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It‘s All about Sustainability

For the past 15 years, the physicist Steffen Lang has been volunteering with the Govinda Entwicklungshilfe e.V. This German NGO raises funds and supports development work in Nepal. Lang sees sustainability as a top priority. His own commitment to these “clients” in Asia is just as important good planning. For him, it all started with 10 microscopes from ZEISS. 

To understand Dr. Steffen Lang, you have to visit him in his office in Oberkochen. The physicist has printed out a several aphorisms and words to live by and pinned them to the wall. One of the pieces of paper reads, “Everything passes. The only constant is change.” Some people might read this quote and think it means: “No matter what you do, nothing turns out as intended.” But Steffen Lang interprets these two sentences differently. He believes you can achieve anything if you really want to, and in the end everything turns out for the better. If people are atoms, then Lang is definitely a positively charged particle.

Sustainable work

Lang has been thinking more about the world and life itself ever since he began to volunteer. You might say that Nepal has changed him, as evidenced by the pictures hanging on his office wall. “These sayings are meant foster confidence,” says Lang with a smile. In addition to the quotation on the transience of all things, there’s a picture of Mahatma Gandhi looking through a microscope. Below that, you’ll find a diagram with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. Seeing the two pieces of paper together, you realize that, for Steffen Lang, sustainability and the company ZEISS go hand-in-hand – and that every single person can change the world a little bit.

Half an hour later, Lang is sitting in a meeting. He heads the Technical Service and Retrofit field of business, which generates annual global revenues totaling 130 million euros. At this particular moment, he and a colleague are discussing price categories outside Germany. The windows are open, and the smell of pollen is in the air. Lang stands in front of a board and draws diagrams, pausing periodically to make large, theatrical gestures. He cheerfully explains that he’s not the type of boss who just gives orders. This too is part of sustainability.

If you value the good things in life, then you share them.

Lang often works 50-hour weeks, but still finds the time “to clear my head periodically.” Once a day, he takes a break and does Tai-Chi in his office. His standing desk ensures he’s not sitting all day. Being in touch with yourself – that’s also an aspect of sustainability.

Lang first speaks at length about his volunteer work to help Nepal on the car ride home. He points to the dashboard of his Mercedes and says, “This is the type of car I drive, and it’s a company car. I own my own house. If I want to buy bio smoked salmon at the farmer’s market, then I just do it. At some point, you have to start giving back.” And it’s all true. Today, the physicist is wearing a blue designer suit. His eyeglass frames are from Ray-Ban. Lang is someone who knows how to appreciate the good and beautiful things in life. But he also understands that you have to share your good fortune with others. Otherwise, the good things quickly become worthless. Once again, it’s all about sustainability.

At Shangrila International School, 500 children learn not only how to read, write and do math, but also a trade. © Govinda
At Shangrila International School, 500 children learn not only how to read, write and do math, but also a trade. © Govinda
New buildings must be able to withstand earthquakes. © Govinda
New buildings must be able to withstand earthquakes. © Govinda

One foot in Oberkochen, the other in Nepal

When Lang was 37, he found himself in the throes of a mid-life crisis. He kept asking himself, “Why am I doing all this?” Then he heard that ZEISS had donated 10 microscopes to a Nepali school in 2003, and learned about the NGO Govinda in Aalen. He quickly became an active member, both collecting donations and donating money himself. Soon he was also educating people, doing PR and planning development aid projects. He attended the Summer Breeze Music Festival in Germany and collected thousands of bottles and returned them to the supermarket for cash to fund this endeavor. He did things that humble a person, things you’d never do sitting around the office.

The NGO Govinda has been building schools and other educational institutions in Nepal since 1998. They have also opened a hospital and an orphanage. The organization’s primary focus is on helping others help themselves, because donations go the furthest when locals build and operate these institutions. Poor children can attend these schools for free, while those from wealthy families pay. Ultimately, the institutions become self-sufficient. Once they have completed school, children can learn a trade to become a tailor, carpenter or potter at one of these same educational facilities. Following the catastrophic earthquake in 2015, Govinda also helped people construct new, safe houses.

Independence through sustainability 

Steffen Lang visits Nepal regularly and is convinced that the donations from Germany are making a difference. He’s traveled to the country more than 10 times. “Every time I’m there, I learn more about myself. You appreciate what’s important and what you can do without,” says Lang. Such as when ‘showering’ means washing yourself with a bucket of cold water. He’s quite moved at how much the locals embrace life in spite of the widespread poverty. Lang also saw that the ZEISS microscopes are still being used in biology class at Shangrila International School at the edge of Katmandu. And that is just another small example of how sustainability can make a difference.

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