Learning from each other: greenXchange at EXPO Milano

Monday, September 21, 2015 1:02 PM

The German-Israeli greenXchange program participants held their annual seminar in Milan, with a special empthasis on the Expo.

KKL-JNF’s greenXchange program brings young Israeli and German environmental professionals together to explore various ecological projects and to make a global impact. During September 7-10, greenXchange alumni and new participants visited Expo in Milan, where they got to see the Israel Pavilion and the KKL-JNF compound.

greenXchange participants at KKL-JNF evening at Expo Milano. Photo: Liri Eitan-Drai

Meet and greet

Photo: Liri Eitan-DraiAs would be expected, Monday, September 7, the first day of the greenXchange seminar at EXPO Milan began with mutual introductions. At greenXchange annual on-site-seminars, at least half of the participants are usually new to the program, but this group of 8 Germans and 4 Israelis was almost completely greenXchange alumni. There were even some participants who had joined greenXchange in 2011, its founding year. The three days at EXPO were not only a unique occasion to learn about other countries and sustainability, but also to catch up with other greenXchangers and to consolidate the alumni group.

According to Liri Eitan Drai, the head of the program on behalf of KKL-JNF Israel, “Expo Milan is extremely relevant to the fields that the greenXchangers specialize in. It provided an excellent platform for them to see KKL-JNF in a global perspective, to meet representatives from other countries and to discuss the possibility of future collaborations. We also took advantage of the time between the lectures and meetings to talk about plans for the future and how to intensify cooperation with KKL-JNF.”

The first session of the Expo seminar included two presentations by greenXchange participants. Jennifer Garr talked about the possibilities of international collaboration and Wolfgang Gründinger, who recently joined greenXchange, gave a short synopsis of his recently finished PhD-thesis about the German energy transition ("Energiewende").

Jennifer Garr's presentation gave examples of the success of international cooperation but also showed how the implementation of projects can fail or even have a negative impact. In the following debate most participants expressed a preference for a grassroots approach when it comes to international cooperation – which is what greenXchange actually does.

Wolfgang Gründinger elaborated on the success of Germany’s energy transition, which had seemed unlikely. Against all odds, Germany has undertaken a unique transformation from an energy system that relies on fossil resources to a system largely based on renewable resources.
That very evening, greenXchange joined a festive cocktail reception with the KKL-JNF Expo Mission at the city council hall. There, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler and the Mayor of Milan addressed the participants. The greenXchangers got to meet KKL-JNF representatives from different countries, where they had the opportunity to discuss their work with them.

Visiting different countries at the Expo

At the Israel Pavilion. Photo: Liri Eitan DraiDay 2, Tuesday September 8 began with a tour of the German pavilion, which emphasizes water, soil, biodiversity and climate. Featured topics at the pavilion included innovation, research and new ideas for food production such as urban gardening. The German pavilion was a very interactive experience – each guest received a white Bristol board, on which a film was broadcasted when it was placed on an installation, acting as a type of tablet. 

The next stop was at the Israeli pavilion, which focuses on environmental challenges and ideas for promoting sustainability. Along the entrance, the visitors were greeted by a vertical field planted with wheat, corn and rice. The KKL-JNF movie Creating a Better World Together that the group saw at the pavilion highlighted the innovative methods in food security and agriculture and afforestation in arid regions currently being used in Israel. The pavilion also featured light installations and 3D projections focusing on Israeli innovations in biotechnology, agriculture and irrigation.

Japanese Pavilion. Photo: Liri Eitan-DraiThe group continued to the Japanese pavilion, whose architectural form expresses the latest scientific innovations along with a sense of tradition in order to give visitors an understanding of Japanese culture and history. The pavilion has an impressive amount of animations along with beautiful and interesting exhibitions.

The visit to the pavilions made everyone think about the huge footprint that human beings leave on the earth, and how we give ourselves and our needs priority above all other elements of nature. The one conclusion that everyone could agree on was that we have a lot to learn from each other.

The evening dinner took place in the exclusive and stunning building that houses the National Da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology. A short guided tour through the gallery of the National Museum gave a glimpse of some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions. Not only was he a genius whose inventions ranged from flying machines to fierce war ships, Da Vinci also thought about heat usage and was concerned about energy efficiency. He definitely could have been a great greenXchanger!

At the dinner party, participants not only enjoyed an exquisite kosher meal but also hit the dance floor with gusto. The event provided an opportunity for the greenXchangers to get to know the KKL-JNF professionals better and to tell them about what they are doing in greenXchange.

