Johannes Hengstenberg is convinced that climate protection is not abstract and complicated, but a question of sound communication and access to information. Johannes developed a hands-on system that shows how easy it is to save energy: He provides online tools that enable every consumer to track their energy consumption and allows them to take action to reduce it. He is changing how citizens consume, modernize, or build houses, by demonstrating the additional value of “saving energy.”
Johannes is putting the climate change debate in terms that ordinary citizens can understand by helping them reduce their energy consumption, CO2-emissions, and cost. Having found that “moral appeals” are often off-putting and rarely translate into action, Johannes emphasizes the economic benefits of a more sustainable lifestyle. He has developed a hands-on system that shows how easy it is to save both money and energy, enabling consumers to track their energy consumption and take action to reduce it. His tools identify the money saved when consumers upgrade their home appliances and heating systems, modernize water boilers, or change the materials they use to build, saving them up to 60 or 70 percent of their energy costs. By providing sound communication and better access to information, he hopes to encourage everyday citizens to include “saving energy” as a key factor in their consumer choices.
The second piece of his work involves opening up direct communication between consumers and appliance manufacturers to better inform both parties of the latest in energy-saving technology and to meet the rising demand for more efficient appliances. He offers new incentives to both manufacturers and installers to invest in energy-saving technologies, providing both groups with online ad space and ratings based on their energy and money-saving potential.
To date (2008), Johannes has reached more than two million people in Germany and is currently expanding his efforts across Europe and abroad. Thanks to his simple and cost-effective approach, he has mobilized citizens to save an estimated 3.4 million tons of CO2, and has driven positive changes in the heating and appliance industries as a whole.
For years the debate about climate change and renewable energy sources has been left in the hands of scientists and governmental experts. Using abstract concepts and complicated statistics, their arguments fail to engage everyday citizens. While a growing number of national media campaigns and political programs have taken up the issue, most have relied on unspecific tips and ineffective moral appeals. Meanwhile, the vital information for consumers—how much energy do I consume, what emits how much, and how to consume less—have been largely ignored. As a result, electricity consumption continues to rise by 3 percent each year in Germany. Households and small consumers account for nearly 25 percent of all CO2 emissions, producing 140 million tons of CO2 each year in Germany alone, yet most people continue to underestimate the impact their household energy consumption has on CO2 pollution.
Because consumers currently lack adequate information about their household energy use and the devices available to reduce it, there is little demand for energy-saving products. As a result, the market currently offers few incentives for energy suppliers to promote energy-saving products. Indeed, energy companies have an incentive to make their energy bills as cryptic as possible: By making it difficult to track the amount of energy used, they often prevent consumers from recognizing their considerable savings potential. Moreover, Germany is currently home to roughly 2,000 small-scale manufacturers of energy-related products and services, who rely almost exclusively on a vast range of intermediate suppliers, installers or craftsmen to market their products. These suppliers, however, often lack up-to-date skills and knowledge of the latest energy-saving technologies, and consequently have little incentive to promote the use of more innovative products. Furthermore, because they lack direct communication with their consumers, manufacturers in the sector have been largely unaware of changing market demands.
Johannes has been interested in social and environmental issues since childhood. He studied economics and wrote his dissertation at the renowned Max-Planck Institute, founded by Carl-Friedrich von Weizäcker and Jürgen Habermas, two forerunners of the early globalization debate.
„Increasingly disillusioned by political debates on the growing threat of global warming, Johannes decided to devote his efforts full-time to finding a pragmatic approach to climate change.“
Having long been active in the environmental and peace movements, he left his economic research in 1987 to help found the Global Challenge Network (GCN). The GCN began as an international citizen organization whose mission was to link various global initiatives tackling problems of war and armament, the North-South conflict, and environmental destruction. There, he focused on bringing leading scientists from renowned think tanks together with activists from environmental organizations like Greenpeace and BUND, as a way to facilitate the exchange of information and expertise. After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, he went to Eastern Germany, where he co-founded a citizen organization for environmental protection.
Increasingly disillusioned by political debates on the growing threat of global warming, Johannes decided to devote his efforts full-time to finding a pragmatic approach to climate change. In 1992 he pulled together a group of friends and they went to work figuring out how to analyze energy bills. Their simple goal: To make energy consumption transparent. It was from this office that CO2online and their many subsequent projects developed.
Recently Johannes was awarded the Sustainable Energy Europe Award (2007); was one of five finalists for the German Social Entrepreneur 2008 Award of the Schwab Foundation, and won the 2008 CleanTech Media Award for sustainability.