.
The group getting to know the woolly pigs. They’re quite cute, however their meat is considered a delicacy.

-Keegan Barnes