More and more companies are working on their own climate neutrality. It’s an issue that’s gaining momentum in the design sector too, because it’s not just the use of a product that affects its climate impact: the concept behind it plays a key role as well. In fact, says Germany’s Ministry of the Environment, up to 80% of a product’s effect on the environment is determined during the design phase. In short, design has a responsibility.

At Ottenwälder und Ottenwälder, climate protection has been an integral part of day-to-day business and life for a long time now.
Since 2021, the design agency has been not just climate-neutral but climate-positive.

How did that come about and what exactly does it mean?
We wanted to find out and set off to Schwäbisch Gmünd for an interview.

Petra Kurz-Ottenwälder and Max Ottenwälder
Photo: Armin Scharf

What prompted you to make your agency climate-neutral?
PETRA KURZ-OTTENWÄLDER: We’ve been focusing on the design of long-lasting products for 30 years. For us, sustainable design has always meant that our products don’t age in terms of their appearance, are made of long-lasting materials and are therefore used for a much longer time than fashion-motivated products, which soon start looking outdated.

Climate neutrality is a logical continuation of that tradition. In addition, we’ve been running our business with an eye to sustainability for a long time now: we keep distances short, use green electricity, reduce energy consumption and mainly order our materials from regional suppliers. And we’ve only got one company car. We travel by train for the most part anyway.
How complex was the road to climate neutrality in your case?
PETRA KURZ-OTTENWÄLDER: To begin with, we weren’t exactly sure where to start. So we brought a consulting agency called Fokus Zukunft on board, and they did a systematic analysis of our carbon footprint. Today we can honestly say that the process really isn’t as complicated as it seems.
And what concrete steps did you take to achieve climate neutrality?
PETRA KURZ-OTTENWÄLDER: To begin with, Fokus Zukunft’s strategy involves disproportionately high offsets for the carbon emissions they’ve calculated. In the next step, the aspects that we ourselves have a direct influence on are optimised. That can be seemingly simple measures like having our windows professionally sealed and applying heat-reflective film to them, which saves heating energy in winter and air-conditioning energy in summer. When we buy new appliances, power consumption is a decisive factor. Our coffeemaker has been in use for 25 years; whenever it breaks we have it repaired, and that saves resources too. We cook at the agency on a daily basis: vegetarian meals made with seasonal ingredients and local organic products. Every day a different person is in charge of making lunch for all of us – including for our clients, by the way.

Max Ottenwälder in conversation with Christiane Nicolaus, Design Center Baden-Württemberg
Photo: Armin Scharf

In the meantime you communicate that you’re climate-positive. What does that mean?
MAX OTTENWÄLDER: Rather than just setting our carbon footprint at zero, we offset many times the result of our carbon accounting process in keeping with Fokus Zukunft’s overcompensation approach. In our case, the offset payments go to various women’s projects – in Uganda for instance, where we help fund new cookstoves that produce fewer emissions and give women the opportunity to start their own business. For us, it’s important to be able to relate to the effect.
Do your clients benefit from your commitment?
MAX OTTENWÄLDER: Because we communicate our climate-positive status, various clients have already asked us about it. We get the impression that there’s a great deal of sensitivity towards this issue. The pressure increases when, as a supplier, you have to show your customers a climate strategy to stay in the running. We’re in a position to do that and point the way ahead.

CARMEN HINDERBERGER: By the way: climate commitment is a key factor when it comes to recruiting. It’s something students – i.e. tomorrow’s employees – are very sensitive towards. For them, climate neutrality is self-evident.
How does all that affect the design process?
PETRA KURZ-OTTENWÄLDER: According to Germany’s Ministry of the Environment, 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined by its design. So as designers, we’re definitely in a position to make a difference. I’d actually go so far as to say we have an obligation to. There’s an incredible amount we designers can do. And we always have to ask ourselves how a product, a piece of equipment or a system is made, and what from. What happens during its life cycle, what happens when it reaches the end of its useful life? Over the last 15 years we’ve been looking at the impact on the climate, now it’s very specifically about the effects on soil, water and air.

MAX OTTENWÄLDER: The earlier you’re involved, the more you can achieve. That’s not new, but it applies to climate protection as well. It’s also true to say that, thanks to our transfer thinking and the wide range of sectors we work for, we’re able to provide real impetus. That’s why we focus intense attention on our clients’ products and explore possibilities for optimisation right from the start, which then have an impact not just on the form but on functional, ecological and economic aspects as well.
For example?
MAX OTTENWÄLDER: For MAPAL, we developed the design language of its Uniq clamping chucks series strictly according to FEM calculations. As a result, the chuck is lighter and uses less energy when it’s in operation, but it’s also more dynamic and minimises vibrations. The more highly compacted surface results in a more brilliant shine and corrodes less. The details are equally important: the blue coating on the actuator screw reduces the force required and doubles as a design ident. All these are unique selling points that MAPAL customers benefit from. The resulting products aren’t any more expensive, but they are more energy-saving, more precise, longer lasting, easier to use and better looking. Apart from that, even just visually speaking, Uniq stands out from every other clamping chuck in the world. In combination with all the USPs, that really strengthens the brand. From a sustainability standpoint, it’s a win-win situation.

Better performance and branding  through sustainable design: the Uniq chuck for MAPAL.
Photo: Ottenwälder und Ottenwälder

Another example for ARAL shows how a significant design at the point of sale can lead to a fuel that emits 27% fewer pollutants selling successfully and making a positive contribution to the environment – even though it promises a higher performance. We still need fossil fuels for the time being.

PETRA KURZ-OTTENWÄLDER: Thanks to our sustainable design approach and many years of experience, we can make a positive contribution to the environment with every single design project we take on, regardless of its complexity and which sector is involved. And in order to convey all that, we founded “Alles im grünen Bereich”, a network that includes Fokus Zukunft as well as an innovation and a communications agency. With this constellation, we’re going a long way towards making SMEs in particular more aware of the connections, courses of action and requirements that sustainable design involves.

Less environmental impact thanks to a design element that has boosted sales of Ultimate with long-term success. The pump nozzle has been in service since 2004.
Photo: ARAL

AEG Lichttechnik Design, Triangel streetlight

Sustainable design that’s been proving its worth for decades – because neither the form nor the materials age. In service since 1990.
Photo: Ottenwälder und Ottenwälder


Founded in 1991, the eight-strong team led by Petra Kurz-Ottenwälder and Max Ottenwälder addresses a broad spectrum of projects in the field of industrial design, including complex machinery and equipment for the packaging industry and the medical technology sector. Their portfolio also includes lighting, charging stations and toothbrushes.

Photo: Ottenwälder und Ottenwälder