The way to true climate neutrality

Dr. Thomas Holzmann (mitte) im Gespräch mit den Podiumsgästen

Organisations need to do more than just offset CO2 emissions. On 25 September, they discussed at the Federal Environment Agency what distinguishes serious climate commitment, what contribution companies and administrations can make to it, and which political framework conditions are conducive.


Pursuing international climate protection targets at company level requires a great deal of effort. A major obstacle to developing a climate-neutral economy is one of mentality. Innovative energy- and resource-efficient technologies are not enough to solve the problem unless there is a formidable change in people’s behaviour and habits.

For the 150 guests to better grasp the relevance of the topic, moderator Carla Hanus (Mitteldeutsche Zeitung) conducted a small survey drawing attention to the emissions involved in each of them getting to the event. The result was an estimated total of 2,250 kg of CO2 equivalents.   Driven by UBA Vice President Thomas Holzmann, whose retirement is dedicated to the conference, the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) sets itself the goal by 2030 to reduce its CO2 emissions by 70 percent and become carbon neutral. The federal authority seeks to avoid green-washing and rather to provide expertise and set examples for organisations and companies.

"Avoid, reduce, compensate" successful in climate protection efforts

"Climate neutrality is a concept that can make a significant contribution to climate protection if those involved make an effort first to avoid emitting greenhouse gasses, then reduce them where possible and where neither of these are possible to compensate for them," explains Professor Edda Müller, Chairwoman of Transparency International, environmental activist and pioneer of the Blue Angel eco-label. Political instruments such as emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and EMAS can contribute to meeting these objectives. To distinguish green-washing from genuine commitment to climate, she advocates a closer link between the Blue Angel eco-label and the EMAS system, which she requested UBA to examine in her keynote speech.

The participants of the panel discussion agreed that the "avoid, reduce, compensate" trio would be necessary to have any notable climate protection effect.

Dr. Marianne Schönnenbeck, Chairwoman of the Environmental Verification Committee: "EMAS creates a database to determine where we stand. Only from there can goals be derived, where we want to go". The data collected from the EMAS environmental audit enable organisations to move from selective improvements to a more systematic approach. The external audit by environmental practitioners and the EMAS environmental standard provide the greatest possible transparency and credibility.

The University for Sustainable Development in Eberswalde (HNE) began setting up the EMAS system in 2007 and has been climate-neutral since 2014. Professor Wilhelm-Günther Vahrson, President of the University of Applied Sciences, explained that at present about 500 tons of unavoidable CO2 emissions are being compensated for according to the gold standard in an energy-efficient construction project in Kenya, founded by HNE students.

Designing scientifically sound climate neutrality methods

UBA also uses the EMAS system to achieve climate neutrality. This was explained by environmental manager[OD1]  Dr. Burkhard Huckestein in an interview for, referring to the UBA's current environmental statement. His own experiences should show others the way to achieve climate neutrality, because: "We do not demand that others do anything that we do not adhere to ourselves," says Dr. Holzmann.

Scientifically designed "climate neutrality" and its realisation by companies in the interests of advancing the internationally agreed climate action targets at national level remains a task for UBA to complete – though without a frontrunner like Thomas Holzmann, who will retire on 1 Oktober 2018..

Further information and photos of the event (

About EMAS

EMAS stands for Eco-Management and Audit Scheme and is the world's most demanding system for environmental management and environmental auditing. The Environmental Verification Committee is an independent advisory body of the Federal Environment Ministry. As a multi-stakeholder forum, the UGA brings together various interest groups in the field of environmental management and is actively involved in the implementation and dissemination of the European environmental management system EMAS.