German Environment Prize 2019 awarded for Soil Science and Circular Economy

On 27 October 2019 the German Environmental Prize was awarded by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the soil scientist Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kögel-Knabner from the Technical University of Munich, and to the entrepreneur Reinhard Schneider from Mainz, whose company, Werner & Mertz, is in the laundry detergent and cleaning product industry and is dedicated to comprehensive sustainability at every stage of production.

The prize is awarded by the German Environmental Foundation (DBU) and has a remuneration of EUR 500.000. DBU General Secretary Alexander Bonde emphasized that they are both “innovators in the field of environmental protection who provide us with the solutions of the future for the enormous ecological challenges of the present. We need fundamental economic, political and technological change processes at all levels in order to find truly sustainable development.”

Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kögel-Knabner: One of the most influential soil scientists in the world

Bonde pointed out that, as one of the most renowned and influential soil scientists and researchers in the world, Dr. Kögel-Knabner has succeeded in shining a light on the central role played by the environmental medium of soil, which is often “fatally underestimated” in terms of importance compared to air and water. A major milestone in her research has been the discovery of how carbon is locked into the soil as an organic substance. After all, given the fact that plants absorb climate-damaging carbon dioxide from the air, which then ends up in the soil, it is the largest reservoir of carbon in the world, but plants also emit greenhouse gases as they decompose. For this reason, soil is incredibly important for the climate itself as well as for preventing climate change. Bonde: “Her research has provided us with a completely new understanding of the capacity of the soil to absorb and store carbon. More than anything, Dr. Kögel-Knabner has provided us with answers to the question of how soil can be used for long-term carbon storage in order to prevent climate change.”

Schneider: “A comprehensive sustainability strategy with a great deal of personal dedication.”

When introducing Schneider, Bonde highlights the fact that “with his comprehensive corporate sustainability strategy and high level of personal dedication”, he has paved the way for environmental standards to be established at an ever-higher standard across an entire economic sector. Schneider is fighting for a closed-cycle energy-saving plastic recycling process. As a “pioneer of the circular economy”, he refuses to accept the fact that just a small proportion of the plastics from household recycling are actually mechanically recycled. Despite the increased production costs of recycled plastics, Schneider launched a recycled materials initiative in 2012 with partners from the fields of industry, retail and NGOS that is open to all potential participants. This is intended to quickly increase the proportion of recycled products and establish them on the mass market. He has produced more than 293 million bottles made solely of recycled plastic in the recycled materials production facility he built in Mainz. Since 2013, he has used oils from local plants – meaning oils obtained from flax, hemp or olives grown in Europe – as the raw material basis for the laundry detergents and cleaning products sold under the “Frosch” brand. These oils are increasingly being used to replace palm kernel oil from tropical regions, which is bad for the environment. Bonde: “A medium-sized company owner with the right attitude who demonstrates his commitment to environmental protection with a clear and consistent approach.”

The DBU press release can be accessed here.

More information about the laureates can be accessed here.