How to kill our earth?:
Anything that is „sustainable“ is good!
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Serious sustainability requires global, intergenerational and equitable action.
In the episode of our podcast series „How to kill a great organisatin?“, Dr. Michael Paula spoke with Dr. Willi Nowak, founder and long-time managing director of VCÖ. VCÖ – Mobility with a Future – originally Verkehrsclub Österreich (Transport Club Austria) is a public interest organisation specialising in mobility and transport. Nowak holds a doctorate in geology and the topic of mobility already preoccupied him during his studies; in 1988 he founded the VCÖ.
Nowak goes into the goals and development of the VCÖ and emphasises the increasing topicality of mobility issues in relation to the climate and energy crisis. He addresses how to increase the percentage of the population that has the awareness that a global and intergenerational view is needed, to look beyond one’s own area of competence and to seriously and fairly shape sustainability.
Engaged in the Mobility Initiative „Argus Fahrrad“, which at that time was one of the strongest environmentally oriented transport organisations in Austria, the desire arose to bring more entrepreneurial action and implementation to the topic of transport. This was the starting signal for VCÖ, an environmental organisation that is environmentally oriented, but specialised in transport, and that is concerned with the entire transport sector, not just with a specific means of transport.
From means of transport to mobility
The VCÖ coined the term mobility, which until then was rather associated with physical disability, anew, as a basic need of our society:
„Back then there was driving a car, back then there was taking the train, back then there was cycling. But there was no term for what constitutes a person moving.“
Nowak goes into the goals and development of the VCÖ and emphasises the increasing topicality of mobility issues in relation to the climate and energy crisis. Founded as an alternative to motorists‘ clubs, the VCÖ initially financed itself through service and insurance benefits for all road users. However, this approach failed:
„It was then at the beginning of the 90s, at our five-year anniversary, that we realised we had to change the business model. That was not so easy, because we had planned with growth in mind. And therefore a hard cut was necessary.“
The basic concept of the VCÖ changes to a politically active organisation that deals thematically with various mobility issues and finances itself through donations. As a second pillar, an own series of publications and the Mobility Award were then launched in 2000.
Creating awareness: From learning, imitation to deeper knowledge through reflection
It is only a small percentage of the population that has the awareness that it takes a global and intergenerational view to look beyond the edge of one’s own area of competence and seriously shape sustainability. How can this percentage be increased?
„I think learning takes place at several points with the individual. Either something hurts terribly or I see something I would like to emulate. And the third, the elevated version, is to think through to deeper insight.“
Nowak describes the core of positive, sustainable development as an innovation process that leads through recognising a difference, conceptualising and trying things out to a standardised process. He also sees keeping this „spiral“ going as a task of the VCÖ: „we also describe ourselves as a forward-thinking organisation in the sense of deducing from the desired future what are the measures we need to take today?“
Nowak also links the energy turnaround with a transport turnaround:
„There is no transport turnaround without an energy turnaround and there is no energy turnaround without a lack of resources. And ultimately it has to be said that we are now moving for the first time also in Austria, but more so in the EU, towards something like a serious circular economy.“
The value of diversity of perspective and sharing experiences
Finally, Nowak addresses the different roles as a leader and now more senior consultant at VCÖ – leadership vs eldership: „As the next generation, I’m not just watching the grandchildren, I’m also watching my children watching the grandchildren. And this is where a meta-level comes in. Eldership or experience sharing. You automatically have several points of view and these additional points of view then also make up this WE and detach us from the I and YOU.
The full-length interview:
Michael Paula: Welcome. Our new episode of the podcast series „How to Kill a Great Organization“. Our MetaShift podcast looks at what makes companies successful in the long term and what that means. We talk to experienced leaders, experts and academics about what they think is particularly important in this context. We are concerned with sustainable corporate success and, of course, what ingredients are necessary to achieve it. My name is Michael Paula and I would like to welcome our guest today, Dr. Willi Nowak, founder and long-time managing director of VCÖ. VCÖ, „Mobility with a Future“, originally the „Verkehrsclub Österreich“, is a public welfare-oriented organisation specialising in mobility and transport. Welcome, Willi.
