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“We need more trees in the city”

Theresa Ramisch
Bert Habrich, CEO GEFA Produkte® Fabritz GmbH, Foto: GEFA Produkte® Fabritz GmbH

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Cities need more trees, but urban trees also suffer from enormous heat stress. CEO Bert Habrich explains in an interview how the mobile irrigation models from GEFA Fabritz GmbH can help and what solutions the company offers.

Bert Habrich, according to the motto ‘for a greener future’, the German company GEFA Fabritz has dedicated itself in particular to trees. Greening is considered the sustainable game changer in terms of heat management. You work with numerous municipalities and metropolises on a daily basis. Where do German cities stand in terms of greening?

In my opinion, German cities have already made significant progress in terms of greening, but face considerable challenges and must make further efforts to ensure a sustainable, green future. There are well-known initiatives in the major cities of Freiburg, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Berlin with sustainable planning approaches, green corridors, urban gardens, park and green space connections. What many people don’t realise, however, are the efforts of smaller and medium-sized municipalities that are not so much in the spotlight. We deal with enquiries and projects on a daily basis, for example for things as trivial as building a new car park. In the past, either no trees were planned at all or tree planting with very small planting pits, a simple tree connection and that was that. Today, many planners, in collaboration with all those involved, think about ‘green, grey and blue’ sustainable planting with sufficient root space, protection of the infrastructure, selection of climate-resistant trees, irrigation solutions including rainwater utilisation and suitable substrate. This has definitely changed for the better. Unfortunately, there are still far too few of these projects. But it is precisely this type of project and co-operation between all those involved that we need. In my opinion, however, the decisive factor – and the vast majority of local authorities have certainly recognised this – will be to preserve trees in the long term. We can plan as many new green areas in the city as we like. None of this is worthwhile if we do not maintain the existing tree population at the same level; care for it, renovate it and, above all, provide appropriate professional support for construction measures. Unfortunately, we are still only at the beginning in many municipalities.

Commitment is growing, but implementation varies

Climate adaptation and climate protection have become political buzzwords worldwide. In your opinion, how important are heat management measures and climate adaptation in politics and city administration?

I do believe that the scientific basis, individual observations, laws, climate protection agreements and associated funding programmes have actually led to a rethink in our cities and municipalities. But there is still a problem of competing priorities. Most local authorities face financial challenges. They often have to weigh up various urgent needs. Added to this are political cycles and short-term priorities. Here it is often easier to tackle projects with immediately visible results. And not all city councils – in fact, I would argue very few – have the necessary expertise and technical capacity to develop and implement effective climate adaptation strategies. Unfortunately, this will not change in the short term, which certainly does not make it any easier for different departments and levels of government, right down to the municipal level, to work together. My impression is that commitment is growing, but implementation varies. Overall, I see positive developments, but much remains to be done to fully integrate and effectively implement climate adaptation and heat management in practice.

Demand for a sustainable concept

Even an urban tree suffers from heat stress. That’s why you have developed mobile irrigation models at GEFA Fabritz, among other things. What are the biggest challenges for urban trees? How can we protect them better?

Heat stress or drought stress is a complex issue that involves more than just watering. Urban trees are exposed to high temperatures, which are exacerbated by the urban heat island effect. Periods of drought and insufficient rainfall exacerbate the lack of water, which jeopardises the health and growth of trees. In addition, soils in urban areas are often highly compacted, which limits water absorption and root development. Roots often do not have enough space to spread out, which impairs their stability and nutrient uptake. And urban soils are often poor in nutrients and have low biological activity, which impairs the growth and resilience of the trees. Added to this are natural urban enemies such as traffic and construction work: Urban trees are often exposed to mechanical damage from vehicles, construction work and vandalism. I think this makes it clear that we need to take a holistic approach here. We must bring the hostile urban location as close as possible to the natural model: Select appropriate species for new plantings, pay attention to diversity and ensure optimal conditions with systems such as root space expansion, aeration and irrigation solutions, special substrates with additives, mycorrhiza and protective coatings such as stem protection paint, etc. Measures such as mechanical soil loosening and aeration can improve the soil structure and promote water absorption. Mycorrhiza inoculations, regular maintenance, including pruning and health checks, are important to maintain the vitality of the trees. The protection of urban trees requires a holistic and sustainable approach that includes both short-term measures and long-term strategies such as improving soil conditions and integrating green spaces into urban planning. Through innovative solutions and continuous care, urban trees can be better protected against the challenges of urban life and climate change.

Climate change means heat and heavy rainfall

Between 2030 and 2050, around 250,000 people worldwide are expected to die every year as a result of climate change, including extreme heat. As an expert in tree anchoring and irrigation, what systems, innovations and strategies would you like to see more of in international cities?

