To make the world not only more sustainable, but also more beautiful, the platform “Aware” is breaking new ground. The two founders Kim Fischer and Lena Schrum explain why bans are counterproductive and why it is more fun to focus on changing awareness, information and education.
Interview: Thomas Wagner.
Putting the question with Lena Schrum and Kim N. Fischer from aware
Aware – conscious, knowing, attentive – the very name of your platform points to its claim. Awareness, conscious perception, attention – all big terms. You focus on conscious change or change through more awareness, are you idealists?
Lena Schrum: (laughs) Absolutely right, we want to create awareness for a sustainable lifestyle, for sustainable business models and sustainable decisions. But that doesn’t make us idealists. We started Aware because we wanted to make a difference, because we want to use our resources, our expertise, to help tackle the climate crisis. And for us, awareness is the first step towards change.
How did the name “Aware” come about?
Kim Fischer: I found it difficult when it was said that everything that happens on the topic of sustainability has to be associated with the word “green”. Green, Green, Green, Green – Green Economy, Green Tech and so on. I found that problematic because it’s about much more than the topic of “green”. It is really about awareness. In this situation, I was sitting with friends – with architects, with creative people – and they said: Hey, actually it’s about mindfulness in general, that’s a much bigger word. And that’s how we came up with “Aware”.
In what ways do you think you can change people’s awareness – towards more sustainability and mindfulness?
Kim Fischer: In my opinion, everything stands and falls with enlightenment and education. And transparency, of course. You have to give people a platform where they can inform themselves. And you have to give them guidance on how to achieve these goals. For me, one of the most important points is: How can the issue of sustainability be made sustainable? And that stands and falls with what you know about it and how you can apply your knowledge.
Lena Schrum: Change should not always have this gravity. There should rather be information about such things in a positive, life-affirming way and not always only emphasising how difficult and how severe the situation we are in is.
Less dystopia, more utopia? According to the motto: We manage to change things through more awareness?
Lena Schrum: Correct.
Kim Fischer: Above all, with something positive and with a certain lightness. The topic of sustainability is far too often confused with prohibitions: you mustn’t, you shouldn’t, so the topic always has a somewhat negative connotation. We try – you can also see this in our aesthetic approach – to lighten up the whole thing and say: it’s fun to be able to live sustainably. We start with small steps. But if everyone takes a few small steps every day, it’s a huge thing. That’s what “generating impact” means. That is also a kind of “movement”.
According to their website, they want to accelerate innovation. You talk about progress as the most important yardstick. What does progress mean to you in times of climate crisis and environmental destruction?
Lena Schrum: Sustainability is changing. We are moving from an individual lifestyle to a collective consciousness. And this fresh zeitgeist requires new market logics, new customer needs and disrupts existing business models. This will not happen overnight, but it is a global transformation. And at the end of the day, we can’t imagine anything more exciting than being able to participate in this social change and help shape a global identity.
Kim Fischer: It is, as Lena said, totally important to create awareness, to shift a mindset, to create change.
Where is the most movement at the moment in the direction you are propagating?
Kim Fischer: On the business side or on the end consumer side?
On both sides.
Kim Fischer: On the entrepreneurial side, there are companies that have to change one way or another. The mobility industry, for example, has to become sustainable, it has no other chance. It is noticeable that small and medium-sized enterprises are driving a lot forward, also because management is often passed on to the next generation – and the younger people have a completely different mindset and are less afraid of change. In middle management, you still often hear: It always worked well the way it used to; the issue of sustainability, oh, that’ll be gone soon anyway.
Kim Fischer: Yes, still. I think modern management is driving a lot of things forward – and that can be seen above all in medium-sized businesses, and in the sectors that have to. And you know which sectors we are talking about, from automotive to pharmaceuticals.
Are SMEs more flexible and willing to change?
Kim Fischer: Definitely, also in terms of structure.
Lena Schrum: Particularly in family businesses, such values are in focus when the generations change. It is very noticeable that everyone wants to change something.
Is a consumption-based lifestyle also changing?
Lena Schrum: There’s a lot happening right now. Three or four years ago, when there were no Amazons or Googles of sustainability, it was a bit more difficult to find sustainable alternatives – even ones where you don’t have to compromise on aesthetics. Today, there are plenty of options and you can make your lifestyle sustainable. This will continue to increase.
Sustainability is now talked about everywhere. How do you give the term a clearer profile?
Lena Schrum: Sustainability should generally be viewed holistically. We have the social perspective, we have the economic perspective and the ecological perspective. We try to cover all of these in our Aware portfolio, be it through the topics we cover, or through the individuals or companies we work with. We have to try to involve everyone as much as possible. Only together can we solve the major climate crisis.
Kim Fischer: We also have the Aware Academy. It ensures that employees of companies are trained on the topic of sustainability so that they can shape their lives sustainably. The more companies book the Academy with us, the more people are trained and the more impact can be generated.
“Sustainability should be viewed holistically. We have the social perspective, we have the economic perspective and the ecological perspective.”
— Lena Schrum
What does that mean in concrete terms? What do you learn at the Academy?