Willi Nowak: Yes. Hello, nice to meet you. In my case it’s actually been a very, very long time. The VCÖ was founded 35 years ago. We laid the first tracks in 1987. That was also when the association was formally founded. And then we went public with our products and services in 1988. That was also the time for me. I was 28 years old at the time. One thing, one/ Yes, actually, you are an adult at 28, but founding a company automatically leads to quite a learning process. All that/ the idea alone is not enough. It then really comes the effort of the level. And I think we were. We had a lot of ups and downs, but all in all I can now say that after 35 years it has become a very successful organisation that also, I think, has the social recognition it deserves, namely as the mouthpiece for sustainable mobility in Austria.
Michael Paula: Just yesterday Christian Kratzer was on television again. He was interviewed briefly. I have experienced that myself in the last few years, that he is particularly concerned with mobility and transport. Yesterday I think it was rather a sad occasion. It was about the railway accident. But you are simply asked. Willi, what I would still be interested in is where your enthusiasm in general for the. And your interest in the topic of mobility actually comes from.
Willi Nowak: I slipped into this topic a little bit. I’m from, some would say, a migrant background: federal states, if you’re talking from Vienna. I’m from Upper Austria, then you come to this city of Vienna for your studies. Yes, and there the bicycle is actually the most useful means of transport. At that time, I have to say, the 50 schillings for a monthly ticket for public transport was too expensive for me. I built a bicycle myself and this piece of junk really accompanied me throughout my studies. And that’s how I came to the transport initiative „Argus Fahrrad“ and within „Argus Fahrrad“, which we were actually the strongest environmentally-oriented transport organisation in Austria at the time. There was a lot of innovation there, a lot of student people, and practically at the same time as the founding, the Veloce messenger service, the bicycle cooperative, Ester Bauer Weinfurter, came into being. These bicycle maps, these tour guides, these are. It all came into being in the same two or three years. So the people who were active there. At Argus, everyone had a bit of an urge to move away from this pure demand – „Traffic must look different in the future“ – towards entrepreneurial action. In other words, to really implement something. From my point of view, it was a very exciting time. It has to be said that a few years before that, of course, there was Hainburg. That is, the occupation of the Au, where we all sat.
Willi Nowak: Of course, that was a start for the environmental movement as a whole. And there was, and this is now the background, why VCÖ. On the one hand there were these transport initiatives, specialised in cycling, in passenger interest groups. There was even one, an IG „Zu Fuß“ and of course the car clubs. But there was no organisation – And there were the environmental organisations, the newly founded ones at that time: Global 2000, Greenpeace Austria. The WWF also had a new start. Four Paws has only existed since then, that was in the mid-80s. And then, in this succus, so to speak, an interest arose in founding an environmental organisation that was environmentally oriented but specialised in transport. And that was the VCÖ, which is concerned with the entire transport sector and not just with a specific means of transport. That was also, there had to be the Argus afterwards. That was extremely commendable, although they looked so closely at the bicycle. Of course it was clear that the whole thing wouldn’t work just with cycling. We need something that works for all means of transport and all modes of transport. And that was the background, so to speak. And my job, if you like, was over half a year. At that time it was called academic training, an AMS-supported form over half a year to sound out. Does something like that have a chance in Austria? And I would say yes after 35 years: I passed the test.
Michael Paula: Yes, I can remember where I first noticed the VCÖ. It was when I was still employed at Siemens. And I actually worked there in rail vehicle construction and was mainly involved in local transport. At that time I was project manager for trams and underground trains. So of course we had this focus on a special form of transport, namely inner-city rail transport, and what I’m saying this about now is because yes. I think what made you guys from my point of view was rather, as you said, the holistic approach. Not just one means of transport, not just one mode, but also the connections between them. So mobility expresses it best anyway.
Willi Nowak: Yes, because you say that now. The term didn’t exist back then. It didn’t exist in the 1980s, we had to introduce it first. Until then, mobility was something that was associated with physical disability.
Michael Paula: That’s right.
Willi Nowak: In that context it did exist. But this self-evidence, with which now „moving from A to B“ in a useful time dimension with useful costs. I would now call that mobility What we also call a basic need – maybe it is. Of course, it is not a basic need like eating, sleeping, but intrinsic. But for Homo sapiens as a social being, it is to get along and interact with each other. That is the reason why mobility exists. It’s a basic need. We would all degenerate if we were isolated. And thus mobility is already part of the basic nature of our society. And that wasn’t so clear at the time. Back then there was driving a car, back then there was taking the train, back then there was only cycling. But there was no term for what constitutes a person who moves.
