Coronavirus/climate/innovation: why we have to save tomorrow's rescuers today

Alexander Bonde

It is only a few days since the German federal government launched a multi-billion Euro rescue package to cushion the consequences of the coronavirus crisis on businesses. And absolutely rightly so, as it is in the interests of society as a whole to successfully guide healthy businesses through these difficult times. These rescue measures also fulfil an important role in terms of the climate crisis: they ensure we have important drivers of innovation for the challenges of tomorrow. To counter the climate crisis, we require more businesses that develop ecological, sustainable products, services and business models. In Germany, these are frequently SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), but can often be recently-founded businesses and start-ups. These drivers of innovation are threatened by the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis. Therefore, not “only” are today’s creation of value and jobs at stake, but also, and to a great extent, our future ability to find solutions to the climate crisis.

We therefore have to save tomorrow's rescuers today. That includes supporting the innovative small and medium-sized enterprises which will help us ensure our economic base for tomorrow. These businesses contribute to combining the prospects for economic growth with an approach to commerce that conserves our natural resources, places less strain on the environment, strengthens regional value chains, recycles resources and makes our economy as a whole more resilient – especially after the coronavirus crisis.

Take green start-ups, for example: even before the current crisis, these businesses experienced problems in raising capital far more frequently than non-green start-ups, as shown in the "Green Start-up Monitor 2018" which was commissioned by the German Foundation for the Environment (DBU). At the same time, with their products and services, green start-ups contribute to an internationally competitive, ecological and socially compatible and resilient economy. They have also become a key economic factor, as in the past ten years they have created well over a million new jobs in Germany. Since April 2019, the DBU has so far invested more than 2 million Euros in the Green Start-up Programme, with its key focus on digitalisation, in 18 innovation-oriented green start-ups.

An energy-efficient and resource-efficient form of digitalisation is a powerful innovation tool for tackling both the coronavirus and the climate crisis. Digital technologies have allowed us to continue communicating during the crisis, and working from home on a digital basis, with virtual meetings, is all set to continue once the crisis is over. That is all the more reason to make digitalisation sustainable. Its consumption of energy and resources must become climate-friendly, and its advantages should be used to transform our energy systems, for recycling management, and for CO2-neutral production processes. To achieve this, we require innovative implementers.

After the coronavirus crisis is before the climate crisis. Even if Germany is unexpectedly forecast to achieve its climate protection target for 2020 due to the current shutdown: the collapse in economic activity does not constitute sustainable climate protection, neither for planet earth nor its inhabitants. An economic slump does not create sustainable climate-friendly structures, but jeopardises viable solutions and harbours rebound risks if, after the crisis, the smoking chimneys of the recovering economy become a sign of crisis management.

The more successfully we are able to bring innovative SMEs and green entrepreneurs through this crisis as drivers of innovation for sustainability right now, the more resilient and future-proof our business models and livelihoods will be tomorrow. Increased attention must be paid to this when aligning the future rescue packages of the Federal Government after the provision of rapid aid and securing liquidity. The management of the coronavirus crisis could then become an important source of impetus for overcoming the climate crisis.


Alexander Bonde

German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, DBU)
Alexander Bonde is General Secretary of the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU) in Osnabrück. The largest environmental foundation in Europe promotes...

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