Sustainability: The lessons from Austria
Austria’s pioneering approach to the environment is grounded in 150 years of history.
From the Tyrol mountains to the forests of Styria, Austrians’ proximity to nature and traditional way of living has engendered a strong national consensus around environmental protection. In fact, the country has been a pioneer for the preservation and sustainability of the natural environment ever since the 19th century with, for example, the establishment of the first University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna in 1872.
More recently, in the wake of the climate change crisis, citizen and private-sector initiatives have been multiplying to generate deeper awareness and immediate action around environmental issues. One of them is the R20 Austrian World Summit that takes place in Vienna every year. Launched by entrepreneur and philanthropist Klemens Hallmann, the event is gaining big global traction and this year welcomed eminent personalities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, António Guterres, Greta Thunberg and several heads of state.
In Styria, a whole green tech valley has developed to spur new innovations around energy and environmental technologies. About 200 companies, startups and research institutes work there including Saubermacher, a leading innovator in waste management and recycling.
New champions step up for climate action
For CEO and entrepreneur Karl Ochsner, much more can be done at the industrial and commercial level to tackle global climate change.
The Austrian Karl Ochsner, who has been running his family heat-pump business for the past 11 years, strongly believes in Austria’s green tech industry and in the substantial role that his products in particular can play going forward. His enterprise, Ochsner Heat Pumps, is a classic “hidden champion” of Austria and a pioneer in the heat pump business, having specialized in this field since 1978.
“We only specialize in heat pumps. We develop and produce heat pumps for small houses for water usage, all the way up to ones for huge buildings and industrial applications,” explains Ochsner.
In the last two years, Ochsner Heat Pumps has registered a 30 percent growth in sales, driven mostly by the commercial sector and the large clients that it caters for, such as Google, IKEA and the supermarket chains REWE and Spar. 70 percent of its products are sold outside Austria, in Europe and increasingly China, where heat pumps are looked at as a sustainable alternative by the government. “Greenhouse gas emissions generated by household heating are higher than the carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by land transportation.
“With our heat-pump technology, we can contribute to the United Nations’ Paris Agreement goals for CO2 reduction,” Ochsner states, adding that customers using his company’s pumps have so far helped to stop 2.5 million tons of CO2 from being released. “Every heat pump we sell helps this world and fights climate change. We have to spread that message,” he continues.
A focus on quality
The company brings 40 years of experience to the table and a high level of innovation. “We focus on the quality and lifecycle of our products. A cheap heat-pump operation based on an air-conditioning unit will only last 10-12 years, whereas our products can last more than 20,” insists Ochsner.
Every year, Ochsner Heat Pumps introduces the latest technology and fresh ideas on how to use heat pumps in industrial processes and big buildings. “Customer comfort has increased greatly and we are very focused on services. We don’t just sell the product — we want to be there for the customer throughout the entire lifecycle of their heat pump,” says Ochsner.
The US is a market that the company is keeping a close eye on, even though, as Ochsner points out, “Americans need a more ‘Californian spirit’ when it comes to green technology. In the long term, the US is a huge market and big opportunity. But for heat pumps, you need a political environment that sees green tech and renewable energy as positive, that wants to support it and sees the risks of global warming. That’s something we’re not seeing from the US at the moment,” he advises.