The Benedictine Abbey in Munsterschwarzach has even managed to achieve a negative CO2 balance with its eco-project. This has made the abbey a real showcase project that is even economically profitable.
Interviewer: How did you manage to get a carbon footprint a CO2 footprint below zero?
Christoph Gerhard (economic administrator of Munsterschwarzach Abbey): Of course we needed some time for that. We started our eco-project in 2000 because of an internal anniversary. We have thought about, typically Benedictine, what the ies are for the next hundred years.
Of course, environmental protection was at the forefront. We have first started to record data from our 70 buildings. We have more than 50.000 square meters of heated area. We are like a small village where over 1.000 people a day and consume a corresponding amount of energy. We have set ourselves goals. For example, how we heat with regenerative energy. Because we used to heat with oil in the 1990s.
Interviewer: Let's make this concrete: Where do you get the energy from??
Gerhard: In 2003 we built a heating system with wood, because we are located in the middle of the Steigerwald. Around the monastery is a large forest where almost a hundred times the energy we need grows every year. In the end, we need only a fraction for our firewood. We have been heating with wood since 2003. Only when it gets really bitter cold do you still need a little oil.
Since 2006 we have a biogas plant, with which we mainly produce electricity. In the meantime, twice the amount of electricity that we ourselves need in the Abbey of Munsterschwarzach. That's where this counter calculation comes from, that we save more CO2, so to speak, than we emit ourselves.
Interviewer: The electricity is then fed into the system, or what happens to it??
Gerhard: It is fed into the public grid. Half of it is consumed here on the grounds of Munsterschwarzach Abbey. The other is fed in and is of course also remunerated. That is the economic advantage for the monastery.
Interviewer: The economy is a good point. It's not cheap to retrofit everything over the years. How did you manage?
Gerhard: Quite simply through the economic power of the monastery. We have a big business here next to the school and the guesthouse, which we can earn less money with. But the business of the abbey is behind it. We sometimes have benefactors who help us to realize one or the other project.
The other thing that is also important: our frugality. What you must not forget in the whole eco-balance: We live as a community. Many things that a single household uses and consumes alone, we share in the department. Living as a community is ecologically relatively cheap.
Interviewer: As a community, you also bought an electric car last summer. How to cope? Is that different to drive than a gasoline car?
Gerhard: For me personally, it's easier to drive than a gasoline car. It is not so noisy and easier to operate. If you can manage with an automatic car, it is no problem at all. The only drawback of the whole story is still the range of the car. The other question – and that's why we actually bought it more as a test object for us – is the eco-balance: Do I actually get a better eco-balance at the end of the year?? We still have to look at that, we don't know yet.
Interviewer: In principle, any medium-sized company could do the same thing. But now they are not a company. You are a monastery and you refer to your Christian faith, or more precisely to the Benedictine principles of faith. What role does that play? To what extent does that drive you in these environmental activities?
Gerhard: In the environmental activities, it is actually the core of the whole thing that comes from the cleric. It is also about our self-image: How do we actually live in our world?? Benedictine monks in Munsterschwarzach have been around for 1200 years. That means: How do we live that in 1200 years Benedictines can still live in Munstershwarzach?
Another story Benedict gives us: The everyday tools of his trade are as important to him as the sacred altar pieces. Worship is in church; but worship is also in work. The question is: How do we deal with the tools of our trade?? For us modern people, energy is a very decisive tool of the trade.
That is, how do I deal with energy so that I do not pollute my environment? How can God be glorified in what we do?? If we damage creation, if we destroy the environment with our actions, then God is certainly not honored or glorified, but on the contrary, we destroy the work of God. That is one of the very central spiritual basic concerns, why we do the whole thing.
The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.