Ranga Yogeshwar: If we ask people on the street to explain what sustainability means, we would get a pretty varied response. Some people say it is about much more than climate change. Others puzzle over whether it has anything to do with the environment at all. This ambiguity shows that for many people, the issue is not a top priority, despite the fact that we have been living beyond our means for a long time. We consume a massive amount of the world’s resources and that means future generations will not be able to enjoy life as much as we do. As consumers, we want to have everything, as well as a clear conscience. We grew up in a world where wealth and possessions were important and now, we are facing moral questions. Is increasing prosperity the goal? Or is it about how much CO2 you can emit to be happy? Consumers are torn.
Ranga Yogeshwar: Towards insight, I hope. We have to change our focus. Technological progress was long the credo for economic success, even for me as a scientist. But how we want to use technology in the future and to what aim? It is not about renouncing prosperity, but rather about changing our perspective and improving our quality of life. Let me give you an example: Before the pandemic, I used to fly to Berlin for countless meetings and wound up wasting a lot of time sitting in trains or waiting rooms. Today I do a lot online and my CO2 footprint has shrunk dramatically. We have to be innovative and work out what options have a positive effect, for us and for the globe.
Ranga Yogeshwar: Possibly. But the crucial thing is changing awareness, not only on a national level but worldwide. And that is more difficult, as some countries are only now able to afford the economic luxuries that we have long taken for granted. We have to act on the issue of sustainability, but on the other hand, we also have to understand that different cultures and countries have different goals. Otherwise, we will find ourselves starting to tell the rest of the world what to do. However, if we don’t do anything ourselves, the change will take too long and the effects will become increasingly plain.
Ranga Yogeshwar: I am still seeing contradictory behavior, unfortunately. My airline gives me bonus points once I fly 170,000 air miles, for example. That’s absurd! The airline should slap me and say, “Stop, it’s too much pollution, change your behavior or your flights will become really expensive from now on.” But that would run counter to companies’ economic goals. The real art is finding the right balance.
Ranga Yogeshwar: What is clear is that there are not enough resources for all of the people worldwide to share the same lifestyle that we enjoy. We need new ways of thinking. Up until now, growth has been based on material resources. In the future, however, value will be created in a different way. Nowadays, the wealthiest companies are more likely to be the ones producing software, so thoughts rather than products. They are supplying ways of thinking but not telling the world what to do. This is the start of a new way of thinking entrepreneurially.
Ranga Yogeshwar: And for that we need environmentallyfriendly technology. Technology has already made photovoltaic cells much more usable nowadays than they were a decade ago, for example. This is a form of renewable energy that is much cheaper than coal or nuclear power. The biggest parts of change will be rethinking the economy and a reform of energy procurement.
"The biggest parts of change will be rethinking the economy and a reform of energy procurement."
Ranga Yogeshwar: Well, I do see criticism of how much energy is consumed in digitization. But we are also seeing new ways of thinking in this area as well. Take the fact that some server farms are located in Iceland, where it is relatively cool, which reduces the heat generated by computers. I can imagine that we won’t have servers in Germany or the US any more, a few years from now. They will be in countries where the conditions are better.
As a dairy, to us it seems as though people are pretty selective in the way they think about consumption. There are supermarket shelves packed with sustainable products but many people take that for granted. But given all the crises we are facing, you can’t take functioning supply chains for granted any more.
Ranga Yogeshwar : Yes, today we have a very specific idea of how something should be, in order for us to believe it is right. We have to question that and adapt. Take organic products, for example. Ideally, they would all be made by hand. But high-tech dairies don’t resemble those pictures on the packaging that show chickens strutting around a farm, against a backdrop of cows munching grass in a meadow. I often used to help out on a small farm in Luxembourg which had eight cows. They were kept in a dark barn and to me, they didn’t seem to be very comfortable. As a society, we do a lot of wishful thinking. But what we need is for each person to look a little deeper and ask themselves, how can animals live in dignity? A cow might prefer to live on a high-tech farm rather than a pretty little farm where the barn is pitch black.