They say it takes a village, but making Vienna shine as one of the most eco-friendly cities worldwide takes all sorts: we spoke to an urban gardener, a corporate eco-advocate, a street cleaner and an environmental activist.

By Doina Boev & Benjamin Wolf

ProfilesGerhard Pauli

Gardener at the MA 42 Vienna Parks & Gardens

Every time we are tasked to redesign a street, the neighbors want more flower beds, more tree spots. Green space upgrades every neighborhood and people know it.

Gerhard Pauli’s career started early, learning the profession from his father, a professional gardener, before attending the Gartenbau-schule. Now with 25 years of experience, 17 of them at the Wiener Gärten, he works eight-hours days tending the plants and flowers in parks and gardens – in all, some 19 km2 across the city.

We met at Kongreßpark in Vienna’s 16th district to learn more about making Vienna the greenest city in Europe. Arriving at the exact moment when the spring flowers were exchanged for summer ones – 1.2 million annuals in all – we watched as delicate violet-shaded petunias were being carefully placed into the soil. The patterns of color follow an elaborate, citywide plan for the over 1,500 flower beds, developed and revised each year by a team of landscape gardeners together with representatives of the city council, who bring comments from their constituents.

The best feedback, though, often comes when Pauli is out on the job, elbow deep in mulch. People love flowers, he says, and passers-by often stop to talk.  Why do they use begonia as the dominant red?  Aren’t those fleshy stems more fragile? Well, not necessarily, not if there is enough water…

“But what they mostly want to know is how to take better care of their plants at home,” Pauli laughs, “and why are they always dying like that!”

With over half of the city being green space, the planners are still not satisfied and there are new projects in the works. “At the moment, one of the main focuses is vertical: the greening of rooftops,” he says. Urban gardening took off in Vienna a couple of years ago and is now thriving.

In March a 2,000 m2 rooftop garden was opened in the 7th district, and two weeks ago, a community garden project was inaugurated in Seestadt in the 23rd, we learn, impressed.

There is a lot of work and great passion behind the beautiful parks and green spaces of Vienna. And with urban garden spaces available in many districts, residents have begun growing their own fruits and vegetables, taking another step toward sustainability.


 

ProfilesWolfgang Pundy

Director of Real Estate Operations Management and Marketing for Raiffeisen-Holding Lower Austria-Vienna

We wanted to set an example, to show that sustainable building is possible.

It was like a scene from a sci-fi movie: As we crossed the Salztorbrücke, the Raiffeisen Passivbürohochhaus towered above the Danube Canal like a pile of crystal lemon wedges angled toward the sun. Shielding our eyes, we entered under the colonnade on our way to meet Wolfgang Pundy, Director of Real Estate Operations for Raiffeisen-Holding and mastermind of this first-ever sustainable office building in the world.

Here all resources are renewable – sun, water, earth and air – to keep the carbon footprint exceptionally low. A buttonless elevator, programmed from reception, took us from the first floor directly to the top of Vienna. Wolfgang Pundy is a quietly confident, urbane man, whose shock of grey haired lends an extra portion of gravitas to the story he had to tell.

It’s a story that begins with the weather: “We have to orientate ourselves continually to the forecasts, as it usually takes between half and two thirds of a day to manipulate the temperature,” Pundy said. Instead of classic air conditioning, the building uses the cooling effect of the water from the Canal while double–glazing along the façade maintains the temperature.

All functions in the building rely heavily on geothermal energy, he told us, with about 45 km of underground pathways reaching a depth of 20 to 40 meters. Above ground, the building (completed in 2012) is three meters taller than the 75-meter Uniqa Tower two bridges down stream.

The project presented enormous challenges, not only technical, requiring a seemingly endless set of permissions from authorities at all levels before they could begin. “Building in an urban environment is always challenging, especially when you want to go vertically,” Pundy said. It was also more expensive than traditional construction –  seven percent higher, in fact – costs the bank expects to recover over the next 14 to 15 years. All of which was important to Raiffeisen to prove how seriously they take their Climate Protection Initiative.