Michael Paula: That’s right. And I think it was precisely at the beginning of the pandemic that we were shown very clearly where there were also mobility restrictions, also measurable restrictions. Not for very long, thank God. But what would interest me, Willi, is: from the beginning of your work, what were your goals? And how have they changed in the course of all these years?
Willi Nowak: Maybe I have to take two things apart now. One is to say that what a purpose article in the statutes, except that is, what do we exist for in the first place? I would say that has hardly changed, it has even become extremely aggravated in the sense of the climate crisis that we have now, but also in the sense of the energy crisis. So now we need each other, we want a change in transport, a change in energy, but in the meantime we need many changes, whether it’s a change in agriculture or something else. That is. In combination. You have to imagine these entire 30 years. Transport policy was national. Since EU accession, a large part of Austrian transport policy has been at EU level. At least the framework conditions and as we have now seen in the Covid19 crisis, but of course also now with Ukraine/the Ukraine war. The issues that the transport and mobility system has to solve are global, so the supply chain issues that we had during the Covid 19 phase. There are five screws missing and then a whole vehicle can’t be assembled on the other side of the world. So this, we actually just brought this up in front of the curtain back in the 80s and told it over and over again. I can remember the first press release, as one of the first in 89. Where the sickening of these diesel fuels and that it is actually impossible why the diesel fuel is fiscally favoured. I understand why it is, because they want to promote agriculture and lorry traffic.
Willi Nowak: But the damage to health is so high and the CO2 problem was not so conscious at the time, but we were aware of it. That is to say, we were an organisation that was concerned with these idealistic goals. Actually in these. That has only intensified. They were clever then and maybe they are more detailed now. Now it’s more about: is HGV transport more about battery-powered or or hydrogen or overhead line things, but no longer that HGV transport is to be electrified. So we would have answered this basic question back then, too. Technically, of course, things are much more advanced now. That would be one part, so to speak, this idealistic question. The other is: How do you finance an organisation that pursues these idealistic goals? And that part has changed enormously in the last decades. I say pragmatically: We founded ourselves as an alternative to the existing automobile clubs. The idea was: we sell services on TV. That’s how roadside assistance, insurance, bicycle theft, insurance are still done. We have a protection pass, if you like. For cyclists. Not like the car clubs. Only for car drivers, but for all road users. Accident, legal protection, liability insurance. That’s how the VCÖ gets so much commission. We can then use it to finance our policy, our way of transport policy, to finance our actions. And that has failed miserably. You can say that quite simply. It is also when. We know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Austria who share this idea of sustainability.
Willi Nowak: They are also in existing car clubs like the ÖAMTC and ARBÖ. We even had comparable prices in terms of pricing policy. They were not more expensive by a long shot. But we place the trust, so to speak, that is a small organisation, that creates and led to the fact that we had 10,000 members at the peak of our membership at that time, so we had members plus then these insurance companies. And if you imagine that an ÖAMTC has 2 million, then you know that we will never be able to keep up with that in terms of the market. Because an insurance product is scalable. The basic effort, no matter whether it is a brochure or a computer programme that I programme, is the same for 100 as for 1 million. And that means we actually couldn’t keep up and that became apparent very quickly. That was still the case at the beginning of the 90s. When we celebrated our fifth anniversary, it was clear to us that we had to change the business model. And that was not so easy, because we approached the matter with growth in mind, so to speak, now also with organisational growth in mind. We founded branches in all the provinces as contact points for members who had service questions. That is simply expensive as hell. I tell it like it is. And we couldn’t really afford it. When two Vorarlbergers sit in Dornbirn and wait for someone who never comes. It’s natural, but with 300 Vorarlberg members, they prefer to call, somehow.
