We met Stephan Sicars, Director of the Environmental Branch of UNIDO, at Café Wortner, an old-school coffee house on a cobblestone corner of the 4th district
Essentially he’s a salesman. Stephan Sicars’ product is a brighter future, which seems like an easy sell, but he has to make it a winning proposition for the environment and the industry. His title is Director of the Environmental Branch of UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization), but if he had to explain it to a five-year-old he’d say, “I take part in saving the world.”
Before he came to Vienna, he used to work at an environmental fund in Canada. “In Montreal my job essentially was to say ‘no.’ Now I’ve jumped the fence, I belong to the group asking for money.” Now he gets to say yes.
Stephan is North German, but certainly doesn’t fit their notoriously “cold” stereotype. Especially when we began speaking about his job, he was completely engaged, almost giddy. “I really think we make a difference,” he said as we sat in the Schanigarten of Café Wortner in the 4th district. He’s been working in Vienna since 2014 and from here he oversees worldwide initiatives, such as a recent one dealing with small-scale gold miners.
“If you ever read Jack London stories, these are those guys.” They stand in a river with pans, sifting for gold. “These people are dirt poor,” he explained. They use mercury to extract the gold from the river sediment or ore they get from mines. “Mercury is not a nice element,” said Stephan. The mercury/gold mixture is baked and the poisonous material is flushed back into the environment – the biggest single source of mercury contamination.
Banning small-scale gold mining is not an option, Stephan believes, because the people there have no other way of making a living. So the project involves creating market incentives, enabling the small-scale gold miners to earn more from lower volume.
“We work for people who buy the gold at the market price – 25 percent higher than the price they get now – provided we can certify that it’s clean, and from a conflict-free zone.” UNIDO has identified these changes in about 50 countries all over the world.
But helping the environment is not just about reversing damage. “Half of what we do are things where humans screwed something up, the other half are things where we want to help avoid that humans screw something up.” UNIDO helps industries improve their production processes to spare the environment and save money.
Here in Vienna he is surrounded by plentiful green spaces, clean streets and pure tap water – all environmental luxuries. What he really gets excited about? “Public transportation, boah… really good!” And the musicality of the Viennese dialect: “If you step back and listen to people talking, you almost think they’re speaking Italian. When you just hear the intonation, they have covered half of the distance to Italy.” He also loves the architecture and that nature crawls right into the city. “You can take a tram straight to the forest.”
Most perhaps, “time passes a bit slower in Vienna.” He recounted being one of eight guests invited to an intimate Salon where they would sit around the fireplace to discuss sustainability before having dinner. “So, I went there and the door was opened by a butler, and I wasn’t aware that this kind of atmosphere still existed. I certainly never thought I would experience it.”
Where to find Stephan in June
This is Stephan’s favorite no–nonsense restaurant in the house where Falco wrote Der Kommissar. After returning from a business trip, or a long day at work he loves a late dinner (go for Spargel in June) in their shaded courtyard.
With friends and out-of-towners, he frequents this island of hipness. He likes the food, but mostly goes for the drinks and the DJ.
This is Stephan’s choice for a “fantastic” breakfast. Right around he corner from the Naschmarkt, this uber-industrial space is somehow still a cozy choice for late-morning dining alfresco.
Stephan loves the breakfast at this hip java joint behind the university campus. “It’s delicious!”