SEKEM is an Encouraging Example: Interview with Hannes Jaenicke

The German actor and environmental activist Hannes Jaenicke recently visited SEKEM. In an interview with SEKEM News he tells about his new project with the initiative, about the benefits of being publicly known and reveals what he likes about SEKEM.

SEKEM News: We are happy to have you here in SEKEM. What exactly is the reason of your visit?

Hannes Jaenicke: I work since a long time together with the German dm drogerie-markt, which cooperates for several years with SEKEM. SEKEMs company NatureTex manufactures children’s wear and dolls out of Organic cotton for dm. Together with dm we developed the concept of producing a documentary about the cycle of cotton – from the seed to the final garment. SEKEMs contracted farmers grow the Organic cotton and NatureTex processes it into beautiful textiles. Hence, it was perfectly clear to us to make this film with SEKEM. Next to the Organic farming methods, which bring benefits to environment and people, SEKEM is also investing into its co-workers, by investing in their welfare and individual development. SEKEM is just a great place to demonstrate the differences between conventional cotton processing and the advantages that an Organic-certified garment offers. We have just filmed the cotton harvest on the fields and will be back at the end of the year to capture the processing.

During shooting: Hannes Jaenicke and SEKEM co-worker Angela Hofmann at SEKEMs compost production.

SN: You are visiting SEKEM for the first time. What is your impression?

H.J.: I am totally surprised what model company SEKEM is. There should be enterprises like SEKEM all over the world. Not only in developing or emerging countries, such as Egypt, but also in the western world. We need more people, especially entrepreneurs, who really think holistically, as it is the case in SEKEM. Here indeed, they are considering the impacts that production has on environment and the human. Through Organic farming the environment is spared and by the variety of cultural and social activities, the co-workers are encouraged to develop, rather than being exploited. A great project that is even more impressive if you consider that the initiative was built up in the middle of the desert.

“I am totally surprised what model company SEKEM is.”

SN: As you already recognized, SEKEM wants to promote sustainable development in four dimensions – in economy and ecology as well as in societal and cultural life. Do you agree with this holistic approach of SEKEM?

H.J.: Absolutely. I wish that all those major corporations, who cheat on the society and earth to maximize their profits, should send their managers to SEKEM to see that a business can be successful even if it works responsibly and considers the needs of all involved. SEKEM is a very encouraging example and for me personally, as a critical consumer, a glimmer of hope: Money can be earned without harming others.

Hannes Jaenicke experienced SEKEM as role model company.

SN: In SEKEMs holistic vision arts play an important role. In addition to sustainably taking care of the environment and a fair economy, SEKEM promotes societal and individual development. How important are arts from your point of view as an actor?

H.J .: I find it very important, of course! I grew up with both – science and art. My father was a biochemist and my mother a musician. Music, theatre and literature are of fundamental meaning for me and I am convinced that any economic model that thinks it could work without cultural aspects is doing a big mistake. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, for instance, definitely had his reasons when he was searching for software developers who are musically or artistically talented. Creativity breeds success. At the same time, arts also bring appreciation and respect.

“Art and culture are of great importance in all areas of life – that’s what I am absolutely sure about.”

If people would only work under pressure, for example by harvesting as much cotton as possible, they would no longer feel valued. But if they take part in cultural activities in between and thereby get attention for something other than just their work performance, it increases their motivation. Similarly, it is working with dm – the staff is friendly and happy because they are perceived and treated more holistically than in many conventional companies. Art and culture are of great importance in all areas of life – that’s what I am absolutely sure about.

SN: Primarily you are a very successful actor in Germany. Since several years, you put your focus to advocate for environmental and social matters. When and why did you decide to commit yourself to these topics?

H.J .: There are various reasons. I have travelled around the world and witnessed what kind of damage the economy of the industrialized countries causes all over the globe. In the German media, the problem is still far too little discussed and the policy delegates the topic aside. Also, I lived in Cologne in 1986, when a big chemical company poisoned the Rhine river. I witnessed the horrible fish kills and how other companies put even more garbage into the river – after that I joined Greenpeace. Generally, in my generation the awareness for the environment grew – for me it is a matter of course, to protect our biosphere.

Hannes Jaenicke in SEKEMs first building that was placed in the middle of the desert, almost 40 years ago.

SN: Nevertheless, still a relatively small number of your colleagues are engaged to these rather unpleasant topics. Do you still think it is even more important to become active as a prominent person and set a good example?

H.J .: Absolutely! For me, the only luxury on being a celebrity is that you have a voice that is heard by many. In English-speaking countries the commitment to environmental protection in my branch is a much bigger issue than in Germany. Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney are wonderful examples that you can really move things forward when reaching a broad public. Television is a perfect medium not to only entertain people, but also to inform and educate them. Unfortunately, there is too much nonsense running on German television. I wish to do something against it by producing formats that show irregularities, inform people and promote awareness.

“For me, the only luxury on being a celebrity is that you have a voice that is heard by many.”

SN: Although the interest and awareness in a sustainable life practice is increasing, it seems that many people do not really know how to implement it. How do you manage your everyday life in this regard?

H.J .: The purse of the consumers is a much stronger weapon than many people think. I am boycotting the big brands, which are the most dangerous enemies of sustainability and I buy almost everything in health food stores. I wear my clothes until they fall apart and try to consume as little electricity as possible, for example by not having dispensable devices such as a dryer. Everyone has countless possibilities, even the people in Egypt. Here it would already be an enormous step if no more plastic would be thrown on the streets – the masses of garbage lying at the roadsides, are an unimaginable crime against nature.

SN: You are for the first time here in SEKEM, but you visited Egypt several times before. What do you like most about the country and culture?

H.J .: Egypt is a fascinating country. I am very happy here and met great people. I find it particularly interesting to know that the Coptic Christians and Muslims coexist very peacefully.

SN: And where do you see the biggest challenges the country is facing?

H.J .: Egypt is on a difficult path. Especially the rapidly growing population is a major challenge, which urgently needs to get into the focus – education should be one of the first priorities in this regard. After the politically turbulent times, I see the country still in change. Currently it’s peaceful and I consider this fact already as a big advantage compared to other countries in the Middle East. I’m very curious and excited to see how Egypt is going to develop and I appreciate, also in this context, the work of SEKEM very much.

Hannes Jaenicke: “People should be more encouraged to pursue their dreams.”

SN: On the one hand, this period of change involves many possibilities; on the other hand motivation is missing among young people. SEKEM is known as an example that it is worth it to move forward even if the situation seems very difficult. Certainly, you also had to handle many obstacles in your life – probably you were not only facing hopeful situations, especially when it came to the environmental or social issues. How do you keep standing confident and why is it always worth to take action?

H.J .: First of all, each one should question the own consumption – and “throwaway-society”. It turns out that many things go completely wrong and that something must be done. Then you should get as much education as possible. Even in Egypt this is possible. Everyone should start to do something according to his possibilities. This helps you and others – because who cares about the wellbeing of his surroundings and fellow human beings, will automatically become happy and more satisfied with himself. Since 25 years, I live in the United States and experience how people are encouraged to pursue their dreams. In Germany, unfortunately people are rather discouraged – and I imagine in Egypt it is similar. Nevertheless, I advise everyone to keep pursuing his visions, no matter how difficult they appear. All the great visionaries realized their ideas through uncommon ways, just because they really believed in them.

Interview: Christine Arlt

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