Episode 3: Tristan A. Foerster, Managing Director of ClimatePartner

Tristan A. Foerster takes a stance on climate protection regarding business travel and explains how ClimatePartner helps make climate-neutral business trips a reality. Please find below a shortened English version of the interview.

The pandemic affects our grandparents. Climate change affects our grandchildren

About: Tristan A. Foerster

After holding many responsible positions in different industries, ranging from business consultancy to finance and digital services, in early 2010, Tristan A. Foerster decided to significantly help fashion the success of ClimatePartner as their co-CEO.

ClimatePartner bietet Klimaschutzlösungen, mit denen Unternehmen ihre CO2-Emissionen berechnen und reduzieren, Klimaschutzstrategien umsetzen und die unvermeidbaren Emissionen durch Klimaschutzprojekte ausgleichen können.

Tristan Foerster has traveled a lot during his career. He likes traveling. He also stresses that he “virtually draws energy from contact with other people.” Due to the company’s many offices and their clients’ expressed interest in meeting with a decision-maker during contract negations, Mr. Foerster still travels regularly. During the pandemic, however, many clients have concluded that travel isn’t quite as important anymore.

ClimatePartner values climate-friendly travel as an internal priority. During our conversation, Mr. Foerster emphasizes the merits of traveling by train, “as long as it doesn’t take more than 5 hours”. In addition to that, Tristan Foerster usually plans his itinerary so that he can attend several meetings. However, if it cannot be avoided, employees travel by airplane, as well. Emissions caused by those trips that cannot be avoided are compensated through the support of carbon offset projects.


The progression of an entire industry over time: “Children have changed the world!”

Frimeso:  Who are your clients, and how widespread is the general consciousness to take on climate action in businesses? Has the mindset concerning this changed over time?

Foerster: We provide custom solutions for over 3.000 business clients in more than 30 countries at this time. We have an enormous spectrum of clients. Among them are retailers and freelancers to major corporations. We provide custom solutions for over 3.000 business clients in more than 30 countries at this time. We have an enormous spectrum of clients. Among them are retailers and freelancers to major corporations.

When I first started my work, it was mostly middle-class family businesses that positively and actively contribute to protect the climate. Those clients put an emphasis on economic and social sustainability.

We could convince more and more companies that you can achieve a competitive advantage by taking on climate action through the years. You can broaden your target audience by outwardly conveying social values such as protecting the environment and climate in addition to sales and profits.

Two trends have helped to put climate action on the companies’ agenda once and for all: On the one hand, since 2018, businesses have to file “non-financial reporting” containing their carbon footprint, according to the EU directive a sustainability report of sorts. Even though this regulation only affects big companies that had usually already generated those types of reports before 2018, those companies approached their suppliers to ask about their carbon footprint as well, to round out their report. Consequently, we also work with a lot of small and medium-sized businesses.

On the other hand, when a 16-year-old girl named Greta Thunberg took to the streets in 2018 and started the “Fridays for Future” movement, this influenced the overall mindset regarding climate change and protecting our climate once more. Often, the decision-makers are parents who further discuss this topic at home, in a private context, with their children on strike from school. Children have changed the world. And this has resonated with no less than executives.


Climate-neutral business travel by way of entrepreneurial involvement in carbon offset projects

Frimeso: How can a company ensure climate-neutral travels? What are some projects to compensate emissions in this context?

Foerster: Let’s discuss the meaning of the term “climate-neutral” first. We can’t do anything without causing CO2 emissions. For a company providing services, business travel is the most significant cause of CO2 emissions, making up about 60 to 80% of the grand total.

Being climate-neutral doesn’t mean doing something “free of CO2“. Instead, it implies that first I know how much CO2 I am causing by doing something, and then do my best to keep that emission as small as possible. Those emissions that I cannot avoid, I compensate through carbon offset projects established in developing and emerging countries. Those are actually projected to aid development that, while helping to reduce CO2 emissions locally, at the same time improve life for people there. So climate-neutrality is created by way of balancing generated and prevented CO2 emissions.

Frimeso: How exactly do you work with your clients to develop a concept that enables climate-neutral travel?

Foerster:  Three steps: evaluation, avoiding emissions, and compensation

First, we engage in evaluation with our clients. Using our tool, we call up business travel data and then calculate the companies’ CO2 emissions. The best way to save emissions, of course, is to not generate them in the first place. Thus, we subsequently work out a concept to prevent emissions. Many business trips are necessary and can’t simply be cut out. This part is mostly about how the trip is conducted. The remaining amount of emissions at the end can be compensated with so-called carbon offset projects.

