Environmental protection – act green and talk about it!
“I commute between the office at Audi, my office at home and the outdoors.” No matter where Michael Hügel is working, he likes to be surrounded by nature – whether at local tree planting campaigns organized by the Audi Environmental Foundation or even in his office at home: the sustainability expert and his family live in a wooden house. “When we built our house, it was important to me to use mainly renewable building materials,” explains Hügel, for whom environmental protection is much more than just a 9-to-5 job.
Michael Hügel first joined Audi in 2007, at that time as part of the Environmental Management department. His switch to Audi was a very deliberate step: “I knew you could make a difference at a company like Audi.” Even while still working in Environmental Management, Michael Hügel initiated the odd environmental protection project, more or less on the side. “Long before the environment became such a hot topic, my boss and I asked ourselves how we could assume responsibility beyond what was required by laws and regulations. We wanted to give something back to society and the environment.” And so the Audi Environmental Foundation was born.
In 2009, the foundation was established quite deliberately as a non-profit company and a wholly owned subsidiary of AUDI AG. “We felt it was important to show that our main priority here is the environment.” It was a concept that earned Audi a pioneering role: no other automotive group had an environmental foundation at the time.
Nature and technology in harmony
Initially, the Audi Environmental Foundation focused on nature-related projects to protect the environment and biodiversity, such as the founding project
"Oak Forest": “We didn’t just plant trees at random, of course, but asked ourselves together with the Technical University of Munich: How can we plant the trees in such a way that we achieve the highest possible carbon capture while maintaining a high level of biodiversity?” says Hügel. The internationalization of this future-oriented research approach has so far seen more than 100,000 oak trees planted near the sites in Brussels, Győr, Sant’Agata Bolognese, Neckarsulm, Ingolstadt and San José Chiapa. Some of them have been fitted with sensors so that the development of the
trees can be analyzed without on-site visits, which makes them “talking trees.”
As time went on, more and more projects were added that linked environmental protection with the Audi DNA – and thus also with “Vorsprung durch Technik.” This gave rise, for example, to today’s "Greenovation" action area, which promotes the development of innovative environmental protection technologies and and makes them a reality. For instance, under Hügel’s leadership, the foundation assisted the Landesbund für Vogelschutz, a Bavarian bird conservation organization, in further developing a technology of the University of Marburg that helps protect the Eurasian curlew, which is threatened with extinction. As part of a pilot project in the Altmühl Valley, fledglings were fitted with this technology to monitor the birds’ movements and identify targeted protection measures.
The current Greenovation project finds Michael Hügel and his team supporting the German-Indian start-up company Nunam, which employs used battery modules from Audi e-tron test vehicles, among other things, to develop energy storage systems. These systems can be used, for example, to provide light to shops in rural areas of India, allowing some traders to continue working after dark. The Audi Environmental Foundation supports the Greenovation project not only financially, but also through active project work and networking with relevant partners. One of the goals of the Audi Environmental Foundation is always to create awareness of the fact that modern technology and environmental protection complement each other perfectly.
Another project that Michael Hügel is very proud of stands on the wooden shelf in his office at home, in between environmental reference books. It has 145 pages, was produced according to the rules of the circular economy and is 100% recyclable: the "Greenovation" book.
Anyone can join in
“The future interests me – I’m going to spend the rest of my life there.” These words by Mark Twain adorn the first page of the Greenovation book. The environmental awareness guide includes 50 ideas and technologies for a livable future as well as everyday life hacks, plus plenty of other inspiring content: how to properly upcycle waste products (i.e., turn them into like-new products). Smart ways to save water. And what technology can learn from nature. The book was created under the leadership of Michael Hügel. “Initiating projects isn’t the only thing that’s important to me. Our aim is to create awareness and spark enthusiasm for environmental protection, but to do so undogmatically and without pointing fingers. The company offers a very good platform for this. True to the motto: act green and talk about it.”
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