On the Path to Becoming a Climate-Neutral City

A team of Steinbeis experts moderates a public participation program dealing with the development of a climate protection concept in Schorndorf

A climate change mitigation concept encompassing 92 measures, discussed for no less than 15 hours over the course of five evenings, all captured in detail and expanded upon: This is the impressive outcome of a series of workshops involving around 200 participants, the aim of which is to make Schorndorf climate-neutral by 2035. So how did it all start? In early 2021, Schorndorf municipal council resolved that the city of 40,000 inhabitants in Rems-Murr County in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg should become climate-neutral by 2035. This is an ambitious goal. For the city, it will mean minimizing harmful greenhouse gases and striking a healthy balance between, on the one hand, any emissions that are caused and, on the other, those greenhouse gases that can actively be sequestered. As a concept, this transcends a number of specialist disciplines, resulting in a kind of “roadmap to climate neutrality,” the planning of which is being managed by the municipal Climate Protection and Transportation department. To ensure goals and corresponding measures are easy to understand by members of the public – and they can be achieved in line with financial and social expectations – from the outset it was crucial to involve local citizens. To support this process, Maria Victoria Metz and Michael Ilk teamed up with Mediation of Business, the Steinbeis Consulting Center from Leipzig, to develop a concept, moderate three evening workshops, and document proceedings as part of a public participation process that ran from May to September 2023.

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“The citizens are intimately familiar with their city and bring a tremendous amount of expertise to the table. We wanted to make good use of this potential, and I think we did a pretty good job,” say Diana Gallego Carrera, Head of the Climate Protection and Transportation Department, and Nikolai Licata, municipal Climate Protection Manager. The process benefited from significant support in the form of several hundred suggestions and comments submitted by local residents in the course of the discussions.

The experts at the Mediation of Business consulting center have a long track record in public participation processes and have witnessed time and again how important it is for local residents to be listened to and involved in transformation processes. Sharing information and giving people the chance to exchange ideas shows that they are being taken seriously and alleviates pushback. Also, involving members of the public can prevent projects from being delayed or even stymied by conflict. In this respect, the series of public participation events – which went by the name Climate-Neutral Schorndorf 2035 – is a shining example of best practice. Being open, sharing information early in the process, and addressing people’s concerns offers every potential to arrive at long-term solutions. It also encourages members of the public to work on the project together.

Workshops for pooling ideas, listening to views, and gathering suggestions

 The public participation process in Schorndorf kicked off with a so-called vision workshop. Workshop participants were given plenty of free rein to moot initial ideas and their thoughts on the topic – with, for now, “no ifs or buts.” Organized into small groups, the ideas they came up with ranged from a cable car over some suburbs to farming areas for common use, insulation, renovations, and other ideas revolving around heating and energy supplies. This process was followed by a workshop looking at “business, supplies, and disposal,” which also offered the opportunity to come up with an initial climate protection concept. This was then worked up by the municipal department for presentation to business representatives.

Following this, Maria Victoria Metz and Michael Ilk planned and organized three workshops aimed at picking up on key measures in the areas of “education, communication, and cooperation,” “renewable energies, urban development, construction, and housing,” and “mobility and transportation.” This allowed members of the general public to engage in intensive discussion on some very different priorities and issues, such as:

  • Digitalization in administration: shorter procedures, simplified processes
  • Embracing and practicing climate neutrality: from home to school and work
  • Structured climate neutrality: from a sustainability map to municipal heat planning and energy cooperatives
  • Energy and subsidy advice: from renovating your own four walls to climate-neutral travel solutions
  • Climate-neutral cityscapes and urban living
  • Travel requirements: In what ways are travel options changing and what will be needed in the future?

Time was also put aside for experts such as Christoph Gritsch (CATALENT Germany Schorndorf), Markus Rau (Schorndorf Municipal Utility) and Professor Dr. Barbara Lenz (Humboldt-Universität, Berlin) to inject a variety of interesting insights into the events through guest speeches on a selection of related topics.

Following the workshops, in the fall of last year the municipal Climate Protection and Transportation department embarked on the challenging task of working through the results and proposed measures. It was already apparent in the run-up to the event that local citizens repeatedly raised some ideas:

  • Free public transportation; expansion of the transportation network
  • More and safer cycling and pedestrian options
  • Transparent communication
  • Digital solutions
  • Inclusion of climate protection measures in local infrastructure
  • Smart parking systems
  • General heating and power supplies

It is also important to think about issues of climate protection and climate neutrality from the perspective of all target groups. For example, contributions made by private individuals are just as important as the restructuring of municipal administration – for commercial enterprises, just as much as for clubs and associations.

Citizens are keen to be involved in urban development

“Citizens already bring a lot of expertise and experience to the table, and this should be put to good use. Participation means getting involved and helping to shape ideas, and I think that’s what we’ve achieved,” summarizes Maria Victoria Metz.

In the meantime, Diana Gallego Carrera and her team at the Climate Protection and Transportation department have captured measures in more detail and are currently drafting a comprehensive climate protection concept. This will be discussed on a political level with members of the municipal council in the spring of 2024. What happens after that remains to be seen. One thing that is already clear, however, is that the citizens are highly enthusiastic about the topic of climate protection and they responded positively to the opportunity to become involved.

Moderator and coordinator Michael Ilk also feels it went well: “The discussion was open and at times extremely critical, but there was always a strong sense of respect toward those with different opinions. Participation isn’t just fun for those involved in the process; as a moderator team we also enjoyed guiding people through the evenings.”

The Steinbeis Citizen Participation Report

In 2023, Steinbeis experts published the first representative long-term study on citizen participation in infrastructure projects. The Steinbeis BürgerbeteiligungsReport 2023 (Steinbeis Citizen Participation Report 2023) quantifies many things staff at the consulting center have observed in practice: Citizens are aware of transformation processes happening around them and they want information and opportunities to become involved themselves.

The report (in German) can be downloaded for free by going to www.steinbeis-mediation.com.



Prof. Dr. habil. Gernot Barth (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Consulting Center Mediation of Business (Leipzig)

Professor of Conflict Management and Mediation at the Faculty of Business & Economics at Steinbeis University

Maria Victoria Metz (author)
Project assistant
IKOME Dr. Barth GmbH & Co.KG (Leipzig)

Michael Ilk
Freelance moderator at the Mediation of Business Steinbeis Consulting Center