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“We need new alliances”

“We need new alliances”

With Audi as a partner, the Greentech Festival is now also being staged in London for the first time. Founder Marco Voigt believes taking the platform for sustainable technologies abroad is an important and logical next step. In this interview, he talks about eco-conscious lifestyles, the power of lucky breaks and sustainable tights.

Copy: Patrick Morda ― Photo: Jelka von Langen Lesezeit: 9 min

Marco Voigt on a street in Berlin’s central Mitte district.Marco Voigt on a street in Berlin’s central Mitte district.

Mr. Voigt, since its launch in 2019, the Greentech Festival has been staged in your hometown, Berlin. Now you’re branching out into the wider world. Are you nervous?
Marco Voigt: I’d call it wired – but in a good way. That said, this was the plan right from the outset. After all, climate change is a global phenomenon and everyone around the world faces the same challenges in adopting more sustainable lifestyles. We can achieve a lot in Germany but not everything. Exciting ideas are emerging and things are happening in so many different places.

For instance, in London where the festival’s first offshoot is now taking place. Why there?
There are many reasons. To name just one that perhaps not everyone is aware of, the UK is a leader in renewable energy. What’s more, we see our festival as an event that, admittedly on a small scale, ties in with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), which gets underway in Glasgow at the same time. In fact, we’ve always also had our sights set on North America and Asia – and that hasn’t changed. However, the ongoing pandemic has made any plans for staging the event on another continent virtually impossible.

COVID-19 is also one of the reasons why the scale of the London GTF won’t be commensurate with the recent Berlin event. Instead, the focus is on networking and exchanging ideas at an institutional level. Can you still call that a festival?
As is the case in Berlin, the conference is the heart of the event and we have succeeded in putting together a roster of top-class speakers. While energy and finance are the topics in the spotlight in London, there will also be another award ceremony and, of course, an ancillary programme. Despite being a bit smaller than Berlin, Greentech in London will still be an experience.

Audi is a perfect match for us.

Marco Voigt

A stand-up display reading, “Stop thinking about climate change. Start stopping it.”A stand-up display reading, “Stop thinking about climate change. Start stopping it.”
A portrait shot of Marco VoigtA portrait shot of Marco Voigt

You mentioned energy and finance but haven’t referred explicitly to mobility, even though Audi is your global partner.
I would like to emphasise that we don’t work with sponsors in the traditional sense. Instead, we look for partners. That’s because we’re not interested in raising funds or featuring logos. In my eyes, Audi is a perfect match for us because the company has not only accepted transformation’s challenges and defined specific measures for change but also got the ball rolling. That comes across in our many meetings and our ongoing interactions with the Four Rings, where we strive to shape the future together. As it is, mobility always plays a central role at the Greentech Festival because it’s the confluence for many technologies and industries. Energy is, ultimately, instrumental to the mobility transition.

Mobility is a distinct thread running through your career. You trained as an auto mechanic, studied automotive engineering and worked for a sports car manufacturer. What is your take on the industry?
To put it in a nutshell, I wish I were twenty years younger and could work directly in the automotive industry once more. This is such an unparalleled moment in automotive history that it’s very exciting. What’s more, I’ve yet to see a grand universal plan for how we’ll get from A to B in twenty years’ time. There’s an incredible flurry of development and activity, which is unleashing lots of innovation, dynamism and opportunities.

A view into Marco Voigt’s officeA view into Marco Voigt’s office

But before that, you set up a mail delivery company in the late 1990s and subsequently advised the German government on e-mobility. Did it take you a while to find your true calling?
By establishing Pin AG in 1999, I got my first taste of entrepreneurship at a young age. Not that I didn’t find my job in automotive development really exciting – I truly did. But by that time, I was already thinking a lot about renewable energy, which is why I changed career direction. And suddenly, while I was working for an agency, I found myself advising the German government at the time on electromobility. Although I didn’t initially have all the necessary insight and knowledge, I soon noticed that there was more to the topic than met the eye and there were big things in store. That really fired me up and at times almost drove me to despair. Even as a mover and shaker, you sometimes find yourself swept along by things.

Was founding the Greentech Festival the logical conclusion to this new career path?
I teamed up with Alexia Osswald and Sven Krüger, who together with Nico Rosberg is still my partner in the Greentech Festival, to establish the GreenTec Awards in 2008. Back then, our aim was already to bring together the leading lights advancing sustainability in research, industry, politics and society. We wanted to train the spotlight on technological solutions that would help fight climate change and much more.


Marco Voigt

Entrepreneur Marco Voigt founded the GreenTec Awards together with Alexia Osswald and Sven Krüger. He subsequently set up Green Window, a creative and advertising agency dedicated to sustainability, before launching the Greentech Festival. Fascinated by green technologies and their potential, Voigt wants to give such innovations a wider platform. In addition to taking the Greentech Festival abroad and opening organic eats start-up Delisch Food, he is working on setting up his own green investment fund.

A dynamic portrait of Marco Voigt.A dynamic portrait of Marco Voigt.

