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Bayer hosts ecological 'bootcamp'

Bayer connects the world to protect the environment,

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Once again, the Bayer Environmental Envoy Program, the organiser of worldwide Eco-Camps and a Germany-based intensive study tour - presented in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) since 2004 - is a smashing success! 

The Thai Team of Young Environmental Envoys toured one of the giant, 10-storey hazardous waste incinerators designed to ‘Clean the Extremes’— such as insecticides, pesticides, halogenated waste, printed circuit boards and sewage sludge— safely from the environment using up to 42 megawatts of firepower. The team braved the intense heat from the burners that could be felt 6.1m away. From left are: Saengabha Srisopaporn, Napat Lapaschaone, Panpraporn Jitjumroonchokchai, Rawikarn Dechdi and Nawanat Somnuek. PHOTOS BY BJ JOHNSON, ARTWORK BY POST GRAPHICS

Thai Team rewarded

"Education" reported on the Thai winners and revealed the details of their specific projects in an article entitled "Growing green minds" in the fourth quarter of last year. The winning Thai environmentalists are:

Napat Lapaschaone, of Saipan-yarangsit School;

Nawanat Somnuek, of Assumption College Lampang;

Panpraporn Jitjumroonchokchai, of Bordindecha (Sing Singhasenee) 4 School;

Rawikarn Dechdi, of Chulalongkorn University; and

Saengabha Srisopaporn, of Mahidol University International College. (Collectively referred to as the Thai Team).

Bayer versatility This article is about the group experiences of the Thai Team and other winners - or the Young Environmental Envoys - while they were guests in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia region. In all, 19 countries sent young envoys to participate in the intensive workshops, lectures and "edutours" in the cities of Leverkusen, Cologne, Burrig, Monheim, Solingen and Bonn.

The activities were designed to promote the protection of the environment and to develop camaraderie and networking opportunities among the 53 envoys.

Mr Roland Keiper and Dr Michael Preuss surprised the envoys with the breadth of the core businesses of Bayer AG (Bayer), now in its 147th year.

Bayer is credited with discovering a compound found in the bark of the willow plant which contains ASA (acetylsalicylic acid). Bayer trademarked it as "Aspirin" in 1899. The rest is history, as Bayer is the third-largest pharmaceutical firm in the world and aspirin - with sales of over 40 billion tablets a year - is the world's most successful legal drug.

But few people realise that "Bayer also produces raw materials for CDs/DVDs and foam insulation for your home", said Keiper. Bayer is a leader in crop research, notably in hybrid rice seeds, is a sponsor of a professional football club (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) and a football stadium (BayArena), and a producer of over-the-counter effervescences, such as Alka-Seltzer, and high-tech soccer balls, as well as a leader in climate change research.

Working vacation

The weeklong conference, while punctuated with fun, relaxation and sumptuous cuisines, was not a casual affair. Every working moment was filled with conferences, workshops, lectures, laboratory experiments, educational sightseeing tours and PowerPoint presentations by celebrated speakers. Even the company's top board members - CEO Werner Wenning and Dr Wolfgang Plischke - participated. Each of the "studyfests" was organised around a market segment of Bayer's several divisions that include CropScience, HealthCare, MaterialScience, Bayer Chemicals and hazardous waste disposal in powerful multi-storey incinerators.

The nerve centre of the week's activities was the purpose-built "BayKomm" Center (a portmanteau for Bayer Kommunidationszentrum), located in Leverkusen. BayKomm also houses Bayer's museum-quality exhibits that feature its corporate interests.

Satinder Bindra, Unep's director of communications and public information, reminded the envoys, "Talk is cheap. So, let's stop talking [about protecting the environment], and let's start acting." Mr Bindra also urged the envoys to "use this wonderful networking opportunity that Bayer has given to you to do bigger and better things" once they returned to their respective countries.

The Thai Team and other envoys were whisked off to the city of Monheim to Bayer's CropScience (BCS) division, where they listened to more mini-lectures on pest control, crop protection and biotechnology. Afterwards, the Thai Team dunned white lab frocks and conducted laboratory experiments to extract oil from linseeds in order to create biodiesel.

The convention planners obviously did not see the trip as merely a reward for winning the local Eco-Camp competitions, but rather as an instructional bootcamp for envoys to learn more about the environment and its protection.

A second focus was encouraging the envoys to spread the word and their enthusiasm among others to help the environment. Thus was Mr Binder's earlier clarion call to action.

Waste not, want not Mr Hamid Shakoor, an acclaimed expert in the field of waste management, gave an presentation that ranged from environmental legislation to waste disposal and community recycling. The most impressive part was "waste avoidance", which, of course, is best of all.