Willi Nowak: And therefore a hard cut. We say we will maintain these insurances, but only as a basic product. So we are not diversifying. And only for those who already have them. So they can continue to get it. And the basic concept of the VCÖ is changing into, I say, a politically active one. One. In the past, one would have said a lobbying organisation. Now that has fallen into disrepute. But it is a politically active organisation that deals thematically with various issues. But donation-based. That means not members, so with not membership, not this club idea. That’s why the name Verkehrsclub (Transport Club) has disappeared from our name, because the club idea implies to the addressees: I can get services there and as cheaply as possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s a golf club or a/ The British Club, where all the rich people sit, they just drink. But the club fees would have to be so high that nobody would have paid them. So we said donate and give as many as you have. And that was it, to put it simply. We still have about that number of supporters, but the average contribution they pay us is about ten times that. The average contribution. We have people who pay us 10 € a year. But there are others who pay us 100 € a month. If we had a membership, then that would tend to level down and I think that was an important point. And at the same time, of course, a donation is something that we can and must really use for our political work. And the people don’t want to benefit themselves from it, but we should carry on this idealistic idea, which is also shared by our supporters. That was a very important cut for us. And there was a second important cut around the year 2000, because until then we hadn’t actually taken any money from elsewhere. But we had Bo/. We have our own series of publications, which compiles technical papers. We also have the Mobility Award as a product. This is Austria’s largest competition for sustainable mobility, which we have been awarding for 30 years now. And for these two tracks, i.e. print products and events, we have sponsoring as a source of money. That is not great, but if I summarise you now as the financing of the VCÖ, about 50 to 60 % comes from private individuals and of this remaining half, half is again about sponsoring simply from companies that are active in the transport sector. You mentioned Siemens before, these are simply vehicle manufacturers. But it is. Of course, the transport companies of, now it doesn’t matter whether they are municipal or the ÖBB. And through this funding mix: donations, corporate funding and then partly funding from the public sector. When we have certain. For this series of publications, we also receive money from individual ministries if the topic fits. Through this financing mix, we are now actually in a very stable financial position, but that was a learning process.
Michael Paula: Because you said: also change the business model or the focus in the direction of being a, yes, political player. Or lobbying. No matter what you call it. From my point of view you have also contributed a lot to it. I call it less political now, but just awareness raising. So I just. My perception is just certain. Reading your studies again and again, which are well-founded, which do not only come from you, but in which you often also participate. And I recently found somewhere, I think from the year 2019 in an interview, I don’t know where it was, where you just said, and it stuck with me. As I said, it was three years ago. That it is only a small percentage of the population that has the awareness, so to speak, that there is a need for a global and intergenerational view. To also look beyond the edge of one’s own area of competence and yes, to seriously shape sustainability. Has anything changed over time? Would you say or is it still the small percentage or perhaps more concretely formulated the question: What does it take to increase that percentage? To have this intergenerational perspective, a perspective that focuses on the lives of our children and grandchildren.
Willi Nowak: And perhaps I would have to distinguish between, so to speak. Something like a global consciousness or a consciousness that deals with these ideas of sustainability. That’s why it’s important. I think learning takes place in several places in the individual. Either something hurts terribly or I see something somewhere that I would like to imitate. And the third, yes, this is the higher variant: I come to a deeper realisation, if I like, through reflection. But the normal situation is that something hurts. Or I see something somewhere that is going better. And we have to take all three into account. And what you mentioned with the small percentage only concerns this third part, that through depth, through deeper realisation, through reflection and getting other opinions, new thoughts arise, so to speak. But the other two are much, much more important for our work in the mobility sector. And that, for example, it hurts fuel prices. Or it hurts the filter that no public transport runs at night or that my home village is not served. So this pain, if I will, the difference between what I would like to do and what I can do, then leads to activities. And then, of course, some people can go in and say to the mayor. But now, please, a call-bus will be ordered to our village and others suffer and say yes, I am such a poor exploited car driver and there is no public transport in my village, but do nothing.
Willi Nowak: So they drive anyway. They just like to drive and they should, that’s what I say: Yes, they like to drive. But then don’t complain about the price of fuel? So I say, that is. The second one is. And that’s the reason why. I always describe this innovation process. It consists of four stages. One is the perception of this difference, which can be the pain or the better, the better alternative. The second is a concept phase, i.e. perceiving, understanding, trying out and then the standard process. These four steps and then the spiral already turns positive. So after this perception of a difference comes something like a concept phase. What could help me? That’s where I sail: I go to the mayor and say what suits. it. If the post bus also runs in the neighbouring village. It should just pass by there too. Something like that. Prototyping, i.e. trying things out, is something that we as the VCÖ do not do ourselves, but which we realise through the Mobility Prize. We already have over 6,000 projects in an online database that are accessible to everyone from 30 years now, where you can really enter no matter which target group you represent. It can be a mayor, but it can also be a company that wants corporate mobility management. What others have already achieved. That means that we don’t do any prototyping ourselves, but we bring it out into the open and it is available to others, and they make something better out of it and then it becomes a standard process.
