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No ecology without economy: three theses for the future

A contribution from Dr. Alexandra Kohlmann, Managing Director of ROWE

Achieving true sustainability while protecting the climate and nature is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We discuss a lot about ways and instruments. In my view, one of the most important basic requirements is repeatedly neglected: without economy, there will be no ecology.

Sustainability is the most important commitment for the future


To say it straight away: for me, the goal of sustainability and the major challenges associated with it, such as climate protection, are non-negotiable cornerstones of a modern economy.

As a family business owner and mother, it is very important to me that the next generation can live as good as we do today. A healthy planet is an integral part of this.

For me, sustainability is therefore an obligation.


Economic foundations for sustainability: my three theses


But while the question of whether we want to protect our climate has been answered, the question of the right path remains unanswered.

But we are increasingly realising that time is pressing to finally act. In my view, this makes it all the more important that we remain honest with ourselves. Climate protection and sustainability cannot simply be decided or imposed from above.

We must therefore recognise this: Without a strong economic foundation, we will fail. These are my three theses.

1. sustainability costs money - we have to earn it first


The sometimes acrimonious budget debates of recent weeks have impressively demonstrated this: Climate protection and sustainability cost money. In times when more and more funds were available, this did not seem to be a problem. Now we are almost stunned to realise that when money is lacking, it becomes a problem.

This doesn't just affect public budgets. It applies all the more to private individuals and companies. If I want to implement a climate protection measure in my family business ROWE and I don't have the money for it - then I can't do it. If people don't have the money for an expensive new heating system, they will stick with their old oil boiler with all its disadvantages. At this point, it doesn't help to rely on subsidies or other funding instruments. The latest debates have shown that, firstly, these cannot be relied on.

Money has to be earned. Climate protection can therefore only work if we do not harm our economy in the process - on the contrary, if we ensure economic growth.

2. sustainability must remain affordable


At the same time, the following is essential: Sustainability must remain affordable. Even if we succeed in having a strong economy on the one hand, we will fail if the corresponding measures become increasingly expensive. This not only jeopardises their feasibility, but also their support among the population.

We are already experiencing this. The price increases of recent months and the prospect of mobility, energy and heating becoming ever more expensive have contributed significantly to the success of right-wing populist and even extremist forces in this country.

I am a democratic person through and through. It is therefore clear to me that we can only successfully protect the climate if the measures are supported by the majority. To achieve this, they must remain affordable for ordinary incomes - and for companies.


3. we must be able to earn money with sustainability


My third thesis is written entirely from the perspective of the entrepreneur. In my view, it is the most powerful instrument for more climate protection.

All bans and restrictions are only half as powerful as intrinsic motivation. And what is a stronger incentive in this area than the prospect of a better return on investment?

If both companies and the general public see climate protection measures as an opportunity to benefit directly and personally, then they will implement them with the greatest vigour. Even if the financial perspective is expanded to include sustainability aspects as part of CSRD, i.e. reporting on ESG measures, I think it is obvious that companies will first invest in projects where they see an immediate effect. 

For us companies, this means that if we see opportunities to earn money or save costs with sustainable products and services, we will do so. And in doing so, we automatically help the climate at the same time.

That is why we at ROWE are not only developing innovative new sustainable products - we have also invested heavily in increasing efficiency. Because that saves energy and a lot of money in the long term. So both sides benefit.

Taking greater account of economic principles


If we are really serious about climate protection and sustainability, we should pay more attention to these economic principles in the current debates.

For me too, climate protection and sustainability are important goals that I want to achieve completely independently of costs or even profits. However, I realise how much more successfully we can protect our planet if we also think and act economically.

My demands are therefore clear:

1. let us finally understand climate protection and sustainability as an instrument for economic growth and shape it as such!

2. we must accept that we will only be successful if climate protection remains affordable and does not jeopardise our economy.

True sustainability is always also economic

We cannot achieve climate protection and sustainability with emotions and ideological disputes. This requires a rational goal-orientation. It is inseparable from recognising how important economic issues are. As a family entrepreneur, I would like to contribute to this debate with this impulse. 




Dr. Alexandra Kohlmann

About the person

Dr. Alexandra Kohlmann is Managing Director of the ROWE Group. After successfully completing her studies in technology and management-oriented business administration with a focus on controlling and human resources at the Technical University of Munich, she earned her doctorate on the topic of corporate succession in family businesses. She is also a certified systemic coach and change manager. In 2020, she received the special award "Successful Women in Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, and in 2022 she was named one of the top 50 female entrepreneurs in Germany and "Entrepreneur of the Year" in Rhineland-Palatinate by Handelsblatt. Alexandra Kohlmann is the daughter of company founder Michael Zehe and his successor as an entrepreneur.

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