The following lecture about the Triple Benefit Principle and the Mobility Workshops held at UN Vienna in January 2012 has been awarded by the Academic Council of the United Nations
The Triple Benefit Principle
by Klaus Renoldner
Sustainable life-style, transition to sustainable energy use, the key role of mobility in energy transition, integrated cycling, iso-emission-cubes, MOBILITY-workshops, interaction of health, economy, and sustainability.
The Triple Benefit Principle is a methodology, which enables individuals and communities in industrialized societies to approach a sustainable and CO2-neutral life-style rapidly. It aims at avoiding the use of coal, oil and gas as energy resource as far as possible and at promoting step by step transition into a renewable energy era. The Triple Benefit Principle consists of the following steps:
1) Learning logistics for new life-style patterns, which allow reducing fossil energy consumption in housing, eating and mobility. Mobility plays a key role in this process for several important reasons to be explained later in detail. It is about changing over from conventional car use to mainly bicycle and train or eventually other clean vehicle use. These logistics can be learned by playing mobility-scenarios in so called MOBILITY-workshops.
2) Thereby improving individual and also global health (see WHO tool HEAT for Cycling) considerably.
3) Investing saved money in green energy production or other CO2-reducing projects.
By applying these principles consequently people not only rapidly reduce their own carbon footprint, they also improve the greenhouse gas balance of the public sector and can reach their personal energy break even point or energy transition point within a couple of years.
But let me tell you my own experience: How did I come to call this Triple Benefit Principle and why did I develop MOBILITY-Workshops.
Working as a Physician in a Development Program for Indian Minorities in Paraguay from 1977 till 1982 I had learned that the ongoing deforestation is not only a threat to the Indian population, it is a threat to the whole globe, because it severely damages the ecological system, mainly the water-cycle and the carbon cycle. Back in Austria in the Eighties I learned that all the enormous deforestation of rain forests and other forests which is still ongoing in many parts of the world, represents only one fifth of our present Green House Gas Problem. It is us, living in industrialized countries: we produce four times more damage by the enormous amounts of our additional fossil Carbon Dioxide production which stems from burning coal, oil and gas in industry, in traffic and in our houses.
In order to move towards a sustainable live-style we must change our energy consumption patterns in housing, eating, mobility and luxury. And of course, the public sector has to go through a similar process of change as well.
I saw that I can reduce my carbon footprint in housing by using biomass heating instead of oil heating and by buying clean electricity, so called eco-current. And it was clear to me and my wife, that if we eat meat from cows which were fed with soybeans, so we support deforestation in Latin America. Meanwhile you can find many publications about sustainable housing and nutrition as well as CO2-calculaters. So I need not to go into details. I just want to state that one can reduce one’s own CO2 emissions considerably by sustainable housing and by living on a mainly vegetarian diet of local products bought directly from organic farmers or their markets.
But what about mobility? Working as a physician in a rural area I need a car and I used to drive about 30.000 kms by car in a year till 1995, what causes a gross production of 7,5 tons of CO2-e only from mobility.
In European industrialized countries the average citizen produces approximately 11 tons of CO2, and this does not include either emissions from international flights (not included in Kyoto protocol) nor emissions from Asian industries made by the production of goods for our markets in the West.
We know that we have to shrink down our emissions to about one fifth immediately. (Ernst Ulrich v. Weizsäcker: Factor five) One fifth means 2 to 2 ½ tons for housing, eating and mobility altogether. My housing and eating footprint were already comparably small, however I produced 7 ½ tons of CO2-e only from my mobility. I knew, my mobility behaviour is too destructive, it has no future.
In 1996 I started to develop new mobility patterns by integrating cycling in my daily life. For several reasons a later called this INTEGRATED CYCLING. Cycling alone for shorter distances and the combination of bicycle and train for longer distances. It was not so easy, I often cycled up to 40 and more kms a day to see my patients. For emergencies I had a hybrid car. I had to travel to Vienna once a week, the nearest railway station was 19 kms away, there is no direct train and no late evening train to come back home. But I had more and more new ideas for creative and sustainable solutions and I was surprised by my own proceedings. At the beginning I Thought: if I struggle very hard may be I can reduce care use by half to 15.000 kilometers. Soon I saw it was not so difficult, cycling makes fun and is healthy. I can go farther.
One has to know the GHG emission data of our means of traffic like car, plane, train, bus, bicycle in order to find out best practice logistics. I experimented a lot, and I learned a lot. Finally I was able to reduce car use from 30,000 to less then 2000 kms a year (emergency visits), whereas I covered the other 28,000 kms by bicycle or in case of longer distances by combining train ride with cycling. So I reduced my CO2-emissions from mobility from 7 ½ tons to approximately ½ ton.
Sitting an average of two hours per day on a bicycle is very healthy. Meanwhile several very interesting medical studies about the manifold positive health effects of daily cycling have been published, and we also know about the economic benefit. Cyclists produce lower health costs and are sick on fewer days in the year.
Just to give you an illustration on behalf of the so called HEAT (Health Economic Assessment Tool for Cycling): We know from studies in Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland that daily cycling has positive preventive effects on the cardiovascular system, on the lungs, the skeleton, the joints, it prevents osteoporosis and has various cancer-protective effects as well as positive effects on the nervous system and on the immune-defence.
Austrians are not as intensive regular cyclers as Netherlanders are who cycle four times as much; however it is estimated that the Austrian cyclists reduce the health budget by € 400,000 in one year and save 412 lives just through the fact of cycling and not using a car.
