Archiv für den Monat: Mai 2017

Trees don’t listen to McKinsey

By Petra Reinken


The Austrian Erwin Thoma is in his mid-fifties and a forester as well as an economist by trade. He owns a company that builds homes from solid wood – without any screws or glue. Thoma is also an author, and he has the following message: be like the spruce tree!

“The spruce is the least skilled tree there is”, Erwin Thoma said during an entertaining talk in Hollenstedt, which the local carpentry firm Holzbau Mojen had organised at the Weinkonzept winery in the town’s commercial district. Several hundred listeners came to learn more about the wonderful worlds of trees and solid wood construction. They also found out a little something about how they themselves could become a bit more like the spruce, the unskilled tree. “Spruce wood is flexible”, Thoma said. “The tree is rather narrow and its shallow roots leave room in the ground for others.” Still, the spruce has managed to assert itself virtually everywhere. “How is that possible?”

The answer to this question Thoma then went on to provide himself: “Everybody likes a spruce tree in the neighbourhood. It doesn’t hurt anyone, it is willing to share and it is tolerated by all. And that’s how it gets further than the competition.” It’s this willingness to cooperate that has become the creed for Thoma’s own life. Publishing his knowledge about forests, trees and solid wood construction in books, and thereby sharing it with others, has paid off in the form of many commissions, some from as far afield as Japan. „Trees don’t listen to McKinsey“, Thoma summarises – a dig at all the management consultants who propagate an elbow mentality.

In his poignant talk Thoma let his listeners experience parts of his family history, and especially the fact that he started his business together with his grandfather who always said: „You must use wood when it’s at its best – harvest it during a waning moon only.“ Thoma was sceptical – he had to be convinced to heed his grandfather’s advice. Today however, he says in his thick Austrian twang: „It’s crazy, the kind of stuff grandpa knew!“ His „moon trees“ have proven to be much more resilient against fungi and insects than trees that weren’t harvested during a waning moon. They also do not require chemical treatment, which transforms wood from a natural resource into hazardous waste.

Wood is also at its best when it is solid. Thoma has developed a method for solid wood construction that mortises individual layers and doesn’t require any screws or bolts made of metal. At the same time the material retains its outstanding properties regarding insulation, fire resistance and temperature consistency. During his career as a businessman Thoma has had to prove all these characteristics time and again in order to secure building permits. In cooperation with the medical professional Maximilian Moser he also proved that living in homes made of wood has many benefits for human health. It strengthens the immune and the nervous systems and ensures deeper sleep. The heartbeat slows down. Thoma himself seems perfect proof: At 55 years of age he is a man with boundless energy. His lecture continues to have an effect long after the evening itself has passed. It only really leaves one question unanswered: what to do with the brick house in which one lives?

Bäume hören nicht auf McKinsey

Von  Petra Reinken

Der Österreicher Erwin Thoma ist gelernter Forst- und Betriebswirt. Heute, mit Mitte 50, ist er Inhaber eines Unternehmens, das Massivholzhäuser baut – und zwar ohne Schrauben, ohne Leim. Er ist auch Autor, und er hat eine Botschaft: Seid wie die Fichte!

„Die Fichte ist der Baum, der am wenigsten kann“, erzählt Erwin Thoma bei einem unterhaltsamen Vortrag in Hollenstedt. Der Zimmereibetrieb Holzbau Mojen hatte dazu ins Weinkonzept im Gewerbegebiet eingeladen. Mehrere hundert Zuhörer ließen sich vom Referenten aus Österreich in die Wunderwelt der Bäume entführen und vom Massivholzbau begeistern. Und vielleicht auch davon, ein bisschen mehr zu sein wie die Fichte, wie der Baum, der am wenigsten kann. „Das Holz der Fichte ist nachgiebig“, sagt Thoma, „der Baum schmalbrüstig, seine flachen Wurzeln überlassen das Erdreich den anderen.“ Trotzdem sei die Fichte der Baum, der sich am weitesten durchgesetzt habe. „Wie kann das sein?“

Thoma löst das Rätsel selbst auf: „Die Fichte, die hätte jeder gerne als Nachbarn. Sie tut niemandem weh, sie kann teilen, sie wird gerne geduldet. Und damit kommt sie am weitesten.“ Diese Kooperationsbereitschaft der Fichte, die sei auch das Credo für sein Leben geworden. Dass er sein Wissen über den Wald, die Bäume und den Massivholzbau in Büchern veröffentliche – es mit anderen teile – das habe sich zig-fach ausgezahlt durch Aufträge bis hin ins ferne Japan. „Bäume hören nicht auf McKinsey“, fasst Thoma zusammen – ein Seitenhieb auf alle Unternehmensberater mit Ellenbogenmentalität.

Eindringlich ließ er die Zuhörer teilhaben an seiner Familiengeschichte: dass er die Firma mit seinem Großvater zusammen gründete, der weise sagte: „Du musst das Holz in seiner besten Form verwenden: schlage es bei abnehmendem Mond“. Dazu ließ er sich mehr überreden als überzeugen, doch heute sagt er in seinem so stark österreichischen Dialekt, dass der Norddeutsche ihn phasenweise kaum versteht: „Wos der Opa g‘wusst hat, des is a Woahnsinn!“ Seine „Mondbäume“ zeigten sich deutlich resistenter gegenüber Pilzen und Insekten als Bäume, die zu anderen Zeiten geschlagen wurden. Chemische Behandlungen, die aus dem Naturstoff Holz Sondermüll machen, brauchen sie nicht.