Kim Fischer: If you go to the IAA [International Motor Show Germany], for example, you will mainly find people there who have something to say about mobility, maybe something else about smart city issues. But it’s important that different sectors that don’t come together by themselves exchange ideas on the topic of sustainability. There are some who are already further along and others who are not yet so far – both can exchange their experiences. This knowledge transfer, this togetherness and this sparring are extremely important. Where else does a company like Bayer meet with architects like Graft, or Henkel with Würth? We make sure that exactly these players meet with us.
Does competition between companies not play a role in this?
Kim Fischer: They think it’s great because they say: We can exchange synergies here. We think it’s great that we can just meet here. In the past, they used to fight a bit – and nowadays it’s a cooperation. Of course, the companies also know that we all have to pull together to be able to generate impact.
In addition to sustainability, you also focus on aesthetics. What do you mean when you talk about aesthetics? Perception, beauty, good taste?
Kim Fischer: Aesthetics is definitely a distinguishing feature. That’s what Lena and I noticed. There are a lot of things that bear this eco-stamp. And this alternative, this extreme, this pointing the finger at people – that’s not positive. That’s why we wanted to build a platform that we like ourselves – logically. If you want to make sustainability socially acceptable, it is important that it also looks nice. It should be fun to be on the website and look at the fact that sustainability is part of a positive path. Aesthetics are of course super hard to describe and extremely individual.
Lena Schrum: It’s very subjective. (laughs)
“If you want to make sustainability socially acceptable, it is important that it also looks nice. It should be fun to be on the website and look at the fact that sustainability is part of a positive path.”
— Kim Fischer
Do you help companies make sustainable products more aesthetically pleasing?
Kim Fischer: That’s exactly what we help with.
And how do you succeed in creating awareness for good taste?
Lena Schrum: I think with aesthetics or beauty, it is also this feeling that we want to convey with it. How do you manage to package heavy and important content in such a way that people enjoy consuming it, that they enjoy dealing with the topic. Also, that one has the feeling of wanting to be part of this movement. I think it’s more a feeling that we want to trigger.
Design has always been accused of only caring about the beautiful form, but neglecting social and political aspects. How do you want to resolve this contradiction? Is it enough to make sustainability fun?
Lena Schrum: The fact that we are so strong visually opens many doors. This is confirmed by the feedback from companies, who say, finally someone who has understood how to visually implement our content in a beautiful way. So far, the topic of sustainability has often been addressed by associations and politics, and I think it lacked lightness and visual quality. It is certainly not enough to package something beautifully, the content must also be right. I find the bridge between the two especially in the design industry and the aesthetics industry. We have so many partners from design and architecture in our community who are very strong in terms of aesthetics and content in relation to sustainability and who manage not to push design towards the alternative corner.
You can tell you are optimistic that the people you bring together will interact in such a way that products become sustainable and beautiful.
Kim Fischer: That would be best case, of course.
What discussions do you have when you talk to companies about aesthetics?
Kim Fischer: Of course, there is also the issue of margin. Of course, beautiful things cost here and there. (laughs) But I think many companies are first concerned with where they place the issue of sustainability in the first place: Who is responsible for it? What is the strategy? How can the goals be achieved as quickly as possible, how can products be made sustainable? Everything that concerns the value chain. The topic of aesthetics is of course great for reaching the target groups, but in my opinion many are not even that far yet.
Lena Schrum: Our first goal is actually to give guidance to companies and individuals on their way to sustainability. We have not yet reached the point where we say we are offering them guidance on their way to aesthetics.
Isn’t your approach extraordinary precisely because it combines ethics and aesthetics? Is the beautiful also the good?
Kim Fischer: In my opinion, many can’t do that yet. They are not far enough yet. Of course, the automotive industry is already doing this very well, think of the new BMW iX, for example. Here, sustainability and beauty are combined.
Will a world that is managed more sustainably actually be more beautiful?
Kim Fischer: Ich glaube, das wollen alle. Es geht weniger um das Ob und mehr um das Wie. Und da kommt wiederum unsere Plattform ins Spiel, wo wir sagen: Schaut euch mal Studio Faust an. Oder: Schaut euch mal Goodpatch an, wo es um Planet-Centric Design geht. Vieles steht und fällt auch hier mit dem Netzwerk. Viele wollen sich verändern, wissen aber nicht wie.
At the beginning of our conversation, you spoke about strengthening collective consciousness. Does that mean that for you sustainability is another word for strengthening the collective mind?
Kim Fischer: They ask really good questions. (laughs)
Lena Schrum: Sustainability is our future. I think we have to say that clearly. And part of that is that we awaken the collective spirit, that we all work together on this challenge. Whether that is public spirit or collectivism, at the end of the day it just means: Let’s all tackle it together, because we are the last generation that can do it.
Kim Fischer: In this respect, we are of course also a benchmark because we combine sustainability and aesthetics – and many people think that’s great.
The climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. We will only be able to solve it together. The start-up aware_ The Platform aims to build an operational system that helps organisations and individuals make better and more conscious decisions.
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Discover all award-winning projects of the winners of the German Design Awards 2022.
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