Willi Nowak: Something like the fact that we have a reasonably useful timetable on some bus routes, but also in rail transport. We didn’t have that in the 1980s. These are also effects where people say: the Swiss have been doing this successfully for decades. And everyone knows that rail travel in Switzerland is anything but cheap. But it is extremely well organised. Of course, they have also provided the money to build their base tunnels and now the train is moving faster again and things like that. That means keeping this spiral going. That is what we as VCÖ see as our mission, and it works both at the individual level and at the organisational level or with the regional authorities. However, this does not mean that these people, in the sense of the intergenerational justice that you mentioned – I always describe it as the ego or the „I“ in the now, that is what people have in mind to some extent. They also have a bit of a feeling for the ego in the future, that is, where do I want to be with my children or with my family? What they no longer have so much in mind is the WE in the now, how society is doing.
Willi Nowak: I mean WE not as the family of origin, but really: How are the others doing? How is this town, village or whatever, society? And most people don’t even consider the WE in the future. And that is now where the VCÖ actually directs its main attention and we also describe ourselves as a forward-thinking organisation, in the sense of deducing from the desired future what are the measures that we should take today? And too many don’t manage to do that? And that is the reason why I say. Because it needs a certain, yes it needs a certain intellectuality. But of course it also needs a certain degree of freedom to be able to choose. So I say now. In Austria we currently have a Green government, but of course you can see how they are bound. I am convinced that a Leonore Gewesla or a Georg Günsberg is now the head of Kogler’s cabinet. That as persons they want much, much more than they can realise in their role. And I say this attachment to this and to the real situation, of course it holds us all back. But it is important that there are organisations, we for example as VCÖsagen, okay, we have this climate crisis, there are even goals. We have to achieve CO2 neutrality by 2040, at the latest by 2050.
Willi Nowak: That stuff is a time dimension, so to speak, so that our children don’t evaporate here in 2100. The second is. It can’t be done alone. We have now seen this several times, which means that it is a global network. We cannot electrify lorries in Austria. That is only possible if the transport chains are electrified. Then the loading points must also be suitable. Then the entire digitisation strategy of the euro area, not just the EU, must be in place. The EU is relatively strong anyway. But even the EU will fail if gas from Russia flows sparsely. That’s this global dimension. Is then. So on the one hand this temporal dimension, then this global dimension? And the third thing that we always find so important when thinking ahead is to think outside the box. In concrete terms, we are not thinking outside the box when someone believes that a normal car that runs on a combustion engine can now be replaced one-to-one with a vehicle without having to deal with it? What does that mean for resource consumption? Where does the electricity come from? If I now go as far as the lithium battery, are the working conditions right for the miners there? Or if I now think about the internal combustion engine: the people who now say „the e-car. There’s so much happening because of, because of recycling.“ And so on, and I always say: And the oil film on the rivers in Nigeria, where the oil comes from that we have in Austria. So with the internal combustion engine it wasn’t a problem, but with the electric car it’s now a huge problem to look at this entire supply chain.
Willi Nowak: And we understand that/ And we say, ah okay, as VCÖ we have to keep looking at that. So, if you take sustainability seriously, then you can’t avoid leaving the subject area where you are best at home. There is no change in transport without a change in energy and there is no change in energy without a lack of resources. And ultimately it has to be said that for the first time, I believe, we are moving in Austria, but also in the EU, towards something like a serious circular economy. In other words, it is not just a matter of separating waste, as we have all been used to doing for 40 years, i.e. recycling, the recovery of waste. But we have to say that we still have a waste management law in Austria, but we do not have a circular economy law. In other words, we have meanwhile super learned to clear away our residual waste. However, this means that we deal very little with the question of how we can produce as little residual waste as possible. Because the circular economy starts much, much earlier. It starts with taking as few resources as possible. If I need materials, then I need materials that I can reuse. And if I install them in something, then the thing must be repairable in any case. And only if something is no longer repairable can it become waste. That means that out of the 100 % waste that we should have now, only about 5 % should remain where nothing really works anymore.