The bottom line, though, is whether it is a good place to work, and here the employees weigh in with enthusiasm. There is an exceptional view over the 1st and 2nd districts of Vienna, and a lot of natural light flooding in throughout the day.  And the neighbors? The round shape was intentionally chosen so as not to block the views of the surrounding buildings.

Happy environment, happy neighbors.


 

ProfilesMichaela Schneider

Street Cleaner for the MA 48 Vienna Waste Management

One of the best things in my job is having the feeling I’m contributing to everybody’s comfort and well-being. I can sleep well at night.

Cleanliness may come next to godliness, but in most cities, nobody really believes it. Traditionally municipal jobs like street cleaning are the positions nobody wants.

Not so in Vienna.

Here, the employees of the MA 48 – the department that keeps the city clean – are among the most respected city workers, and their work, a matter of pride.

“Having a clean city is so important for Vienna,” said Michaela Schneider, 33, a street cleaner since first joining the force at age 21. “And not just for us. Think of all the tourists coming here to enjoy our city” –  over five million a year, in fact, the city’s leading source of revenue and jobs.

Schneider is in charge of the area between Schönbrunn and the Technical Museum, one of the most desirable beats. She is frequently greeted by the locals.

“They often say ‘Servus! Grüß dich! (Greetings!) How was your holiday?’ I think that speaks volumes.” Of the MA 48’s 3,500 employees, there are about 150 per district, who set out at 6:00 each morning to empty 100,000 garbage cans a day, and sweep the streets. About two thirds of the waste finds its way into the city’s resource recovery system, recyclable materials, glass and burnable waste are separated, reducing volume and producing energy.  Furniture, appliances and the like often end up at the 48er Tandler, a second-hand shop that sells household discards. Then there’s the Misttelefon (garbage hotline) and the MA 48 app, with information about environmentally correct waste separation and a guide to locating garbage collection centers and the department’s vehicle fleet.

So do the Viennese live up to their own high standards? Schneider grins: “I’d say yes, they certainly try hard, and if I look back at the last 11 years, I can only say that things are getting better.”

And godliness? Well, that may take a little longer.


 

profiles-mai-hoch-3Hannes Greber

A leader at Generation Earth (the youth arm of WWF)

Vienna is green, but there is always room for improvement

Hannes Greber, 21, is a leader of “Generation Earth”, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) sponsored youth organization dedicated to bringing young people into the sustainability movement.

Meeting at the Austrian headquarters of the WWF in Vienna’s 16th district, he spoke with enthusiasm about his long-standing interest in preserving the natural habitat, about his respect for nature “for what it gives us.” About a year ago, he said he decided to become active, motivated by other people’s indifference as much as anything else.

“Many people take what they have for granted,” Greber said, “and pollute the environment without thinking about the consequences.”

It was a big commitment. To become a Generation Earth Action Leader, he had to complete five training workshops, which take place on extended weekends in locations around Austria, often those affected by current environmental issues. This has taken Greber to deep forests near Obernberg in Tyrol, to caves hidden in the hillsides of Baden near Vienna, and into Austrian rivers most in need of protection – fascinating experiences in places he had never been to before. Learning to understand how nature is connected to our daily lives, he believes, is the program’s greatest gift.

“We want to inspire young people, for them to become motivated and take a step in the direction of sustainability,” he said.

Greber feels that while Austria has done a lot of things right and Vienna can only be seen as an extremely “green” and sustainable city, there is much more to be done.

One of the biggest problems is food waste, he says, where more initiatives are needed. He also points to the traffic, which could be significantly reduced if more people would opt for alternatives like bikes or public transport.

Generation Earth, as the name suggests, hopes to encourage a new era of social consciousness, to create an activist network of young people between 15 and 25 engaged in the fight against pollution, climate change and other damage to the eco system – to make them more conscious of the environmental challenges that will define the decades to come.

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