NEW STANDARD.S’ Maximilian Mauracher on pushing creativity in the fight against climate change
Between March 2021 and April 2022, in collaboration with Two°Creative, we invited designers to redesign the confusing Green Dot symbol to better represent its original meaning. Continuing on from this open brief, The Change We Need is an interview series exploring the design industry’s role in the fight against climate change. For the second entry, we had a chat with Maximilian Mauracher – the Co-founder of Berlin-based, sustainability-focused design studio NEW STANDARD.S.
EM Can you tell us about NEWSTANDARD.S and your role there?
MM I‘m the co-founder and design lead at NEW STANDARD.S, a studio we started mid last year – it‘s pretty much our anniversary right now! An old friend of mine, Monika, who’s been investigating sustainability on both a personal and a corporate level for a while, and I decided it was about time to start working together. We didn‘t overthink it and quickly set up a website to get in touch with our first clients. And it pulled off quite quickly, despite COVID and companies being slower than usual in making decisions.
Now we‘re working with a variety of clients from different fields: government, hospitality, even heavy industry. For me personally, the studio is a bit of a professional reorientation. I still do a lot of design work, especially branding and campaigns, but I’m learning so much on the strategic side every day – which is a real pleasure. Though I’ve studied I’d consider myself self-taught, and now I’m kinda back in learning mode. A new field and so much to explore. And it’s pretty great to be able to educate clients and their customers, too. It feels good to not have discussions about ‘making the logo bigger‘ anymore but conversations that feel more substantial.
It’s pretty great to be able to educate clients.
EM As a creative, do you think you have a role in the fight against climate change, and if so, what is that role?
MM Absolutely, we all have a role in this fight! From big corporates, a lot of effort is being put into communicating that we should all lower our carbon footprint individually – of course going vegan, flying less and buying secondhand is important, but it‘s equally important to raise awareness among others, to demand change on a political level and to hold companies accountable for their impact. That‘s where I wanted to get active, so I joined a new climate party in Berlin (fingers crossed for the upcoming elections) and started the studio – to be able to give my work more purpose and to use my skills and talents to contribute to the fight against climate change. Joining this global community has been great, there are so many passionate people with groundbreaking ideas!
EM How do you incorporate environmental considerations into your design process?
MM It‘s all about using as little resources as possible, ideally no new resources at all. Which means we do consider the environmental impact of everything we do. With e.g. printed matter it‘s a question of material, the producer and what power the production is running on, but also design decisions like the format, use of colour and so on.
Last year, when producing our first own product, a calendar, we put a lot of effort into finding the perfect format, resulting in as little paper cut-off as possible. We also got in touch with a producer of algae ink – therefore we could only print in black, but in general, I enjoy working with creative limitations so this has been rather helpful than restricting. Working planet-centred and going for the more sustainable option often means the less easy option, I agree – but it is pushing creativity and that‘s what we strive for.
As we‘re usually part of the strategic process, too, we can influence the final product much more. We‘re not just getting a brief and the content but can step in at a much earlier stage, like questioning if it needs something printed at all. As designers, we often take too much for granted and repeat processes because we’re used to them. Time to rethink our practice!
EM When did you first start being environmentally conscious in relation to your work?
MM It was two years ago: I was working for a spatial design studio in Berlin and we were constantly creating and producing extremely resource-heavy event settings, stages or fair booths. We worked on projects for months, in the end, they were up for a day or a few – so much work, so many thoughts, so many resources, went into something so short-living, it was a pity. There’s slowly but surely more awareness for this in the field as clients demand it, but still: design is a highly wasteful field, unfortunately.
EM What could the design industry do more of or be better at in the fight against climate change?
MM It’s all about communication, consideration and contribution. Let’s talk transparently about the industry’s role and its big impact on the use of resources. And let’s use design as a tool to communicate about the climate crisis as well: let’s create awareness among our clients and their stakeholders.
We tend to think that we can’t make any change because we’re ‘only’ designers. Yet, our clients trust us and listen to our recommendations, which means we can influence their decisions and make a change by pushing them for more climate action. By gaining expertise in the field, by being up-to-date not about visual trends but what opportunities and innovations there are in the field of design, there‘s so much potential for each of us to make a contribution!
Design has always been a driving force of innovation – nowadays it’s especially students who are extremely interested in researching and creating new materials, in becoming part of the circular economy and in making a change through design. Let‘s amplify these voices!
The symbol is always being used together with a QR code.
EM What is the thinking behind your submission to our brief to redesign The Green Dot symbol?
MM So far, the symbol doesn‘t really have a function. It doesn‘t have a clear message: not telling the consumer whether the packaging (which probably often gets mistaken with the product) is recycled or recyclable, and nothing about the packaging‘s material or properties. It‘s simply a badge companies use to show they paid for its disposal.
First, we wanted the symbol to represent this financial meaning – coin vs. trash – but also enhance it from a visual to something functional. That‘s why in application, on packaging, the symbol is always being used together with a QR code. It makes the packaging traceable and can save information about the packaging and its journey until it turns into waste. For companies, this is relevant sooner or later anyway, as they have to step up their game in terms of waste management and being able to report about it in detail to take the next steps into a circular economy. Nowadays nobody really knows which journey our waste takes and where it ends up – our symbol could change that.
Like this, The Green Dot symbol becomes an opportunity to collect relevant data, but also to increase transparency for the consumer as well. Think of this: not sure how to dispose of a certain package? Scan the QR code and you‘ll see a recommendation for your specific country as well as more detailed information about material, provenance and producer.
Fast forward: in a circular economy, waste will turn into precious material we need to know more about to not just recycle it (which is often not resulting in the same material but in thermal recycling – burning it) but being able to really reuse it in the best way possible.
We turned The Green Dot symbol from an icon without meaning (but a lot of Greenwashing) into the opposite: enabling change in how we see, process and value waste.
PS – some might see an abstract human in there. Right, because there’s action needed: in the end, it’s us who need to put packaging with The Green Dot in the bin and make it end up in the material cycle.
EM Prior to tackling the brief, how aware were you of the meaning of the symbol?
MM The symbol is ubiquitous and we‘ve seen it of course – living and working in Germany, the home of The Green Dot, the symbol is everywhere. Yet, like most people we were not sure what it exactly meant and had something with being recycled or recyclable in mind – well, now we know better ;)