Founder calls for radical measures for climate protection

But the organic retailer solved the matter pragmatically. With the help of conservationists, 300 lizards were caught and temporarily relocated. After the end of the construction, the animals were brought back and now have a reserve with stones, dead wood, hedges and sandy soil for laying eggs on the 55,000 square meter company campus.

“We are a model company, we want to show that you can do business sensibly,” says Götz Rehn, founder and boss of Alnatura. “For us there is no contradiction between economy and ecology.”

And while many companies are now desperately trying to change their operations in such a way that they are more climate-friendly and, in the best case, even climate-neutral, Alnatura has a real head start on this issue. Sustainability and protection of the climate and the environment were at the core of the foundation from the very beginning and did not have to be introduced first.

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“Sustainability has been in the genes of our company from the very beginning, we didn’t have to invent that afterwards,” the founder describes it. “Our business model is inherently sustainable.” And all innovations in the company are carefully checked for this.

Avoid using pesticides and fertilizers

“Alnatura is rightly considered a pioneer – in organic food, sustainable economic practices and also in climate protection,” confirms Katharina Reuter, Managing Director of the Federal Association for Sustainable Economy. “Be it a high-bay warehouse made of wood, the supply of 100 percent renewable energies, be it sustainably furnished Alnatura stores – when it comes to selling organic food on this scale, we think ahead and think ahead.”

Organic farming in itself is active climate protection. Because organic agriculture enriches the soil with humus, which binds CO2. Avoiding chemical pesticides and mineral fertilizers also improves the carbon footprint of food production.

With its “organic farmers initiative”, Alnatura and the environmental association Nabu are promoting the conversion from conventional farms to organic. “This is a huge lever for saving the climate,” says Rehn.

With the organic farmers initiative, the company converted 15,000 hectares of arable land to organic farming in five years. “This enabled us to contribute a lot to climate protection,” emphasizes the Alnatura founder.

This commitment is not entirely unselfish, as only a fraction of the area in agriculture is organically farmed and is therefore available for production for organic traders. Although the organic acreage in Germany has grown by almost 50 percent since 2014, it is still less than ten percent of the total agriculturally used area.

First ginger produced in Germany

At the same time, initiatives such as that of Alnatura contribute to the EU Commission’s “Green Deal”. This stipulates that 25 percent of the land in Germany should be farmed organically by 2030. For this, 240,000 hectares would have to be converted every year, but in the end it was only 100,000 hectares.

In addition, the company is working to ensure that more and more of its products are manufactured in Germany in order to have short transport routes. “For example, we managed to grow ginger on the island of Reichenau, which is the first ginger produced in Germany,” says Rehn happily. The first deliveries were gone faster than the dealer could see.

Sometimes you can make a virtue out of necessity. There was no approval for the required height of the shelves for the new high-bay warehouse. Without further ado, the company sunk the shelves two and a half meters into the ground in order to still accommodate 32,000 Euro pallets.

The positive side effect: Since the warehouse in Lorch is located near the Rhine, the groundwater now heats the goods on the shelves, which are in a large tub. Additional cooling or heating is no longer required in the warehouse.

In shops, it is often the sum of many seemingly small changes that lead to advances in climate protection. Alnatura was the first retailer to install glass doors in front of the refrigerated shelves – a measure that was initially ridiculed by the competition and is now standard for many. The company switched its stores completely to LED lighting very early on.

The results are measurable. Alnatura was able to reduce electricity consumption in the shops from 311 kilowatt hours per square meter of sales area in the 2014/15 financial year to now below 278 kilowatt hours. Just because the company uses 100 percent green electricity, it saves around 12,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year compared to the average electricity mix in Germany.

Europe’s largest office building made of rammed earth

The commitment to climate protection at the headquarters in Darmstadt, which opened at the beginning of 2019, is particularly striking. Sustainability expert Reuter calls it “a real role model for climate-friendly architecture”. The building was awarded the German Sustainability Award Architecture 2020.

It is the largest office building with a rammed earth facade and integrated geothermal wall heating in Europe. The house is ventilated with fresh air, which is supplied via an underground duct from a nearby forest. The electricity is generated by a photovoltaic system, a 1000 cubic meter underground cistern collects rainwater for the service water cycle and for the cultivation of the garden.

“Here design quality meets responsibility for people and the environment”, praised Alexander Rudolphi, President of the German Sustainable Building Council, who raves about the “high-quality, climate-friendly architecture”. And Hesse’s Economics Minister Tarek Al-Wazir (Greens) said at the opening that the company shows that green ideas can also be in the black, and he admitted that he would rather work in the Alnatura headquarters than in his Wiesbaden ministry .

This is not least due to the fact that founder Rehn also takes care of the details. So he didn’t like the gray hue of the clay. That’s why he had it mixed with recycled material from the tunnel excavation of the Stuttgart 21 construction project, which gave the clay a brownish color. Inside, the 18-meter-high building has a completely open architecture, with a view of the atrium from all floors. Even Rehn no longer has a closed office.

The new building was accompanied by a mobility concept that was even awarded by the federal government. A bicycle parking garage was built for the employees, and Alnatura now has around 250 company bicycles. There are also free charging points for e-bikes and e-cars on campus.

What the boss is particularly pleased about: The construction costs for the climate-friendly headquarters were even lower than those of conventional office buildings. Because he is “first and foremost a person, secondly I take care of nature, and thirdly I am an entrepreneur.” But he also emphasizes: “It goes without saying that what I do has to pay off. “

Criticism of compensation for climate sins

Overall, the pace of the transformation of the economy in Germany towards more climate friendliness is far too slow for the entrepreneur. “It is high time we acted radically and no longer just applied cosmetics on the surface,” warns Rehn.

There is no point in selling pollution certificates so that someone else can use them to compensate for their pollution. “It’s a zero-sum game,” he complains. “Our motto is: act instead of compensate.”

Society overstrains the regenerative capacity of the environment immeasurably, in Germany we meanwhile use up the resources of three earths per year. “If you realize that 50 percent of the earth’s biocapacity is used for the production of food, then the water is not just up to our necks, but we can just look out and breathe through a snorkel,” says Rehn a dramatic picture.

He advises that a more positive approach is needed to better engage people on the way to more climate protection. “In climate protection, we have to move away from frustration and towards pleasure.” With his company, he wants to show that “we don’t have to forego anything” when dealing adequately with nature. “We’re not ascetics, we don’t walk around in sackcloth,” he says with a laugh.

Of course, you also have to have the courage to make radical decisions that can sometimes cost you a profit. “But a real entrepreneur isn’t afraid,” he says. “We are convinced of what we do, and then there is a certain risk involved.”

And he also advises politicians to be more courageous. Because Rehn is convinced: “We have to change the framework conditions in our society. People themselves know pretty well what makes sense. “

Series – Climate Pioneers in Business: There is hardly a day on which a new company in the world does not declare its freshly set climate goals and ambitions for the energy transition. There are some who have long been ahead of the “green economy” trend and have been proving for many years that ecology and economy do not have to be a contradiction in terms. In our series we introduce some of these “climate pioneers”.