From Geophysics To Lufthansa


The story of my working life to date is the story of how I have managed to combine my personal interests in science, the environment, and communication into a truly satisfying job. After 10 years in the labour market I hope that I am not speaking too soon if I say that I have really succeeded in making a pastime my profession, and vice versa.

But how have I done it?

It was an easy choice to study geophysics at the University of Hamburg--it was (and still is!) a subject that combined my interests in physics, mathematics, and geography. Shortly after my intermediate exams, I was given the opportunity to spend half a year in Venezuela working for Intevep, a subsidiary of Shell. This proved to be a turning point for me.

In Venezuela, I quickly realized that my training focus up to that point--oil exploration--could have a serious impact on the environment. In 1990, Lake Maracaibo--a lake in Northwest Venezuela the size of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein--was nothing but a huge oil puddle, with drilling platforms as far as you could see. With our help, new oil and natural gas reservoirs in the mainly untouched Orinoco Delta were about to be tapped. Upon visiting Lake Maracaibo, I asked myself some tough questions about ethics and responsibility, and the consequence was a change in the direction of my studies: I decided to major in environmental geophysics with a special focus on brown field and toxic cleanup.

Despite the opportunity to extend my stay in Venezuela, I dropped out ahead of schedule and joined a newly founded project group in Hamburg that was to explore a suburban residential area (?Bille-Siedlung? in Moorfleet) for toxic waste. The residential area had been erected on an area where mud from the nearby port had been pumped after World War II, and it was rumoured that two old boats full of biochemical weapons lurked there. The mud was contaminated with a whole range of chemicals from destroyed industrial sites. Using geoelectrics, electromagnetism, and magnetism, we found tons of toxic waste, but, luckily, no boats! In 1993, I wrote my diploma thesis about this project.

It was during my studies that I had my first contact with journalism, undertaking an internship with the Hamburger Morgenpost. I was offered a trainee position with Bild after my diploma thesis but turned it down because I found a job with an engineering company, Prof. Mull & Partner GmbH in Magdeburg, which specialise in toxic waste cleanup. The company had two major projects. Firstly, as a contractor for the regional finance office, it was dealing with decontamination planning for all former Soviet Army sites. In the second project, former Minol sites had to be evaluated in terms of toxic waste, including remediation, for their new owner, Elf Oil AG.

My first project--which proved to be a major one--was to evaluate and subsequently plan the cleanup of a Minol site in an industrial peninsula in northeastern Magdeburg where oil was still stored in huge tanks. Following an explosion, about 5000 cubic meters of leaded gasoline had seeped into the ground. One stab with a spade was enough to open up the relics of this catastrophe--green-coloured soil and an acrid smell were silent witnesses to the inferno.

The tank site project was followed by several other evaluations and remediation plans for Minol sites. In most cases, a new Elf gas station and shop were to be built on the site of an old Minol gas station. I quickly learned to tread the thin line between responsible environmental cleanup on one hand and the client?s economic needs on the other, which I found fascinating. At the same time I was able to further develop my skills in writing and in dealing with complex facts.

After almost 3 years in Magdeburg--in the meantime, I had become solely responsible for all Minol sites in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt--a friend pointed me to a vacancy at Lufthansa?s environmental division. I applied and was invited for an interview. It turned out I had excellent qualifications. Lufthansa?s maintenance division had to cope with two toxic sites at that time. And having passed an exam in meteorology set by Prof. Hartmut Graßl, an expert well known in the climate change community, also proved to be a helpful reference. The mutual interest resulted in smooth negotiations.

I started my new staff position in Deutsche Lufthansa AG?s Environmental Issues division at the beginning of 1996. It quickly became one of my tasks to work on the current environmental report, both in the fields of data collection and quality assurance. Additionally, I had to research information on environmental issues by communicating with scientists. It was through these tasks that I rediscovered my affection for researching, writing, and designing, and worked on improving these skills further.

An additional early responsibility was the planning and realization of scientific research projects in collaboration with a number of renowned institutes in different countries. Most fascinating to me was that most experiments took place under real atmospheric conditions at cruising altitude and were not simulated in a lab somewhere else. In this way, the newly gained knowledge about aviation?s influence on the atmosphere was most accurate.

Among the most spectacular projects were two initiatives by the German Aerospace Center ( DLR) aimed at examining the influence of jet fuel?s sulphur fraction and different generations of jet engine on the production of contrails. During both campaigns, the DLR?s research plane flew just a few tens of meters behind Lufthansa and German Air Force planes. This project and the results were later described in the 1998 and 1999 Lufthansa environmental reports.

The German Space Centre?s (DLR) Sulfur VI project examined the influence of aviation fuel?s sulphur fraction on the production of condensation trails. In this picture, the DLR plane is closely following a Lufthansa jet.

Another project of interest was the certification of Lufthansa?s subsidiary CityLine according to environmental management standards (EMAS and ISO 14001). We were in strong competition with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and CityLine was first to its certification by just a few weeks.

Today, one of my tasks is the editorial management of Balance magazine, a developed version of the environmental report which addresses topics in aviation, environmental issues, and sustainability. Additionally, I have been given responsibility for extending Lufthansa?s environmental communications to new target groups and new media. I am personally very happy about Lufthansa?s Web sites on environmental issues and sustainability, the texts and pictures for which were produced for their launch in 2001. Because of the World Summit (which will take place in Johannesburg soon), this Web presence was further extended this year. I am looking forward confidently to a future benchmarking of environmental standards among the airlines.

I also oversee Dialog, a bimonthly leaflet on Lufthansa?s infrastructural and mobility standpoints. Of course, environmental issues play an important role in this publication as well. Internal staff journals and the intranet are also used as a communication tool for Lufthansa?s environmental policy quite frequently. Very often, my task is to keep an eye on company-wide editorial teams or external agencies in order to make sure products are ready within strict deadlines.

Because of its close ties to state-of-the-art science, the collaboration with international scientists, and the opportunity to raise awareness internally and externally about aviation?s environmental impacts, my current job quickly reached the status of a dream job for me. One of its chief pluses is the opportunity to independently develop new visions and solutions for the company. My projects often include pioneering work in the airline business. The horizon of opportunities is wide and rarely limited. And I find teamwork very motivating; regardless of whether the teams are internal, external, international, or virtual, they usually involve young and highly engaged people. I can hardly imagine another job with similar impact and bandwidth.

I can only recommend realizing your personal interests through your job, developing networks (and living within them), and taking setbacks only as a motivation to broaden your horizons and keep them as wide as possible.

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