Post lecture, Mr Shakoor led the visitors on a tour of the Leverkusen Municipal Waste Management disposal and recycling facility, which is operated by Bayer's Avea division. The facility controls the collection and recycling of everything from brown, green and white glass refuse to batteries, computer parts, refrigerators and plastics. Thailand would do well to adopt the highly effective Avea approach.

More food from less land

At Bayer's Tropicarium conference centre, Dr Uwe Brekau gave an enlightening presentation on corporate social responsibility for finding ways to produce heartier food stuffs on less land area while using less water for the globe's spiralling population growth. He emphasized that it took about 10,000 human lifetimes for the world's population to reach just 2 billion people in 1927, but that it will take only one lifetime for the population to grow from 6 billion people today to 9.5 billion people by 2050!

In the meantime, since 1975, world population growth has begun to outpace the limited arable farmland per capita, setting the stage for massive worldwide famine and food insecurity, if companies like Bayer don't find methods to increase food yields while using less and less farmland and water to meet the ever-rising food demands.

One way to do that is to "engineer new crops with greater tolerance for drought and extreme temperatures and which are genetically insect-resistant", says Dr Brekau. It is a daunting challenge.

The day ended with a dinner cruise along the picturesque Rhine River under the gaze of the historic Gothic Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), construction on which started in the year 1248. It took 600 years, until 1880, to complete before it was inscribed into Unesco's World Heritage Foundation in 1996.

Bayer on sustainability Bayer sponsored a major press conference that highlighted the Young Environmental Envoys Program, and this afforded CEO Wenning an opportunity to present Bayer's perspective on sustainability. He emphasized three points: strong alliances for health care; innovative partnerships for increased yields of high-quality foods; and new solutions in climate protection. These three foci link Bayer's core businesses with its sustainability development activities. Bayer's core principle, says Mr Wenning, is "to balance commercial success with the protection of the environment and with the needs of society". Bayer's Environmental Envoy Program is a significant part of that commitment.

Bayer also invests annually about 1 billion euros (45.5 billion baht) in climate-relevant research and development.

Following a tour of the picturesque interdenominational Der Altenberger Dom (Altenberger Cathedral) , the evening ended with a guided tour of, and a sumptuous dinner at, the refurbished Schloss Burg castle in the city of Soligen, nicknamed the "City of Swords" because of the fine cutlery produced there.

The Young Environmental Envoys and guests attended a panel discussion on the environment, which was held in the plenary room of the former Bundeshaus (Parliament Building). The modern edifice is simply magnificent in design, scheme and scope. During the question-and-answer session, the envoys, I'm sure, did former top German politicians proud by posing tough and intelligent questions to the esteemed panelists. Unfortunately, the great plenary hall was used by the government only for a short while, because in Oct 1999 the Bundestag (Parliament) moved from Bonn to Berlin, following "Deutsche Einheit" (Germany's unification). Today, the facility has been renamed the "World Conference Center Bonn", and is primarily used for world-class gatherings, such as the one for the envoys.

Back at the BayKomm, the Thai Team soaked up lectures by the North Rhine Westphalia State Agency for Nature, Environment and Consumer Protection, followed by a workshop on water quality led by Dr Dieter Busch.

After Dr Busch's lecture, Rawikarn, Panpraporn, Saengabha, Napat and Nawanat boarded the German Max Pruss, a laboratory ship, to observe technicians collect river samples on which to conduct water-quality experiments.

Solar-panelled earthworm

The Thai Team, et al, disembarked the German Max Pruss and found the "Lumbricus Ecomobile" - a brightly-coloured, solar-panelled, "Science-on-Wheels" soil laboratory and classroom - waiting at the top of the hill. Lumbricus means earthworm in Latin. Students crowded inside the minivan, which had video monitors, microphones and lab equipment deftly crammed into every nook and cranny, to listen to a joint lecture by environmentalists Ottmar Hart-wig and Regina von Oldenburg. They operate the Academy for the Protection of Nature and the Environment of the Land and experiment with interactive science models. The Lumbricus Ecomobile plays a critical role in educating learners about the preservation of soils.

On the evening before the day of departure for home, the final awards banquet was celebrated by all at the Gaffel Restaurant Calcio in the BayArena football stadium. Now, for the hard part

Thus ended the incredible conference and thus began the Young Environmental Envoy's commitment to return to their schools and hometowns and share information on why and how everyone should protect the environment.

Thai students should plan now to apply for this year's Eco-Camp competition.

For news on the Young Environmental Envoy Program and the Eco-Camp competition 2010, visit BayerThai at tinyurl.com/ygm5r3r .

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