Mr. Hinz, several climate protection concepts have been introduced in the past at the MDC. Why is there now the need for a Sustainability Officer?
The MDC Board of Directors is committed to sustainable development on an economic, social, and environmental level, in line with the results of the joint research project into sustainability management in non-university research institutions, known as LeNa. With this project, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Helmholtz Association and Leibniz Association developed proposals on how non-university research institutions can contribute to greater sustainability through their work. The dimensions of sustainability identified in the LeNa project and their concrete fields of action (organizational management, research, human resources, buildings and infrastructure, and support processes) will now be gradually implemented by the MDC in its everyday work. It is my job to initiate, link up and monitor all these activities.
What are some of your new plans and which do you want to implement first?
The topic of sustainable development should be taken into account in all areas – mobility, buildings and infrastructure, purchasing, staff development, organizational culture, and especially research processes. That’s a lot! But a concrete first step I would like to take, for example, is to offset the CO₂ emissions produced by staff air travel by making compensation payments. About one tenth of the airfare will go to external service providers, who use this money to support climate protection projects. The MDC has already received approval from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, now all we need is the approval of the Berlin Senate.
What other long-term ideas do you have to strengthen sustainability at the MDC?
I see a lot of areas for potential. Some colleagues already voluntarily travel by train rather than by plane for distances of less than 1,000 kilometers. We should make this the norm and consider online conferences as a serious option even after the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of ordering consumables on a daily basis, we could pool orders and avoid unnecessary delivery emissions. We could also set up a central printer station rather than having one in every office, as is currently the case – and operate stationary laptops from docking stations.
The topic of sustainability has a long tradition at the MDC. What has the Center done in the past to promote more sustainability?
Several years ago, the MDC’s “Green Campus” initiative at our Berlin-Buch location led several campaigns on the topic of sustainability. This saw us gradually switch over to more energy-efficient freezers for biological samples, for example. The campus’s southern energy control center has already been renovated and equipped with a highly efficient combined cooling, heat, and power system. Photovoltaic systems have been installed on two campus buildings, which enable us to produce a third of our own electricity requirements and save around 1.5 million euros in energy costs. The topic of sustainability is also firmly anchored in purchasing: Here, we have a specially created group that keeps an eye on environmental and social criteria. This group is currently looking into recyclable rubber gloves, pipette tips and reaction vessels made of bioplastics, for example.
How is the MDC’s current environmental balance sheet, in your opinion?
At the moment, we are not able to produce such balance sheets. We need, for example, better software for travel expense that shows CO₂ emissions and energy consumption. We have immediate plans for these acquisitions. Only when we know the current situation will we be able to say where there is room for improvement.
What do your colleagues at the MDC think about sustainability?
Since introducing myself and my plans via email in August, I have received many suggestions. The majority of people are very open to the topic. Of course, there is still some convincing to be done now and again. To get things rolling, I need the support of colleagues from various departments. No one can achieve sustainability alone; it’s a team effort.
Where is team work particularly important?
In a new pilot project, we are testing whether we can reduce the air exchange rate in the laboratories. Here, scientists are developing a concept in close cooperation with occupational safety experts and facility management. In one building on the Berlin-Buch Campus, we have already managed to cut the rates at night by a factor of two, thereby saving 25 percent of energy costs. So there is considerable potential here for climate protection measures.
In the future, the MDC also intends to have an Energy Manager, so you will have a fellow campaigner on your side.
Yes. Sustainable development requires a whole network. That is why I would also like to establish a working group with scientists and various experts from the administrative departments to jointly come up with and implement ideas. It is very helpful that the Board of Directors is committed to sustainable development. Together, we want to make the MDC better and more sustainable.
Susanne Donner conducted the interview.