Renat Heuberger, where does your fascination with sustainability, climate change and renewable energies come from?
The fight for a better, sustainable planet has always been something that has fascinated me. I have always been and still am a staunch climate activist.
Was there something that triggered this in you in particular?
My passion for environmental protection began as a child. At that time, forest dieback was a big issue: in our free time, my brother and I used to stick self-made protest stickers on parked cars. Later, as a teenager on a year abroad in Indonesia, I saw the forest behind my house being cut down and turned into a new housing estate. I found that unbearably tragic.
And that still drives you today?
I have three children and I want the next generation to be able to enjoy nature to the full.
What do you attach particular importance to in your everyday life?
I avoid CO2 emissions wherever possible. I've never owned a car – I use a Mobility vehicle if necessary. We’re currently doing a full renovation of our house in Zurich-Höngg – insulating the walls, replacing the oil heating with a heat pump and installing a photovoltaic system on the roof. I cycle to work even in the rain and snow.
In which areas could you become even more climate-friendly?
My weak point is business air travel. COVID has shown us that a lot of meetings can be held virtually. But there are some meetings which still have to be face-to-face. The personal relationships that result here are crucial for us to achieve our goals.
You've been professionally involved with environmental issues since 1999. What was it like when you started out?
When I was studying environmental sciences at the ETH in the late 1990s, there wasn’t a single lecture on the subject of climate change – although the scientific facts were already absolutely clear at that time. And when we first founded myclimate and later South Pole, we had to start out by doing an enormous amount of pioneering work.
What’s the situation today?
A lot has happened since then. The world has woken up to the urgency of climate change. But it took far too long. Greta Thunberg and the climate strike were of outstanding importance here. The global protest movement was crucial in finally getting governments and companies to act. Today, no listed company can afford to be on the sidelines when it comes to climate protection.
Is the economy doing enough for climate protection today?
More than 1’000 companies have set net-zero emissions targets; many governments are now working on climate plans for their countries, too. But the bar is still too low – the transformation to a sustainable world is happening far too slowly. We need to inspire 1’000’000 companies to become climate champions right away. That’s precisely what we’re aiming to do with South Pole.
Mobility customers have been able to offset their CO2 emissions through carbon offset projects run by myclimate on a voluntary basis since 2006. Is this real climate protection or simply a modern “trade in indulgences”?
Offsetting the carbon footprint is hugely important. Three things happen when you offset your emissions.
First, you yourself become aware of the emissions you’re causing. After all, in order to be able to offset emissions, you first have to measure them. We've often seen our customers become aware of huge energy wastage that simply no one had noticed before.
When you offset your emissions, you pay for the damage you cause, creating an internal price for CO2 emissions. So from now on, your company has a financial incentive to reduce emissions. And thirdly, the proceeds from CO2 certificates are one of the world’s most important financial instruments for projects that otherwise couldn’t have been implemented.
Nowadays, lots of companies are committed to acting sustainably. Is this simply image cultivation, or is the idea of sustainability really anchored in the economy today?
Not long ago, many companies regarded “sustainable action” as being little more than a small donation to an environmental organisation at the end of the year. But now many CEOs and boards of directors have realised that sustainability and climate protection are absolutely crucial elements of any long-term corporate strategy. Surprisingly, the COVID-19 crisis has in fact accelerated this development: The realisation has taken hold that a successful company has to be prepared for both a global health crisis and a global environmental crisis.
What are the most important measures a company should take to become climate neutral?
Companies need to embark on their own individual “climate path”. First, they have to get a grasp of their own emissions footprint, then find out how and where they can specifically avoid greenhouse gas emissions. Once that is done, it is vital to fully compensate for any remaining emissions. Finally, companies have to communicate their climate commitment widely and inspire other organisations to act.
What role do sharing concepts play in your consultations?
Sharing vehicles and using them efficiently is a very important part of any strategy to reduce emissions. In this area, we also work with the platform Urban Connect, for example – a Swiss start-up that offers integrated mobility solutions for companies.
Mobility is the car-sharing pioneer in Switzerland: How do you assess the development of the company?
Even today, I’m very proud and grateful that we were able to gain Mobility as one of our pioneer customers for myclimate – despite the fact that the issue of climate protection was hardly in the headlines at the time. I myself have been a proud Mobility Cooperative member for 20 years and I still love it – especially the reliability and variety of the range.
By 2030, the entire Mobility fleet is to be emission-free, and by 2040 the company wants to be climate-neutral. How do you assess this?
It’s vital for a pioneer like Mobility to set a good example. Mobility was offering the Renault Zoe years before Tesla came along, for example. This gave lots of people access to electromobility – including myself.
Finally, a look into the future: What is your forecast for climate and environmental policy in the coming decades? Can we still get “the rank”?
I believe that we’ve finally read the signs of the times in climate policy: laws will come, emissions will be regulated. The question is: are we going to be fast enough?
What do you think?
I don’t have a crystal ball. But as far as I’m concerned, one thing is clear: even if the wheels of politics grind far too slowly, we must by no means allow ourselves to be discouraged. The more people get actively involved, the more we see climate protection as an opportunity, the more we make deliberate purchase decisions and are conscious in our mobility behaviour, too, and the more we inspire our friends and families – the faster politics will move. “It's worth fighting for every tonne of CO2”. Every fraction of a degree of global warming that we can collectively prevent can save a forest, an animal species or a coral reef. Climate action pays off – anywhere and everywhere!
Founder of myclimate and South Pole
Renat Heuberger (45) has been a pioneer and socially committed entrepreneur in the fields of sustainability, climate change and renewable energies since 1999. After studying environmental science at the ETH Zurich, he got together with colleagues in 2022 to found myclimate – the leading provider of carbon offsetting. He went on to establish South Pole in 2006: currently employing some 1’000 people on all continents, it supports companies on their way to a more climate-friendly future. With approximately 1’000 projects in over 50 countries , South Pole is the world's largest climate protection project developer.