During a three-day excursion in June, I had the opportunity to explore the town of Kötschach-Mauthen (K-M) and meet some of the energizing people who bring K-M to life. With a meager population of 3415, K-M is a model community for sustainability. 100% of its energy consumed is sourced from renewable energy.
Nestled in the Austrian mountains, K-M harnesses hydro, wind, solar & biomass power.
The vitality and liveliness of K-M’s people inspired me. I could see their eyes shine as they shared their personal successes and challenges with me.
Barbara Klauss refurbished a 236 year old house into an eco-friendly hotel. The transition from oil to renewable power was Barbara’s first step in the right direction. Although Barbara’s initial energy shift was for financial reasons, she continued to make environmentally conscious changes. She says her growing awareness of a threatened future generation spurred her to make change.
From demanding recycle bins not yet available on the market, to using leftover schnapps alcohol for window cleaner, Klauss embodies resourcefulness. Most often, she explains, there is no fiscal benefit or loss in eco-initiatives. Guests do not readily choose her hotel simply because it preserves the environment.
Josef Kolbitsch owns a mobile camp powered by solar and local biomass wood pellets. What’s remarkable about the camp is its ability to match the energy needs of the guests to the camp’s production capacity. Through investing €130K in a self-optimizing program, Kolbitsch realizes 10K in savings annually.
Josef with self-optimizing heating system (left); and annual waste from biomass (right)
You can view the system online here (under Demo, select OK within Login box, enter username “demo” and password “solarenlange”)
Another contribution to K-M’s sustainability is the local biogas plant, which uses farmer waste inputs, producing energy and fertile soil.
The Biogas Process
Ruth Klauss is a fourth generation employee in the family owned company, Alpen Adria Energie (AAE). AAE builds production plants like hydropower, and supplies energy to regional distributors across Austria.
Through a slow and steady growth strategy, AAE has been strong for 126 years. According to Ruth, cashflow and capital investment constraints, combined with legal barriers, represent key challenges for AAE. Prudence, caution and gradual growth enable AAE to profit in all sectors of energy production, with the exception of biogas.
Surprisingly, Ruth indicates that their marketing budget is 25 times smaller than one of their competitors. AAE performs minimal marketing and depends on a pull strategy – customers come to them.
In the future, AAE plans to maintain its core competency, while developing joint ventures and greater community engagement through collective financing.
My final encounter in K-M was with Sabrina Barthel. Thanks to Sabrina, my entire trip was made possible. She acts as the coordinator of the K-M renewable energy association, which sees more visitors every year. The association bridges the community’s key environmental partners to host meetings and provide educational programs to the public. These educational programs operate on a fee-for-service revenue model. Consequently, the nonprofit association shows signs of becoming a business.
I had the opportunity to “play” in the learning garden, where engineers to kindergarteners can participate in interactive experiments.
Increasing the program’s scope to include interactive spaces like the learning garden help boost visitor numbers.
Not only can I appreciate the impressive sustainable practices, but also I am grateful for being allowed to actively learn about K-M.
My friends and I hiked to the Austro-Italian Border.
K-M is a model community for sustainability in action. It takes the collaborative effort of each member to produce such a model entity. I look forward to seeing its environmental initiatives continue to blossom, and perhaps be back for a hike or two!
Hiking during sunrise