Willi Nowak: And our entire globe would be able to cope with that quite well. So the 5 % will be well tolerated. That would mean that there would be no plastic in the sea, there would be no landfills, no oil would be discharged into the water. All these things mean that if you are no longer allowed to build a residential building without a careful plan, what happens to the materials if I dismantle it again, i.e. demolish the building. The same applies to a road infrastructure. Then you think much better about: what material do I build with at all? Because if I build super, then maybe it will never need to be torn down. So that’s about it. And that goes into a great many details. And I think that’s what I mean by thinking ahead and having a broad horizon. But that is above what the individual is concerned with. They think it’s important that it’s done, at least that’s what I know. I can say the same for our supporters. And nobody cares, that is, except very stupid people, but nobody cares if our rivers are dirty, if the air is breathable or if our buildings are in a usable condition. I think people really want that. They want the same thing. It’s others not at the levers and to be able to carry that out.
Michael Paula: Well thank you very much for presenting it in such a really holistic way. I would like to go into one specific point, because I see parallels to our work. Namely, external consultants are often called in when things are hurting somewhere. So they are most likely to be prevented. Something hurts. And then I have to move so that the pain subsides. I can remember it well. It was in one of my trainings, a long time ago, where the trainer said that there are only two types, that is, for us humans, two types of motivators: one is pain avoidance and the other is pleasure gain. Now I would like to go into this pleasure gain a little bit, because you said that what is missing is also from the WE perspective. And it doesn’t matter whether I see it on the basis of a society, a municipality or a company. We are trying to work in that direction. It doesn’t matter whether I call it the „North Star“ vision or the „Guiding Star“. But this common image, I think you said something similar: the common image of a desirable future. And you have already touched on some aspects. Just, you say okay and the air is better or I don’t know, I don’t have an oil film any more. Maybe that’s too much of a hypothesis now, and maybe you can tell us how you see it. But sometimes all that is happening now, of course, under the issue of pain and high fuel prices and, and. Where maybe sometimes we lose sight of a little bit. This picture of this desirable future. Namely. Less pressure, more the train. That’s exactly where I want to be. Both will be necessary. And perhaps, what aspects there are from your point of view this rather positive picture – At the moment, a lot is being drawn negatively. And rightly so. Especially when it comes to climate change. Just recently okay, we have reached the accumulation ratio probably in three years. – But aren’t there also sparks of hope somewhere in this area?
Willi Nowak: Well, you have to. Perhaps I would like to preface this sentence. It just has to be clear to us that if we have lied to ourselves up to now, then we should put the lies away. And that’s what I’m saying now when someone says that the price of fuel is going up too much for someone, then the lie behind it is that it’s now expensive. Because it was just too cheap for decades. We have never paid the true cost and in transport there are so many external costs. Would we, through the liability insurances have to pay the suffering of the road accidents. People really think they are paying for the suffering with liability insurance. They just pay for property damage. And maybe, if there is really serious personal injury, compensation for pain and suffering will be due. But the health system pays most of it. It is not visible to the road user that he is actually living at the expense of others. And the same now applies to the price of fuel. But it also applies to the price of electricity, that the working conditions of those who have to produce it do not affect all the environmental damage that the transports demand from the fuels. I will just say this now: It must be clear to everyone that there is not only this future, this more beautiful future, which I also believe. But that only works if I can make it clear and visible that the current, the current lifestyle that we are cultivating is at the expense of others. Ultimately, this has never been different in human history, because in colonialism, it was also the case that people believed that we would conquer the next continent today and exploit the raw materials there. And it doesn’t hurt anyone. In other words, this creation of surplus value, which is also happening now. I don’t want to get into the criticism of capitalism.
