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Dr. Martin Viessmann may be at his most futuristic when he is emphasizing a business model that is as old fashioned as it gets.

While he leads an internationally renowned, award-winning, $2.5 billion energy-systems titan in the Allendorf, Germany-based Viessmann Group, Viessmann is also the 3rd generation helmsman of a family owned company. He provided an eye-opening overview of Viessmann Group’s vision and ethic to an audience of about 100 UW Oshkosh students, staff, faculty and community guests on May 11.

Ultimately, the company’s philosophy is rooted in sustainability – the notion that to survive and endure the test of time, family owned companies big and small are, by their nature, distinctly sustainable. They are inherently self-aware and strongly guided by how their decisions and practices impact the ecology of earth and affect employees and economies at home and abroad. If they aren’t responsible, they wither, and governments seem less inclined to come to their rescue as most are small to mid-sized enterprises.

“Family business are long-term orientated; they are not focused on short profit,” he said. “I wish that my kids will take the helm one day in the future. So, most, and nearly all, family businesses strive to improve and carry over success from one generation to the next.”

That was just one thought-provoking insight shared by a man whom the Federal Republic of Germany and his industry peers have repeatedly honored for his and his company’s pioneering advancements and transformative collaborations in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Viessmann graciously spoke on sustainability and family owned companies for an hour at Sage Hall on May 11 on the eve of his receipt of UW Oshkosh’s spring Commencement honorary doctorate.  That followed a morning tour of the biogas energy research and production innovations Viessmann Group and its Wisconsin-based subsidiary, BIOFerm Energy Systems of Madison, have partnered in with the state’s third-largest institution.

In collaboration with UW Oshkosh’s College of Letters and Science, the UW Oshkosh Foundation and independent area dairy farming operations large and small in the area, Viessmann and BIOFerm have helped plant the seeds of a biogas energy research and production renaissance in northeastern Wisconsin.

The companies have shared state-of-the-art technology and expertise to build and pursue development of ecologically-friendly biogas energy facilities on campus and in the Oshkosh area. The list includes the first-ever industrial scale dry fermentation anaerobic “Biodigester” in the western hemisphere, producing energy since last fall. The award-winning biogas plant, located off Witzel Avenue, composts campus food refuse, donated agricultural plant waste and city of Oshkosh grass clippings in airless storage chambers, harvesting the resultant methane for electricity and heat production.

Students and faculty collaborate in not only the operation of the state of the art plant and learning laboratory, but they advance its output by studying how best to maximize its methane production at the UW Oshkosh’s Environmental Research and Innovation Center (ERIC), across the Fox River.

That successful Biodigester is leading to community-based projects, including a proposed wet digester plant and public education center at the 9,000-cow Rosendale Dairy and another at the smaller “Titan 55” unit planned at the 150-head, family-owned Allen Farm.

Viessmann told his May 11 audience that a morning tour of the sites and the campus impressed him and demonstrated UW Oshkosh’s global view and commitment to renewable energy production.

“I think especially this second (Rosendale Dairy) biodigester project is a good example of a fruitful partnership between business, science and education with ecological and economical benefits for everyone,” he said.

“All of these projects are successful examples of collaboration between the scientific community and business, the public and the private sector and theory and practice and also prove the University’s effort towards energy transition and its commitment to making that know-how available to external partners,” Viessmann said. “And this reminds me that climate change and energy supply is a global challenge that affects all of us.”

He emphasized his and his company’s belief that beyond pushing renewable energy advancements, the “best way to minimize energy consumption is by increasing efficiency.”

“Saved energy doesn’t have to be produced, distributed, stored or paid for,” he said.

The company’s track record in its field is remarkable. In 1985, it appointed its first environmental protection officer, a leader among corporate entities, Viessmann said. Since then, it invented and has shared the “Efficiency Plus” sustainability project, demonstrating that German Federal Government’s energy and climate policy goals for 2050 could be accelerated based on present day technology. The Viessmann Group received the German Sustainability Award in 2009 for “Most Sustainable Production” and the German Energy Agency’s Efficiency Award in 2010.

Dr. Viessmann himself has earned the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of German 1st Class, the highest tribute his government pays individuals for their service to the nation.

Maintaining his company’s commitment to combating climate change, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and pushing for clean, renewable energy advancements is only one dimension of its responsibility, Viessmann said.

“Also, corporate social responsibility is very important to us,” he said. “We try as family business and a company to affect our community by participation in culture and science and education and social projects,” he said.

Viessmann will receive UW Oshkosh’s honorary doctorate at the 9 a.m. spring Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 12.

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