Frimeso: Can you name some specific examples for what a project like that is typically like? Does ClimatePartner also develop such projects?

Foerster:  Some examples are projects to protect forests, where we plant trees that can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. We also organize projects for prevention, like the usage of clean cooking supplies. Generally speaking, development aid is complex. Facilitating access to clean water for people in cooperation with our partners prevents the emission of CO2 on the one hand. On the other, it allows people to take time to pursue orderly work. Because without that drinking water, people often have no other choice but to boil the water with wood they have spent the whole day collecting.

At this time, ClimatePartner offers about 100 active projects. Beyond that, we have access to about 3.000 other projects. We also develop our own propositions with our partners now. Companies can also aim for their own projects.

Frimeso: Who creates those criteria, audits them, and certifies those projects as approved projects?

Foerster: Some NGOs are specialized in defining criteria to determine what a carbon offset project actually is. Adherence to that criteria is then ensured by specific control frameworks.

There are four basic principles:

1) A project has to ensure a permanent reduction of CO2 emissions.

2) A project has to be made feasible through additional financing in the first place. It would make no sense to additionally fund a project that is already profitable.

3) The same certificate cannot be used for two different companies. In this context, the projects cannot be established in industrialized countries in Europe because those are already under the obligation to reduce or prevent emissions by law.

4) Carbon offset projects are regularly audited and certified by independent third-party bodies, typically by an auditor contracted by TÜV, SGS, or others. This ensures that those reductions have actually taken place retrospectively.


“It can be emotional to see how those projects improve people’s lives for the better.”

Frimeso: Are there any projects that are particularly close to your heart?

Foerster: That’s hard to say. Projects are often distinct and personal. Fates depend on them. It can be emotional to see how those projects improve people’s lives for the better. Let’s use the run-of-the-river power plants that we are building in the Congo as an example. No more than 3% of the population had access to electricity until now. Remote areas now having access to electricity, thanks to the new power plants, don’t just create jobs. All of a sudden, people have light at night. There are new possibilities that alter the lives of many people. The same project also supports the Virunga Nationalpark, where the last wild mountain gorillas dwell.

When it comes to forest protection projects, we involve the population to protect and retain forests rather than deforested for a quick buck. We teach those people to practice forestry and thus use the forest to generate income, such as cultivating Brazil nuts in Brazil. People can, in turn, live off of that. They become part of the project. That way, forests aren’t lumbered for a change.

I personally am a fan of protecting forests and projects involving reforestation because it’s a natural way to restore or secure an ecosystem.


The label “Climate-neutral business travel” For more external transparency

Frimeso: ClimatePartner also certifies “climate-neutral business travel” using a label. How does that work?

Foerster: At the end of the process, the company receives a label that indicates climate-neutral business travel specifically. This label also contains an ID that shows the amount of CO2 calculated and which carbon offset project was used to compensate for that. This conveys the transparency of balance to the outside.

Frimeso: There are travel management companies amongst your clients?

Foerster:  That’s right. We do work with travel management companies and companies in travel expense accounting, who can offer their respective customers climate-neutral business travel.


Climate action in times of the COVID pandemic

Frimeso: The COVID pandemic undoubtedly has had positive effects on released CO2 emissions, although all of us are looking forward to finally be on the road again. To what extent has the COVID pandemic affected ClimatePartner? Has the interest in climate action stayed unchanged?

Foerster: ClimatePartner is doing very well because the topic is increasingly becoming key and relevant, and more and more companies want to act on it. The demand for climate action even increased during the pandemic. Some industries are greatly affected by it and are not looking into sustainability topics at this stage because they simply have other things to do. This involves the travel and food sectors and the hotel industry. On the other hand, however, many consumer goods companies are strategically repositioning themselves concerning climate change.

The pandemic shows us that such topics cannot be tackled by one country or company alone. It’s a worldwide topic that we have to face and solve together. It’s a similar story with climate action. It’s a problem that is already showing its consequences, which will only worsen if we do not act on it. We won’t be able to tackle it alone; we’ll have to tackle it together. The pandemic affects our grandparents. Climate change affects our grandchildren. People are starting to become aware of that.

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Klimaschutz. Tristan Foerster, ClimatePartner

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