But in the early 2000s, the topic was hardly on the public’s radar.
That’s exactly what we felt needed to change. Those were the years when the first ideas were conceived and the debate surrounding the first forays into alternative drives for cars and organic agriculture really took off. What struck me and the team at the time was the prevalence of a sceptical, wait-and-see attitude towards technological change. In contrast, we wanted to paint a positive picture and celebrate change.

“Celebrate Change” also happens to be the Greentech Festival slogan. Has the scepticism waned?
At least the problems and challenges we face are now more plain to see. And, yes, so is the appetite for solutions. Electric cars are a good example of this. Remember all those years they were considered boring, impractical and unnecessary? At the same time, industries ranging from fashion through food to, naturally, mobility were looking for opportunities to present solutions. Shifting parameters and, in no small part, our collaboration with Nico Rosberg paved the way for us to get the festival off the ground in 2019. At the event, industries can engage with one another and with the public. The immensity of the task and the responsibility it brings with it call for new, cross-sectoral alliances. That’s also part of the thinking behind the Greentech Festival.

Of course, you also need a little luck. The power of the moment, so to speak, to give coincidence another name.

Marco Voigt

A shelf of awards whose packaging reads, “The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper and reimagines the world.”A shelf of awards whose packaging reads, “The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper and reimagines the world.”
Marco Voigt holding a sign that reads: “Wear a mask.”Marco Voigt holding a sign that reads: “Wear a mask.”

As if that’s not enough, your Green Window Agency also advises companies on how to treat sustainability as a market. Are there still so many businesses that need help on that front?
It certainly seems that way. Before the agency came into being, Green Window was supposed to be an online marketplace for sustainable products. However, we soon discovered that it didn’t work. The range of offerings was simply too small. If, for instance, there’s just a single sustainably manufactured and hence higher priced pair of white trainers in competition with the myriad conventional models, most people will be drawn to the variety of options rather than the sustainable choice.

But Green Window sparked something else.
By sheer accident, yes. It was the manufacturers who contacted us. Many of them told us that they would like to offer more variety but didn’t quite know how to go about it. In a way, we underwent a transformation ourselves and became a consultancy serving banks, breweries, coffee brands, car makers and even a tights manufacturer, among others.

A bunch of Greentech Festival lanyards.A bunch of Greentech Festival lanyards.

Tights? That’s surprising. How did you help them?
That was another one of those lucky breaks. We had an environmentally friendly “green carpet” at one of our award events. It was made from Econyl, which is a plastic fibre derived from recycled fishing nets and other waste. A German musician stepped onto the carpet and addressed the TV cameras, declaring loudly that right now she was “taking a stand on waste” and that recycling was a truly ingenious idea. Suddenly, there was a huge media buzz around the whole thing. I told the fashion company’s management this exact same story and we brainstormed whether it would be possible to produce tights from this material. And that’s what they did.

Now that’s a coincidence because the same fibre can be found in the Audi RS e-tron GT*. Is finding solutions sometimes about recognising the potential already hiding in plain sight?
It’s about connecting the dots in an interdisciplinary and open-ended way. As I said, that’s also the approach we take with the Greentech Festival. And, of course, you also need a little luck, the power of the moment, so to speak, to give coincidence another name.

What about inner drive and tenacity? Or daring?
You definitely can’t afford to get full of yourself. Believing the risks don’t apply to you is not the same as having the courage to make mistakes. Slip-ups are not only part of the process but also part of the appeal. My philosophy is to just do what makes sense and is feasible for me. That’s how I recently went about launching my organic food delivery company. And it was no different when it came to launching the festival back then. We saw a need, got together with Nico Rosberg and just did it.

Marco Voigt holds up a few vinyl records for the camera.Marco Voigt holds up a few vinyl records for the camera.
Marco Voigt writing on a blank sheet of paper.Marco Voigt writing on a blank sheet of paper.

What’s in store for the festival in the coming years?
The Berlin and London stagings will definitely go ahead next year. Plus, we want to have another crack at getting New York off the ground and hopefully add Asia to the mix. We are in close consultation with Audi and our partners about it. For all our enthusiasm, we are a for-profit business and need to see a return on our efforts at the end of the day.

And what about the change the event is supposed to drive and celebrate?
In my view, there are two key levers for change – the growing pressure humanity faces to tackle climate change and public dialogue. Above all in the western world, our societies are consumerist. While it might seem like a logical move to clamp down on consumption, that would tip public dialogue into dangerous territory. I think encouraging more conscious consumption is the preferable solution. By providing people with better options, they can try things out and see for themselves. Then maybe we’ll have more success with bringing about change.

Voigt sits on a couch in his office with the GTF slogan, “Celebrate Change”, above him.Voigt sits on a couch in his office with the GTF slogan, “Celebrate Change”, above him.
A high-angle shot of the side of the Audi RS e-tron GT

The future in its most beautiful form

Forward-looking design and technology: Learn more about the Audi RS e-tron GT* and the use of Econyl as a sustainable material.

Only consumption and emission values according to WLTP and not according to NEDC are available for the vehicle.