I can only repeat myself. We need to take a holistic approach and sit down at the table with all the players, including the entire population. There are interesting concepts, pioneers, isolated solutions – you just have to, for once, bring them all together. And we need to think outside the box and look at other areas to see what we can adapt. Digitalisation also plays a role in individual solutions here, for example in advanced irrigation systems: Sensors and IoT-based systems can monitor soil moisture and weather conditions and automatically adjust irrigation. This saves water and ensures that trees are watered exactly when they need it. Combined with additives that are able to store water in the soil and release it again – this saves additional irrigation. This should in fact be standard practice and also pays off financially in the long run. And if we build upwards due to a lack of space, we should also integrate trees. A look at our neighbouring country, the Netherlands, even shows how social housing can be combined with green roofs. The Trudo Tower in Eindhoven, for example, has large trees integrated throughout the building and secured with innovative anchoring systems. This, combined with traditional green roofs and façade greening, is the future. Incidentally, we already realised something similar more than a decade ago in Essen as part of a Hundertwasser project. And climate change doesn’t just mean heat, but also heavy rainfall. Utilising surface water in a targeted manner is the future. I hope that the green sector will take the lead here in the future and, together with industry, drive forward innovative solutions in which the tree location and water requirements determine how the sponge city principle is implemented and the tree pit and root area are not just misused as an infiltration area.

Population must be informed

Where do we need to go in terms of heat management? And who is responsible for this? What is your responsibility as a company?

Three questions that you could actually write a whole book about. I’ll try to keep it as concise as possible: Firstly, we need more urban green spaces, more trees in the city. This can only be achieved through appropriate tree regulations and the commitment of each individual. And we need sustainable urban planning that promotes short distances, lots of greenery and mixed uses. Promoting environmentally friendly mobility reduces traffic and the associated heat generation. However, one must not forget the people who live in the city and need sufficient space and parking facilities. Governments at all levels must create the political framework and provide the necessary resources to implement climate adaptation measures. City councils are responsible for planning and implementing green spaces, parks and sustainable infrastructure. But we as companies also have a role to play with corporate social responsibility (CSR): Companies should integrate sustainable practices into their operations and invest in green infrastructure. This year, we created a new position of Sustainability and Innovation Manager at GEFA specifically for this purpose. And we are a comparatively small company with fewer than 30 employees. Our aim is to become more sustainable both internally and externally and to develop solutions and establish partnerships with companies that not only ensure the long-term growth of trees and their vitality, but are also sustainable wherever technically feasible. We have already achieved short-term success with a hollow rope for crown protection made from recycled PES or a biological water reservoir made from lignin. However, what is essential for all endeavours: The population must be informed and involved in climate adaptation measures. Community initiatives and participation processes are important. Tackling the urban heat problem requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach in which governments, businesses and citizens assume joint responsibility. GEFA actively contributes to solving these challenges through innovative products and services and through partnerships with planners, businesses, cities and communities. Through continuous research, development and education, we can implement sustainable and effective heat management measures to improve the quality of life in our cities.

Short Vita

Bert Habrich is CEO of GEFA Produkte Fabritz GmbH in Krefeld. Bert Habrich trained as an editor from 1988 to 1990. After completing his training, he worked as an editor at the Offenbach-Post until 1993. He then dedicated himself to advertising and marketing while studying German and education at the University of Cologne and discovered his passion for urban nature in projects such as the creation and supervision of an ecological nature trail in the Duisburg Landscape Park. Habrich joined GEFA Produkte Fabritz GmbH in 2000 and worked for the company for almost 12 years, making a significant contribution to the development and marketing of new products.

After his first phase at GEFA Fabritz, Bert Habrich moved into sales, where he worked for various American software companies and SAP. In these roles, he expanded his expertise in international sales and corporate management. In 2022, Bert Habrich returned to GEFA Produkte Fabritz GmbH and took over the position of CEO. Since then, he has led the company together with Managing Partner Thorsten Fabritz with a clear vision for sustainability and innovation. Bert Habrich is committed to raising awareness of the importance of urban greenery and sustainable solutions to climate change. He regularly gives lectures and participates in specialist conferences as well as at the Forschungsgesellschaft Landschaftsentwicklung Landschaftsbau e.V. (FLL)

About GEFA Fabritz

GEFA Produkte Fabritz GmbH has been supplying innovative speciality products to the gardening and landscaping industry and municipal services for green spaces since 1990. Founder Prof. h.c. Gerhard Fabritz laid the foundations for today’s company with a focus on preserving the environment.

The two children, Anja Fabritz and Dipl.- Oec. Thorsten A. Fabritz, are continuing this philosophy – with a conscious effort to maintain continuity in their dealings with customers, suppliers and staff. A family business in which the green passion is propagated. Since its foundation, GEFA Fabritz has specialised in developing and offering innovative solutions for the demanding requirements of urban tree planting. Its mission is to make urban spaces greener and more liveable.

GEFA Produkte Fabritz GmbH understands the importance of trees in urban living spaces and works closely with landscape architects, landscaping professionals and other specialists in the green sector to offer high-quality, tried-and-tested solutions. GEFA Produkte Fabritz GmbH is continuously expanding its product portfolio with sustainability in mind. It ranges from systems for securing young trees above and below ground, to securing old trees with various solutions for crown protection, to soil additives such as mycorrhiza and co. for water storage and vitalisation, to special systems for tree quarters in urban areas. The company also focuses on irrigation systems; our specialist consultants develop customised solutions for the efficient water supply of greenery. This includes the planning, supply of components and support of specialised companies. GEFA Produkte Fabritz GmbH supplies customers throughout the EU.

www.gefafabritz.de | info@gefafabritz.de

This interview is part of the Beat the Heat initiative, which GEFA Fabritz is supporting. Find out more about Beat the Heat here.

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