Collaborative meetings and a visit to an experimental farm

Day 3 at Expo Milan began at a meeting with the main KKL-JNF delegation and a number of local representatives. 

Schaul Chorev, KKL-JNF's emissary to Germany and the head of the greenXchange on behalf of KKL-JNF Germany, spoke about the greenXchange program and KKL-JNF’s Young Leadership initiative, emphasizing the need to look ahead to the future and to invest in the next generation of KKL-JNF leadership. He also mentioned how important it was to already start preparing for the next EXPO event in Kazakhstan in 2017, whose theme will be sustainable mobility.

Photo: Liri Eitan Drai


Noa Aharoni and Franziska Wende described the GreenXchange initiative to the KKL-JNF representatives, focusing on how young Germans and Israelis work together on environmental questions as a think tank consisting of young professionals from all fields of expertise who are united in their endeavor for a greener world. 

Noa and Franziska also spoke about the greenXchange educational project on the topic of sustainable mobility, which engages high school students in Germany and Israel. The core of their talk was an invitation to KKL-JNF leaders to participate and promote cooperation between young leaders in different countries, along with expanding the interface with greenXchange expertise in terms of knowledge sharing and the implementation of environmental projects.

Experimental growing of Brabus corn. Photo: Liri Eitan DraiThe talk was followed by a visit to Societa' Agricola Folli, an experimental farm just 15 km from the city center of Milan. Here the owner, together with Syngenta, an international seed, fertilizer and pesticide corporation and Netafim, an Israeli irrigation technology company, presented their method of growing "brabus", a type of corn seed sold by Syngenta, by use of drip irrigation. The experimental farm, together with nine other such farms throughout Lombardy, is part of an EXPO project on food security. The corn on the farm is grown for animal fodder and also to be refined into bio-ethanol. The farmer, as well as the representatives of Syngenta and Netafim, made a case for allowing genetically modified corn in Europe, but emphasized that they were complying with the Europe-wide ban on GMOs.

According to the farmer, the greatest challenge to agriculture is increasing the yield in order to keep up with the food needs of the world’s growing population, while decreasing water use for irrigation and lowering artificial fertilizer input. The farm works in partnership with Netafim, the Israeli company that pioneered the use of drip-water irrigation technology for agricultural use. The drip system is also used for the induction of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides directly to the plants, thus decreasing the burden on the environment. 

As part of the EXPO, Israel, German and other international agritech companies have paired up with local Italian farms in the vicinity of Milan in order to showcase the innovative technologies the companies have to offer. These farms were set up in preparation for the EXPO but will remain in place and on display for 5 years following.

The greenXchangers received a tour of the farm including explanations of the different hi-tech agricultural equipment installed and at work on the farm from Italian, Israeli and German companies, among others.

Presenting projects

Photo: Liri Eitan DraiThe greenXchangers reunion provided an opportunity to discuss goals and missions with KKL-JNF representatives from both countries. A decision was made to work towards creating a joint steering committee and to strengthen the alumni network in Germany. There was also an opportunity to share recent personal developments and to discuss common interests.

Katherine Buchmann, a PhD student who specializes in climate change, presented the topic of climate change denial, citing the case of American legislation as an extreme example of the role of money and power in state level policy-making.

Martin Zickendraht (MSc Political Science and consultant for technological change) talked about the wider societal aspects of recent developments in solar energy production and storage. Martin's inspiring talk emphasized the importance of applying interdisciplinary perspective for understanding and forecasting the rapid effects and changes these developments can have on urban life and mobility in the near future.

Photo: Liri Eitan DraiYonatan Lebendiger (architect and transport planner) and Noa Aharoni (MSc marine biologist and the Israeli team coordinator) presented the sustainable mobility paradigm and mindset shift in recent years from an urban planning perspective. Noa described the Israeli-German educational project on sustainable transport that was conceived by JNF-KKL Germany in collaboration with greenXchange, which will be implemented this year in high schools in both countries.

Henrik Burda (MSc Geography, German Corporation for International Cooperation) gave some key information about the triangular cooperation conducted jointly by Israel, Germany and the different partner countries. Joint projects focus on water and soil resources, agricultural irrigation, degradation, desertification and water management, reflecting the technical expertise of both countries and allowing for beneficial synergies. 

Helena Skibinsky (MSc Marine biology, coordinator of the Tel Aviv University global food security program) spoke about food security on a global level as well as about Israel's aim to become food self-sufficient. 

Liri Eitan-Drai summed up: “Participants were more excited than ever to be part of KKL-JNF’s activities and to create a think tank that will take advantage of their personal and professional expertise to initiate new projects for the benefit of people and the environment.”