“I know how much can be set in motion when some people lead the way and others follow them”

German president presented the most lucrative European environmental prize today in Leipzig – DBU bestows award

Leipzig. German President Joachim Gauck today paid tribute to the new winners of the German Environmental Award of the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU) as exponents of something that made him proud of Germany: inventiveness and enterprise from people who were trying to transform desirable goals into practical reality. “It is not enough for us to talk big and to want more sustainability from a sense of political correctness. Sustainability must be actively desired at a political level, but implemented by business and then accepted by society.” The co-founder and supervisory board chairman of SMA Solar Technology AG (Kassel), Günther Cramer (59), and the researcher-entrepreneur team Dr. Andreas Bett/Hansjörg Lerchenmüller (both Freiburg) received the award – at 500,000 euros the most lucrative environmental prize in Europe – from his hands in the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Bett (50) is the deputy director of the Frauhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), while Hansjörg Lerchenmüller (45) is the CEO of Soitec Solar GmbH.

Ecology and economy on the way to becoming reconciled with one another

In front of around 1,200 guests – including German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and the prime minister of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich – the German president praised the achievements of the DBU Environmental Award winners and expressed his amazement at “what is possible when people have ideas and put them into action despite all resistance”. He described the fact that Germany is planning a future with renewable energy sources as certainly one of the most ambitious projects undertaken in the country. But, he said, it was becoming apparent that something had been set in motion with regard to one of the very important issues of our times: the reconciliation of ecology and economy.

“We also know more and more about the price, the costs, of not taking action”

Gauck said that even if Germany did not want to abandon its industrial traditions – steel, car industry, chemicals and electro-energy – the country was still taking an ambitious path. He said that with engineering skill and socio-political foresight, Germany could remain at the forefront of future-looking technologies, and that it could become independent of resources that did not exist in the country. He admitted, however, that although the change of energy policy in Germany was being followed with great interest in the rest of the world, it was sometimes creating tensions within Germany itself. Debates, criticism and conflict, he said, were normal considering what was at stake. But if there was to be argument, he went on, it should not only be about the problems and troubles of the path that had been taken, but also about the chances it offered. Gauck: “And also about the problems and negative effects that we would have if we did not take this path. We also know more and more about the price, the costs, of not taking action.”

Habitual lifestyle as risk for sustainable development

The president also warned, however, that those who wanted an environmentally-friendly Germany should not at the same time oppose necessary changes on the ground. And, he said, if people everywhere in the world were to consume as they do in Germany, “that would actually be the biggest burden for the environment”. Cars, heated apartments with all the nice electric devices, the good food we are used to, and perhaps even the occasional long trip –  we indirectly required a lot of space for our habitual lifestyle, he said. Gauck: “We must develop and change.”

“We must face up to this task. We owe it to ourselves and our children and grandchildren”

Gauck went on to say that clean water, fertile soil and many other resources could not be increased at will, let alone created from nothing. Gauck: “We will probably maintain this capital – the most valuable on our planet – and thus also our prosperity only if we stop the exploitation of nature and the destruction of the environment, wherever possible.  We have to face up to this task, particularly if we understand freedom as responsibility. We owe it to ourselves and to our children and grandchildren.” The president added, however, that his confidence that this was possible had grown with today's ceremony. Gauck: “We live in a free society that is willing and able to learn. And I know very well how much can be set in motion when some lead the way and others follow them.”

Commendation of the prizewinners by jury members Christiane Grefe and Claudia Kemfert

As members of the jury of the German Environmental award, whose proposals guide the selection of the prizewinners each year by the board of trustees of the DBU, Christiane Grefe (from “Die Zeit” weekly) and Prof. Claudia Kemfert (German Institute for Economic Research) spoke about the achievements of the prizewinners in 2012. Kemvert praised the technology represented by the 2012 prizewinners as “very future-oriented”. With its choice of prizewinners, she said, the jury had wanted to send a signal with regard to renewable energy sources and their importance. She said she believed that the prizewinning photovoltaic technology was capable of great things worldwide and would be in demand from many countries in the future. Kemfert: “Great that we produce it in Germany.” Christiane Grefe said she was fascinated by Günther Cramer's persistence: for 30 years, she said, he had pursued the vision of achieving a hundred-percent usage of renewable energies. She said Cramer had contributed to this not only by producing inverters for photovoltaic systems as a market leader, but that his work also had a social dimension, as he had also introduced off-grid technology in developing countries, where 1.3 billion people still lacked access to electricity.

Hubert Weinzierl, chairman of the DBU board of trustees, steps down from his post in summer

The emotional conclusion and climax of the ceremony, which included music performed by the Gewandhaus Quintet and the Gewandhaus organist Michael Schönheit, was provided by the chairman of the DBU's board of trustees, Hubert Weinzierl. Weinzierl is to step down from the post of chairman of the DBU in summer as scheduled. He has been a member of the board of trustees for ten years - eight of them as chairman. In moving words, Weinzierl said that he had held numerous honorary posts in the environmental movement over the past 50 years, but that the one with the DBU had been the nicest. He said this had partly to do with the fact that issues of environmental politics and sustainability could be put into real practice through the DBU. But, he said, it was also because of a team at the DBU that achieved outstanding results. Weinzierl said it had always been a great joy for him to be part of it. He added that he would always remain an environmentalist even after leaving the DBU. He appealed to the guests at the ceremony to be true to the cause of environmental protection: “Posterity will not judge us by power plants and motorways, but will ask how much nature we have left behind.”

Prizewinners Günther Cramer (4th from left), Dr. Andreas Bett (5th from left), Hansjörg Lerchenmüller (3rd from right) with (from left) Dr.-Ing. E. h. Fritz Brickwedde, Hubert Weinzierl, Joachim Gauck, Stanislaw Tillich, Peter Altmaier.