In seiner besten Form – das bedeutet auch: massiv. Thoma hat eine Massivholzbauweise entwickelt, die einzelne Holzlagen verzapft, sodass keinerlei Schrauben nötig sind. Gleichzeitig behält der Naturstoff seine hervorragenden Eigenschaften was Dämmung, Feuerfestigkeit und Temperaturkonstanz angeht. Der Unternehmer hat all dies in seiner Laufbahn beweisen müssen, um Baugenehmigungen zu bekommen. Und zusammen mit dem Mediziner Maximilian Moser bewies er auch noch, dass das Wohnen im Holzhaus den Menschen gesundheitlich guttut: Es stärkt das Immun- und Nervensystem und sorgt für einen tieferen Schlaf. Der Herzschlag verlangsamt sich. Thoma selbst scheint der beste Beweis: Es ist 55 Jahre alt und dabei ein Mann mit unbändiger Energie. Sein Vortrag trägt weit über den Abend hinaus. Bleibt nur am Ende die Frage, was man nun tun soll, mit dem Backsteinhaus, in dem man wohnt.

And the award (quite literally) goes to…

By Monika Griefahn

The winner of the most recent Right Livelihood Award („Alternative Nobel Prize“) was announced back in November 2016. However, as the laureate, Mozn Hassan, was not allowed to travel outside of her native Egypt she wasn’t able to participate in the awards ceremony in Stockholm. But now the award has come to her. A delegation from our foundation, accompanied by members of  the German, Swedish and European parliaments, visited Cairo at the end of March in order to honour the work of the women’s right activist, Mozn Hassan, and her group, Nazra, and to present her with the award in person.

In doing so we are hoping to be able to amplify Mozn’s voice and to give strength to her and her fellow activists. For their situation is difficult. Because of its commitment to the equality of men and women the organisation is under constant threat of being shut down. Its accounts have already been frozen so that wages and rents can no longer be paid. With the help of a new law concerning NGOs the new Egyptian government is attempting to silence everyone in the country who doesn’t share its opinions. The law also makes it illegal to accept foreign funding for civil society work in Egypt. Even during the award presentation fear was a constant companion. But Mozn Hassan remained courageous and unthreatened. She joins our award’s long list of laureates who address the most pressing issues of our time – even if it poses a threat to their very lives.

For our delegation the trip to Egypt was an opportunity to experience first-hand the fragile situation in the country. At first it wasn’t clear at all whether we’d even be allowed to enter the country, or whether we’d really be able to use the room we’d rented for the ceremony. There were other, similar uncertainties. In the end everything worked out well and many committed individuals from Egypt’s civil society attended the evening’s celebration. Many felt encouraged simply by the fact that the Right Livelihood Foundation notices and honours them.

Unfortunately we cannot know how long the ostensible calm will last. The day after we visited Nazra’s offices the secret police showed up. How long the organisation will be able to continue its operations under such difficult conditions is unclear.

The following is the press release distributed by our foundation on the occasion of the awards presentation.

Egyptian women rights defender Mozn Hassan, who is barred from international travel and is facing a possible 25-year jail sentence, received her Right Livelihood Award at a private ceremony in Cairo earlier today.

Mozn Hassan shared the 2016 Swedish prize, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel’, with her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies “for asserting the equality and rights of women in circumstances where they are subject to ongoing violence, abuse and discrimination”.

Hassan could not attend the award ceremony in Stockholm last November due to a travel ban imposed on her and other prominent activists by Egyptian authorities. Her and Nazra’s assets are frozen as part of an ongoing investigation targeting several Egyptian NGOs that received foreign funding.

In her acceptance speech, Hassan stated: “The decision of the Right Livelihood Award to hold this ceremony in Cairo is truly significant as it means that appreciation and solidarity can reach you despite travel bans. Today, we feel that the work of Egyptian feminists, especially after 2011, is seen and valued by different actors around the world.”

The event, held aboard Le Pacha, was attended by some 150 guests, including leaders of Egyptian civil society, European and Egyptian parliamentarians, fellow laureates, diplomats and other dignitaries.

Presenting the prize, Monika Griefahn, Chair of the Board of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, said: “Mozn Hassan and Nazra for Feminist Studies embody the latest in a long line of leaders in the Egyptian feminist movement who have played an incredibly important role in shaping the nation’s progress towards gender equality.”

“The current sanctions against Mozn Hassan and Nazra are not only unjust, but they also make it more difficult for them to accomplish their important mission of empowering women in Egypt and the wider Middle East region,” Griefahn added, calling for all charges against Mozn Hassan to be dropped.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Lynn Boylan, Member of the European Parliament representing Sinn Féin, said “Across the world those who feel threatened by strong vocal women often try to dismiss them, to insult them. Feminism can never be defeated; each generation will continue to produce strong brave women until full gender equality is achieved.”

Cecilia Magnusson, a Member of the Swedish parliament, said: “There is work still to be done in Sweden regarding equality but it´s important that we who have accomplished a lot stand up for those who fight in countries where there is still much to do.”

Bärbel Höhn, Member of the German Bundestag, said: “In Germany, we have also had to fight hard for our rights. It needed a change in society, a change in the men’s minds, who were unwilling to give up their power. But it is a fact: a society that does not use the abilities of half of its citizens, the women, such a society cannot achieve the best results and is wasting opportunities.”

Mozn Hassan and Nazra are the third Right Livelihood Award Laureate from Egypt, after Hassan Fathy, known as ‘architect for the poor’, who received the inaugural prize in 1980, and development initiative SEKEM and its founder Ibrahim Abouleish, recognised in 2003.