Willi Nowak: But basically that was the story. And what is happening now in these few decades, that was not the case before, that is a global consciousness has developed. But that means that if I take something from myself, I take it away from someone else. They fight back. If the climate crisis causes the sea water level to rise and we will move 10 million Bangladeshis from Bangladesh to India because otherwise they will drown. And that puts pressure on India and India puts pressure on the next person. And so on. In other words, there is no hiding the fact that there are consequences of our actions. And it doesn’t matter now whether it’s the rainforest or water levels. It doesn’t matter at all. Trade relations that have dumping prices. Truck drivers who don’t have social security. It doesn’t matter what it is. And this climate crisis makes it clearer than ever: the consequences of our actions are falling on our heads. So, and if that is clear – that is an important prerequisite. And then comes the point: and how would I like it to be? And it is true that there are different approaches and standards for every area of life. I think that if you look at Austria from above and see this urban sprawl with single-family homes, it is not a happy lifestyle. It is indeed the lifestyle that is always embodied in our image, but it is like an advertising slogan from a car brand. They always show cars cruising through the countryside alone with happy smiling children in the back. Reality is. You’re stuck in a traffic jam and the children are screaming in the back.
Willi Nowak: And that means these lies. I say honest people don’t have a problem imagining a different future, so they already have a towards and not just a away from. So when someone says there’s so much stowage, I always say in response: you’re the traffic jam, you’re standing in here, you’re not uninvolved in what’s happening now. And I think that’s been the case for the last few decades. The Ukraine crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic and so on have brought this home to us. We are, and everyone tells us so, every text message or social media action we take. We are not only receivers, we are also transmitters of all this. So I think that this global interconnectedness, it’s becoming so conscious that it – and this can now lead to something completely new. Namely, that the awareness of the desired future is also spreading much, much more than we could perhaps have imagined in the last 20, 30 years or 50 years. And now, there is a concrete example, because I mentioned housing before. But communal housing projects are now flourishing everywhere, because people realise what they can get out of it if they don’t just sit alone in a house. But their children run outside and then they come back with a wound, and you don’t really know who put the plaster on it. Because obviously a lot of people look out for each other. Or in the transport sector, if I take an example like that, because Paris has now set itself the goal. We want other cities with millions of inhabitants to do the same. The 15-minute city, that’s what it’s called.
Willi Nowak: That means trying to be able to satisfy all essential daily needs within 15 minutes: Pharmacy, doctor, shopping facilities, leisure facilities. That’s why these side effects again, that you say okay, what does that mean? You actually have to make sure that the local supply functions. I have to redevelop the ground floor zones again. We need neighbourhood initiatives that ensure, on a voluntary basis, that there are once again something like weekly markets in the streets. Basically, it doesn’t mean less driving, but rather getting rid of the parked vehicles. They take up space. In rural areas, this is not a problem of parked vehicles. You can put them on your property. At most, you have speed problems if they drive too fast. But the space problem. Cities could actually become 15-minute cities, but only on the condition that not everyone parks their private property in public space. Then there is always the whining: in Vienna, for example, we now have enough garages, we have built them over the last few decades, it is only because of the parking space management that I get such a house number and instead of €10, €15 a month it costs €4,550 a year. But the parking permit and the garage cost 50 to 1,150 € a month. But these are the real costs. If I now have: the desired picture. Because in Vienna only 50% of the households have a car. Those who don’t have a car suffer the cars that are standing around outside. But if I were to be fair now, I would say okay, everyone is entitled to an appropriate space in public space for their respective needs.
Willi Nowak: Then maybe one or two apartment buildings would think about it. We’ll put out a table tennis table. At the price of one euro per square metre and month, I have to say, I don’t think I need an owners‘ meeting for that. Someone reaches into his wallet and says I’ll give him 20 euros per month, and now the children play outside and we don’t argue about where to put the pram or the ping-pong table. This injustice that exists now and it really is a car injustice. Yesterday I saw an interview: We don’t have the issue of democracy, we have the issue of autocracy in transport. And it’s true, this point, it’s the car, the parked, conscious. People always talk about traffic problem. I say we really only have a parking problem. We have really created a space problem by people buying stuff that they don’t know where else to put. The table tennis table is one example. It could even be used communally. The car could also be used communally. Then we would have the car-sharing option. Trying to expand that. That is, these pictures exist. And we always come up against the limits of interest of what is really there now. And that’s where the discussions come in. And some of the city politicians really do have, I think, the wrong idea of what is acceptable to the majority in the city. Because if 50% of households don’t have a car, that means only 25% of people drive. We know that in Vienna the modal split for driving is 28%. Then you know.
