Tobias Daur wants to do things that have never been done before. It’s about orientation, ethics, lifestyle changes and design as a philosophy. Tobias is an autodidactic in design who studied philosophy, political science, sociology and communication. In 2009 he started the project “lands – next generation concepts” and he works in a team in Münster. I was able to have an interesting conversation with Tobias during which he told me about what motivates and inspires him in his work and what issues he is concerned with. His professional background is the story of a transition to more ecological responsibility in design and the integration of sustainable aspects into one’s profession.
Sustainability as a business strategy
Tobias laughed when I asked him how he got started on the issue of sustainability. He didn’t start with sustainability, it was rather a more profound topic that had the consequence of sustainability. As a kid growing up in the 1980s, he experienced the freedom movements, anti nuclear energy movement, the NATO Double Track Decision, the Cold War, Chernobyl and forest decline. The atmosphere was both that of doom and that of “save-the-world” and at an early age, this moved him to want to get active and involved. “If you are generally the type of person who takes responsibility in the situations he finds himself in, then you can change things. You have to take action. And if you do, then it becomes a normal way of dealing with things.” Today, you would call that sustainability. Tobias told me about a book that he read in the late 1980s which really made an impression on him: “The imperative of responsibility” by Hans Jonas, written in 1979. Jonas was the first person at the time to explain that ethical behaviour is not only about the behaviour itself, but also about its implications, which was a new idea at the time. These days, Tobias is busy saving the world, as he says with a wink, which is about more than sustainability. His work philosophy relates to the seven pillars of sustainability and shows just how profoundly he lives sustainability in his professional life. He likes to find out what happens when you live this mindset, how one’s own attitude develops when you have the courage to do certain things.
The Ecological Side of Sustainability in Design
For Tobias, it’s important not to harm anyone. For design that means that you have to think about what happens if you want to have something printed. Energy and ink are used and the printer on the machine gets damaged with chemicals. So you can try to print in the most responsible way possible. He was able to find a printing shop for his team in Münster that was sustainably oriented and was willing to work with Tobias on his endeavour. They started with the paper and later also with eco-ink and solvent-free ink. The ink really wasn’t very good at the beginning and no one wanted to use it because a lot of paper had to be thrown away. Tobias wanted to try it out anyhow and he and the printer stood at the printing machine for days on end trying to get good results with the ink on open-pore natural paper. Not only that, he calculated the maximum utility for a print sheet down to the millimetre in order to create the least amount of waste possible. He also spoke to the representatives from the paper company to discuss what the paper was made of, where the raw materials for the paper come from and how the paper is bleached. Here, Tobias sees an opportunity to have an influence on the process. If the representative wants to sell you paper, he has to be able to discuss these things with you and he will have to ask his boss all of these questions in order to give you feedback. And with that, you have started something. It’s wonderful when you get great results in the end.
This kind of orientation doesn’t limit itself to profession life. You deal with the shareholders you work with and the responsibility applies to every area. “A good designer is someone who philosophically questions everything before he realises his concept.” As designers we influence the world more than we think. We have the say in how things are made, which materials are used and which form they shall take on, we decide if they should be useful and helpful. Design is a key issue when asking how we want to shape our society, how communication works and what people respond to.
The Social Side of Business
Tobias Dauer explained the four aspects of the social pillar of sustainability: Personal orientation and development, mutual support for one another and empathy for the clients.
The orientation of one’s work depends on which clients you take on. In the field of design, that means you want to support not only the client, but also the idea. In the end, you supply the client with everything you know and have learned, and you support them in becoming successful. As a consultant, Tobias can recommend focussing on the essence of what you can do and what you like to do. By getting a clearer picture of your own profile, you can reach clients who are looking for exactly what you have to offer. For example, Tobias oriented his “lands” project towards the LOHAS movement (lifestyles of health and sustainability), towards people who share his ethical values. That way, you can implement things that are important to you into your professional career and attract customers that wouldn’t have been aware of you before. Besides your normal work activity, you can go to different events, not necessarily to gain more clients, but to sharpen your profile, meet new people who share your values and to further develop your awareness. Often times, this leads to networking. An example of what that can look like in the field of sustainability is the association dasselbe-in-gruen.de . where companies come together to encourage an exchange of ideas and to facilitate networking, strengthen marketing and with that the green economy.
Designers work with people that want to communicate something to the public about their company. They themselves often don’t really know exactly where they stand on certain issues and have to ask themselves what they represent: How do I treat my employees? How do I treat the environment? How does our production work? How do we work? Tobias started offering workshops to smaller companies in order to find out just these things. He includes the employees and strengthens their ethical awareness. In the best case, everyone involved shares the same orientation and values.
Responsibility in the Economy
It doesn’t always have to be about success and making the most amount of money possible, you can also invest time and energy into mutual support. Nowadays, there are economies based on cooperation and shared values. If you focus on the common good, then you can be useful to others. In order to do that, you have to think outside of the box and develop responsible behaviour, then the needs of the employees, the supplier and the clients become more important. Tobias is an active member of the “Gemeinwohlökonomie Münsterland”, or Economy of the Common Good in Münsterland, in order to spread just this idea. In the economy, you can find this idea in “social businesses” such as Muhammad Yunus’ (Bangladesh) grameen-bank.net concept of giving women micro-credits for their business ideas. The idea is that they will be able to pay back the loans from the money they earned in sales and the rest can be used for the further development of the company in order to eventually become independent. Additionally, they would be able to pay school fees for their children and slowly work their way out of poverty. Examples like this show the power that entrepreneurial behaviour can have. Ideas can gain strength and aren’t dependent on policies.
Tobias Daur encouraged me to orientate my own work towards the common good. Even if a consistently sustainable work method seems difficult at the beginning, you should have the courage to go down that path anyway. You can make a good product, save resources, pay employees well and still be profitable.
I would like to thank Tobias for the inspiring conversation. We also talked about the film entitle Tomorrow about post-growth economy, about the lecture on youtube about the beginning and the end of capitalism, Anfang und Ende des Kapitalismus, the Sustainable Development Goals and lifestyle transformations. Tobias regularly goes to events and is surely happy to discuss any of these topics, should you meet him.