And one should know that less car driving not only produces less Greenhouse-gas and so reduces the risk of all the negative health effects resulting from climate change, mainly in developing countries; It also reduces the production of microscopic dust particles which harm the lungs, it reduces noise and other health disturbing effects.
But that is still not all: I discovered by cycling and travelling by train instead of car I can save a lot of money. A car kilometre costs about 42 Eurocents, a train kilometre only about 10 and a bicycle kilometre even less. If you shift only 10.000 kms from car to bike and train you can save between € 1500.- and € 3000.- a year. In my case it was much more. And I soon knew that it is very important to think about what to do with the money saved. If you spend it for cheap holiday flights you can create more damage through new GHG production than you have just saved. If you invest it in electronic equipment or other luxury goods, you contribute to additional CO2-production in the industry and transport sector. So in summary your footprint will not show much change. However if you invest in the CO2 reducing sector like wind energy, photovoltaic, clean water power etc. or in green agricultural production you can additionally reduce green house gas production by providing green electricity to the public or by providing green food.
So I discovered what I called the key role of mobility. It is important to reduce ones carbon footprint by more sustainable housing and eating patterns, but you will not save money in these two sectors if you turn over to sustainability. Green, organic food is healthy, but not cheaper than fast food, and implementing a sustainable heating system and heat insulation in a house is an investment first, the savings may follow after years. However in Mobility it is different, you save money starting with the first kilometre you take your bicycle instead of your car. Oil based car mobility, as it still exists doday –together with its industry – in this context is not only the biggest problem and challenge; it also opens an enormous chance: The investment of savings from avoiding conventional cars into green energy production and health.
I saved between € 3,000 and 6,000 a year and I have invested the money in green energy production, year by year. Now after sixteen years of applying consequently the triple benefit principle I produce over 400.000 kWh of clean electricity a year. This is about eight times the gross energy consumption of an average Austrian citizen. So I can say, I have gone even far beyond my personal energy break even – or energy transition point. What we should have in mind, is: the more people practice the Triple Benefit Principle the faster and earlier a whole country will reach transition to a sustainable energy era.
So far my experience.
I wanted to communicate my experience and discoveries and started to promote cycling in my own and other communities already in the 90ies, because of its double health benefits (individual and global). However I learned that there were at least three main reasons which kept people away from changing their mobility patterns:
1) They did not have enough knowledge about the GHG-problem, did not understand the carbon cycle, not know much about differences in greenhouse gas emissions of different means of traffic, and not know much about the global and the health impact of GHGs.
2) They were afraid of cycling for a hundred different reasons, often just because of a lack of positive experience.
3) They were not motivated and not creative enough to find low emission and best practice mobility solutions for their demands. They find lots of problems in organizing their mobility and their lives in a more sustainable way.
Therefore in 2006 I had an idea: I invented the Iso-Emission-Cube, which makes emissions from various means of transport understandable and comparable. On one of the six surface squares of the cube there is written the amount of GHG it represents. The biggest cube stands for 1 ton CO2-equivalents (CO2-e). The other five squares show how many kilometres you can travel till you have produced one ton of CO2-e- and this in different colours for each means of transport. You will find that using it will be about 4000 kilometres. With a modern hybrid car it is 7000, using a small electric car driven by eco-current it is 18,000, taking an Austrian electric train it is 50,000 and by bicycle you can theoretically roll for one million kilometres. And out of these cubes in various sizes I made the educational game MOBILITY.
So in workshops participants can play scenarios and try to find out best practices.
The MOBILITY-workshops consist of three parts:
1) General information and data about greenhouse gas resulting from housing, eating, mobility and others in industrial societies. Austrian data, IPCC data and UNDP-data and WHO-data on the effects of GHGs and climate change in developing countries. (e.g. Human Development Report 2007/08). The key role of mobility. Basics about mobility, emission data of various means of transport, practical mobility logistics. Individual and Global Cost and Health Benefits of Cycling.
2) Playing the interactive educational game MOBILITY in teams, challenging every participant’s creativity to find low emission solutions for given demands in daily mobility situations and scenarios. Thereby the so called Iso-emission-cubes are used.
3) Discussion of outcomes of various teams and brainstorming for initiatives. The goal is to find creative low emission mobility solutions and to communicate best practices for daily mobility needs, using more bike and train or organizing one’s daily life in a new way, thus reducing greenhouse gas, improving individual and global health and investing thereby saved money in green projects like photovoltaic etc. Finally a feed-back paper is handed out.
During the last fife years I have held many workshops and it is always amazing to observe, that students or other participants discover that in so many cases and scenarios it is possible to find useful mobility solutions which reduce the GHG production to one fifth or even less compared to the generally practiced pattern of overall car use.
I usually get very positive feedbacks from the workshops’ participants and also from conferences I gave on many places about the interactions of sustainability, mobility and health. Sometimes after years I hear how happy and healthy somebody is now after having changed his or her mobility patterns and I get invitations from a growing number of private initiatives for green energy production. We are a growing community of people in many countries who practice the Triple Benefit Principle.
MOBILITY Workshops have been awarded by the Austrian UNESCO-Commission as a project of the UN DECADE OF EDUCATION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.
MOBILITY WORKSHOPS and lectures about the TRIPLE BENEFIT PRINCIPLE have been performed in schools, universities, communities, and at special events in Austria, Czeck Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia.
For further information see
There are various publications about the Triple Benefit Principle, the first of which appeared in Medical Tribune in 2007. For more information see my website:
There you also find an FAQ – page on the Triple Benefit Principle.