Michael Paula: You said something exciting. Because I have now thought about it directly. It’s not meant seriously, but it’s true: you buy a lot of things and then have no place to put them. I have experienced this in my own household. I’m not allowed to worry my wife about that now. Of course, you could say that our cellar is too small or our storage space is too small. But you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. But. But thank you really for these extensive explanations, because it also shows how things are simply interconnected. And I’d like to conclude. I’m still going to elaborate a little bit. There is such a thing here because I said we are of the same vintage and in indigenous cultures there is this term, that of the Elder, the elders. Unfortunately, this has gone a bit out of fashion in our society, namely simply people of a certain age who simply already have a lot of knowledge and experience, wisdom too, and who pass on their advice, their wisdom, so to speak, to the next generation. If there were such an advice that you would give to a company or a decision-maker, no matter what, really from today’s point of view? What, what advice would that be?
Willi Nowak: Two things. Because it really kept me busy during the management handover of the VCÖ to take the two things apart: Leadership and Eldership. And that is also. I do this with systemic structural constellations. I get the picture into the room, so to speak. And it became very clear that eldership can only work if it is asked. Eldership cannot be forced on anyone. Okay, just as a prerequisite for this advice. I would give it if I were asked, something like that. And if I now reduce it completely, completely, as a very small answer, it is: Wherever we take action, we try to cut out the ego and put the communal in the foreground. That can mean in the area of traffic: If you want to drive a car, carshare when in doubt. Or do car sharing with your neighbours. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t have to be the big organised one. Or also that it is important to understand sharing as a whole. I now say a city as a whole is a sharing model. We use the same spaces and don’t really ask ourselves how that comes about. You get into a public transport system and someone else has already thought about that conceptually, this not everything and yourself and ego, but turn around and say: How could I share something, I don’t mean this charitable sharing now – but I mean functional sharing.
Willi Nowak: And then there is a social aspect that becomes extremely important. Namely, joy arises. Of course, there is also frustration when you borrow something and then you get it back broken. But you can also talk about that. How do I solve this? And that is, I can solve it quite rationally or I can solve it personally, because in a group there is always someone who likes to fix things and the other one can’t. But the one who can’t fix things can fix them. But the one who can’t fix things can perhaps communicate very well. And brings the new people into the groups. So I mean, to solve this ego, that works in almost every area of life, to take the ego a step back and put the we in the foreground. And that fits in with eldership again, because only having become clever yourself or having gained experience. Is wanting to end. But it is when it is asked for. And because you told me that before.
Willi Nowak: I have three children myself, all the things you have done with your own three children, under stress and elsewhere. A lot of things went wrong. I have lots of funny children. But of course I yelled at them sometimes when it was too much for me. And with the grandchildren, that’s it. So next generation. Not only do I watch the grandchildren, but I also watch my children watching the grandchildren. And that’s a meta-level that comes into it. And that’s now what I do with eldership or with experience sharing. You automatically have multiple points of view and these more, the additional points of view then also make up this WE and sort of detach that from the I and you. And suddenly there is. The third person only makes a WE out of the two. And that, if you think about it in terms of an entire society, then you arrive at very complex models. So how do I organise traffic, how do I organise housing, how do I organise whatever, always political decision-making processes. And that is, I think. If they are not directed towards each other and ego, but towards cooperation and common goals. So, I don’t know how we will overcome this climate crisis. But with this attitude we have every chance of overcoming it.
Michael Paula: That was such a beautiful conclusion, because I think it’s very nice to move away from the ego back and more towards the we, and connected with that. And then the circle closes for me, I said, okay, desirable future. Also this joy of sharing. Through this also joy, satisfaction, somewhere to get this pleasure gain again. I find there. I find that very beautiful. Yes, thank you very much Willi, for this conversation. Thanks also to our listeners for their attention and if you enjoyed this episode. Of course we would be delighted if you subscribe to us via one of the podcast channels, but also if you give us a five-star rating or recommend us to someone in your circle if this episode might interest you. Of course, this helps us to continue to attract exciting guests and to explore new topics around transformation, change and transformation for you. We look forward to having you back next time.