It’s High Time

Global warming and environmental pollution threatens human existence. The world is seeking solutions. And the IFAT network presents them. Exhibition Group Director Christian Rocke provides insight into the booming environmental technology sector—and explains why he no longer uses the word “trash”.

One sheet of paper seldom says a lot about a person. But in Christian Rocke’s case, it does. He has many things posted on the whiteboard behind his desk, including a note with just one sentence: “Do shit that matters.” The 41-year-old doesn’t really need a reminder to do something meaningful. After all, the issue of environmental protection is an affair of the heart for Rocke. You realize that in his welcoming words: “Did you drive here?” No, I used the subway. “Very good, you’ve passed the test”.

Rocke’s first choice is also public transport; He rarely drives a car. “Ever since I’ve been in this position with IFAT, my environmental awareness has definitely changed,” he says. In 2015, he became the exhibiton group director of the world’s leading trade fair for water, sewage, waste, and raw materials management. But Rocke’s career at Messe München actually began in 2006. Back then, he was in sales and responsible for the automatica trade fair. After four years, he switched to project management for productronica.

Demand for environmental technologies is everywhere. Christian Rocke, Exhibition Group Director IFAT

His current job description encompasses all of the IFAT events around the globe: the world’s leading trade fair in Munich and the foreign shows in China, India, South Africa, and Turkey. In China and India in particular, the demand for environmental technology has increased dramatically—the potential there is huge. The trade fair in Shanghai is one of the largest in the network, second only to IFAT in Munich. Due to the international reputation of IFAT, Rocke receives many requests to add new locations. “Theoretically, we could take the trade fair to every country”, he says. “Demand is everywhere. And we are eager to introduce the topic to the entire world.” Right now, markets such as South America and Russia are particularly interesting.

© Dirk Bruniecki

“Environmental protection is a global task.” Exhibition Group Director Christian Rocke explains how environmental technologies can help to master it.

Fifty years ago, IFAT had a much smaller radius. When the trade fair was first launched, it was largely targeted at municipalities. It was where city and community representatives could learn about garbage disposal and water treatment technologies. That has changed. “More and more industrial companies are coming to IFAT now”, said Rocke. “That shows that awareness of the subject has grown”. By using environmental technologies, manufacturing companies make an important contribution to ecology and society. They themselves benefit as well, because they can reduce their costs as a result of consuming fewer resources.

“I’ve been speaking with United Nations representatives a lot recently and they confirm that we have to integrate the private sector, the providers of environmental technology, more thoroughly into the public discourse,” explains Rocke. This is where the international IFAT cluster comes into play. It not only takes the necessary technologies and solutions to different countries. IFAT is also a key platform for exchange and knowledge transfer on an international level. The latter is decisive. After all, without knowledge and a higher level of environmental consciousness, the best technologies are of no benefit.

Environmental protection needs an interplay between humans and technology

Consumers alone are often given full responsibility for wasting resources and producing too much plastic garbage. If they would only buy, consume, and dispose of goods properly... According to Christian Rocke, that is only half the picture. “I think we can only be successful via an interplay between humans and technology. Of course everyone should act assustainably as possible. But state structures, taxation, and incentives are also necessary. The environmental technologies must step in where we can’t find a solution. Accordingly, we need to invest in environmental technologies and continuously develop them further”.

And for a long time, they have been ready to solve many of our problems. For example, water treatment plants can filter traces of drugs or microplastics out of wastewater. Today’s environmental technologies are already making a major contribution to saving the world. Rocke is convinced that we can win the battle: “However, we must act together, and above all, quickly”.

© Dirk Bruniecki

For Christian Rocke environmental protection is an affair of the heart. This is why he, his wife, and their five-year-old son focus on minimizing their ecological footprint in everyday life.

A recycling economy would benefit natural resources

From old to new: In the spirit of sustainability, we also need a well-functioning recycling economy. The “circle economy” will be a key focal area of IFAT 2020. “Basically, the resources that are available now are sufficient”, said Rocke. “We don’t have to extract anything else from the Earth”. Indeed, we are all living beyond our means when it comes to the consumption of water, land, wood, and clean air. To cover global demand for 2019, the Global Footprint Network says that 1.75 Earths would be necessary. That is why we should no longer use up raw materials linearly, but must switch to a loop of treatment and recycling.

This is also the reason why nobody in the industry uses the word “trash” any more. The things that we throw away every day are actually our most important source of raw materials. The goal is to use clever packaging design and new technologies to separate individual materials from each other and to treat the separated materials such that they can be used in new products. It would be possible to recycle plastics so they have the same quality they had in their original state, for example. After all, plastic is not an intrinsically bad material. The idea of using it only once is bad.

By Katarina Baric. The article was first published in our Messe München Magazine 02/2019.


IFAT is the world’s leading trade fair for water, sewage, waste and raw materials management. In 2018 more than 140,000 visitors from 162 countries and regions came to Munich. The next trade show in Munich: May 30 – June 3, 2022.

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