Dear Prof. Zeiss, First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview.
You are a professor at the Harz University of Applied Sciences with a focus on sustainability and international tourism. In 2011 you founded the Institute for Sustainable Tourism and had previously been responsible for the sustainability management of a global tour operator for a long time.
What made you focus so strongly on sustainability?
During my work for a globally active travel company, I was responsible for the topic of environmental management, I became more and more familiar with it and it has grown dear to my heart. At that time, the company was also looking for someone to represent the area to the public, and I was happy to take on this role. Through the exchange with people like Mr. Brockhagen ( Atmosfair ), I then dealt more and more with carbon emissions and their avoidance.
You know the topic of sustainability from several perspectives: as a person responsible in a company and from the research perspective. How big is the gap between the potential and the implementation in companies?
That is very difficult to answer – what would be the maximum, the worst so to say, that a company could emit in carbon dioxide? After all, climate neutrality should be the minimum. In general, there are still significant areas that need to be dealt with – for example, traffic. In this area, the homework has so far only been done to a very limited extent. There are very different approaches on the way to climate neutrality. From my perspective, the positive thing is that some companies are already getting involved beyond what is legally required. My personal wish would be that society changes from a “fossil” to a “renewable” one and that the appropriate legal basis is created for this. Politicians should be bolder because the economy has already priced in the change process and is now waiting for a legal framework.
Tourism is a broad area and includes both business mobility and leisure travel in various forms – which measures are useful in both areas and where do you have to differentiate?
Tourism is defined by the change of location – in this respect, the motive of the travelers is mainly different. The same infrastructure is largely used for business and vacation trips. Business travel, for example, can easily be replaced by video conferencing – but digital media can hardly replace a vacation trip. I cannot imagine how to replace a visit to a marketplace in India with a virtual reality – this experience cannot be copied. Diving into the culture and experiencing it with all five senses is an important part of a vacation trip. I see a big difference between flying halfway around the world for a business meeting or taking a private trip to broaden my horizons. I would also like to differentiate between a classic business meeting and, for example, a trade fair/event, where one not only travels for a single purpose but also meet several different people in one go and accomplish several business goals at once. Thus, a trip to a major event is usually more profitable than for example traveling to an internal work meeting.
Do you see a realistic chance that we can still achieve the targets for reducing global warming under the Paris Climate Agreement? Which global, political, and individual measures would be necessary for this?
The topic of climate change has gained massive momentum: ten years ago you had to search for a long time to find articles, and today it is published daily. Surveys around the world show that it is important to people that something is progressing here. However, the speed is still not fast enough and that worries me: we get tangled up again and again in topics that have been discussed for too long. Ultimately, we have a climate catastrophe on our doorstep. Take coal exit, for example, which could have been achieved much cheaper and faster with certificate trading. Mobility has to change: why don’t we have a speed limit on our highways yet?
Are the goals still achievable? Probably, but everything is going far too slowly.
In the field of business travel, offsetting gases that are harmful to the climate still seems to be the most popular instrument for meeting social responsibility. What other measures do you specifically advise companies to take?
Offsetting is a bridge to the future. At the end of the day, of course, you have to get rid of fossil fuels entirely. In this respect, I have nothing against the compensation, it just has to become more expensive every year and the certificate trade restricted accordingly so that the incentive to be climate-neutral becomes stronger. Unfortunately, in the public debate, compensation has gotten the reputation of trading in indulgences, even though the capital released has largely been used to take very sensible measures.
Currently, the world is almost standing still due to the COVID pandemic: do you have the impression that the compulsory break is being used sensibly to prepare for the achievement of the climate targets?
I believe that only a few are well prepared for what is to come because it is still so unclear what will come. We don’t know when and in what form we can travel again. Presumably, there are now reduced travel budgets, and typically these budgets stay low for the time being. Business travelers will probably have to justify more the purpose of their travel than before. For many, business trips are also a form of appreciation for customers, partners, and service providers. It remains unclear to what extent digital meetings can establish themselves in the long term.
Bill Gates firmly believes that the post-pandemic travel volume will decrease by 50% compared to before, do you agree?
I don’t think it will be that much, maybe 30 % to 40 % less. Flying will become significantly more expensive. But I have also read that a number of new airlines are already in the starting blocks, as assets such as planes are currently cheap to buy. The future will tell which patch society is taking.