Dr Martin Z. Wilderer is the COO of EQi Group. He describes himself as an environmental capitalist. He is driven by the interest to address global grand challenges by turning them into business opportunities.
Martin’s career has been predominantly in cleantech (wastewater, power engineering, green automotive, sustainable investment), 11 years of which in China where he built and operated a facility manufacturing highly specialized engineering products from a green field turning it into a hub in the region. Martin has worked for German corporates, an Austrian family owned investment fund as well as run companies in their early stage. Martin is currently engaged with EQi – the Environmental Intelligence Group. EQi is a data and technology company in resource efficiency management connecting sustainability to financial performance.
Martin has a double master in mechanical engineering and international business followed by a phd in environmental economics/industrial ecology on the topic of Eco-Industrial Parks, Environment and Economic Growth.
Today he answers Blue & Green’s twenty questions.
We want the world to be as blue and green tomorrow as it was yesterday. What’s your mission?
My aim is to make most of the life we have been given, experience the wonders of the world, help others to equally have the chance to experience this, and contributing to the world so that we can hand it to the next generation in the same condition as it was handed to us, if not better.
My mission is to build bridges; bridges between generations, cultures and professions. Having been trained in a double degree of engineering and business, I have seen, early on, how different professions can easily get in the way of one another when aiming for the same goal. With a dual nationality, I have also observed how easy it is for different cultures to develop misunderstandings, when in effect we are all driven by the same human fundamentals. I have always found it fascinating how true innovation can be released when bridges are built between the differences, which often stand in our way.
My fascination is technology and the opportunities it provides. While there is a danger for misuse, through taking an active approach, I hope being able to help shape their application and put them to good use.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was always fascinated by the wonders of this world; the first job I wanted to do was a volcanologist.
How would your friends describe you?
I would say passionate, energetic, positive, a glass-half-full guy; always on the search for something new. Probably also a degree of craziness for always wanting to stretch the so-called impossible.
What was your ‘road to Damascus moment’ in terms of sustainability?
For me, it was actually one of my first internships which was at a tobacco company. Being a non-smoker, I realised I had to work for something that I believe in and be passionate about. There is nothing more satisfying to do business with a good cause which results in sound economic performance.
Who or what inspires you?
My father inspired me to always look outside the box, connecting the unconnected.
What really grinds your gears?
Prejudice can drive me up the wall, exploitation, injustice, stubbornness and negativism.
Describe your perfect day
Working creatively to try to solve a problem.
What do you see when you look out your window at home?
A beautiful valley looking towards the Longmynd, a heath and moorland plateau, which is a part of the Shropshire in Britain.
What do you like spending your money on?
Good food, travel, and I must admit technological gadgets.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
I do not have a single location. I am curious to explore new places. I love the diversity of our planet and the local flavours of each place.
What’s your favourite book?
I don’t really have a favourite book. I have always enjoyed reading biographies as I am fascinated by what other people can achieve. But sometimes an exciting novel is not a bad thing. However, with lots of reading on the job; a nice stroll outdoors is often a more attractive choice.
What’s your favourite film?
The movie I’ve watched the most is certainly “Dances with Wolves”. I love the scenic views and the connectedness man has with nature implied in the film. These days, I am very much into science fiction films, especially those depicting humans living with robots and other forms artificial intelligence.
You’re elected prime minister with a thumping majority. What’s the first thing you do?
Though I do not have any political ambitions, I believe a longer electorate time allows for longer and better term decision making. This combined with minimal pay with an attractive large bonus for results visible 10 years down the line.
If you were stuck on a desert island, which famous person would you like to be stuck with and why?
My wife; to me, she is famous and a great companion to make life worth living.
What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given? And the worst?
Best: never stop being curious, follow your passion.
Worst: whenever someone says it’s not possible.
What’s your biggest regret?
Overall, I see in everything positively, hence, no real regrets. Perhaps spending a longer time in Japan in my school days; having only spent 6 months learning the language, it had not settled in. With a few more months, I could have been able to retain it.
What one thing would you encourage readers to do to make their life more sustainable?
Eat local produce. That strengthens the local community, reduces unnecessary logistics, and is likely to be fresher and healthier.
What’s the one idea that you think could change the world for the better?
Education. Internet brings us closer. If we can get everybody freely connected and accessible, the impact will be transformative.
What’s your favourite quote?
“Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.” – Vaclav Havel
What would you like to be doing five years from now?
Inspiring people to do more
And the bonus questions: how would you like to be remembered? – what will they carve on your gravestone?
Lived life with passion.
Read previous 20 questions with here.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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