DO CLIMATE: “It’s about a different mindset towards the way you do business!”

Interview: Armin Scharf
Photo: Do Climate


It seems easy enough for a company to achieve climate neutrality – or at least that’s what all the advertising suggests. But that’s not the case, says Dr Odette Deuber – ultimately, there’s a great deal more to it than you might first think. And that means adopting a more far-reaching perspective.

Many small and medium-sized enterprises, including design agencies, are facing the question as to what their own climate neutrality actually means – and, of course, how it can be achieved. One thing is clear: it’s an issue that belongs right at the top of the business agenda, regardless of whether the company is in the retail, production or service sector. That’s the only way businesses can successfully prepare for the market changes to come. Because that’s what tomorrow’s market expects – whether it’s B2C or B2B. “Only by consistently gearing your thinking towards climate protection and sustainability can you hope to develop tomorrow’s products today,” says Dr Odette Deuber. The environmental engineer is the owner of DO Climate in Tübingen, which advises clients – mostly owner-managed SMEs – on climate and sustainability strategies.
Dr Odette Deuber, DO Climate

More and more companies are calling themselves climate-neutral. But when are you truly climate-neutral?

DR ODETTE DEUBER: Even though everybody is talking about it, there’s no common understanding of what the term actually means. That’s partly also because its meaning is in the process of changing. In the past, the procedure for becoming climate-neutral was clear. I calculate my company’s footprint and reduce carbon emissions wherever possible. I offset the remainder with certificates that support emission reduction projects in developing and emerging countries. In principle, it was pretty simple. But the point is actually for a company to become climate-neutral along the entire length of the value chain by its own efforts, i.e. without offsets. In other words, the goal is that our business activities should no longer cause any greenhouse gas emissions – or even better, capture them. That’s precisely what we need creative design solutions for. 


So climate neutrality isn’t that simple after all?

DR ODETTE DEUBER: If a company is going to become climate neutral by its own efforts, it needs verifiable climate goals. It has to work out what the Paris climate goal, the 2-degree goal and the 1.5-degree goal mean for itself and its value chain. That goes hand in hand with another question: what should the company look like in the year 2035? Is it actually possible to become climate-neutral with the existing business model and products? Carbon accounting is important – on the one hand for determining the status quo, and on the other as a basis for developing the roadmap to climate neutrality. In addition to technical measures, there needs to be a special focus on building awareness and communication as well. There are always employees who want to contribute to greater sustainability and have creative ideas. What if the members of staff who are enthusiastic about the subject put their heads together? How about a joint brainstorming session on climate neutrality with your clients? That gives rise not just to new perspectives and collaborations, but to what we want: innovation.


Once you’ve reached climate-neutral status, are you done? Is that enough?

DR ODETTE DEUBER: Strictly speaking, an individual company can’t actually become climate-neutral right now because that would require socio-ecological transformation, i.e. the transformation of agriculture, energy and mobility. Climate protection is only the beginning; it actually all comes down to sustainability. Here too, the question arises as to how my company can survive in a sustainable world. Today we’re talking about climate neutrality but in five years at the latest it’s the United Nation’s sustainable development goals, or SDGs, that will be uppermost. Then we won’t be judging companies by their climate goals but by what they contribute to a sustainable economy and the common good.


So what do the companies of the future look like?

DR ODETTE DEUBER: Nowadays, a company that says it’s climate-neutral and wants to be considered credible has already calculated its carbon footprint and has both a roadmap to climate neutrality and high awareness of the issue. It creates transparency in its supply chain, ensures compliance with sustainability standards within its sphere of influence and bases its product developments on circularity, for instance by using regenerative materials that capture carbon. That way, business owners become part of the solution. They are socially engaged, because the socio-ecological transformation can only succeed if everyone pulls together.

The future will belong to companies who initiate new, sustainable business models in conjunction with their suppliers and customers. It’s about a different mindset towards the way you do business. At first glance, that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with climate protection, but indirectly it does.


Let’s go back to carbon offsetting, which sometimes seems like the modern-day equivalent of buying indulgences.

DR ODETTE DEUBER: I wouldn’t say that. At least not if companies have done everything they can to reduce their emissions and only offset the unavoidable remainder. I see offsets as an investment in sustainable development as well – a transfer of knowledge, a way to strengthen local value creation and education in developing and emerging countries. Nowadays the offset projects are rated by their contribution to the SDGs, not just in terms of climate protection. However, the offset market is undergoing radical change right now. That’s because the Paris agreement resulted in developing and emerging countries getting their own emissions and reduction targets. So the additionality of offset projects is no longer a given. This change hasn’t really made itself felt in the market yet.


Can an SME do its own carbon accounting or does it make better sense to get more wide-ranging advice?

DR ODETTE DEUBER: A carbon footprint should always be calculated on the basis of international standards. Service providers who specialise in climate protection issues or web-based tools can help with that.

In my experience, however, if you want to encourage people to act it helps to fill the path to climate neutrality with life – by building awareness, ensuring an exchange of ideas within the team and telling stories that move and motivate people. That’s why bringing a consultant on board is a good option, and it also shines a light on what’s at stake, what can be gained on the way, how to be optimally effective and who has already set out on this path. That creates a concrete picture of a shapeable future.


Design agencies don’t usually produce actual physical products themselves. And yet sustainability should still be part of their agenda. Why?

DR ODETTE DEUBER: Because they’re in a position to change the mindset of everybody they come into contact with through creative ideas and communication. They’re the ones who develop tomorrow’s products. They can encourage people by showing them how a climate-friendly, sustainable product benefits their quality of life. They develop things that spark enthusiasm and optimism. That’s how they can influence the socio-ecological transformation with their creativity.

Quite apart from all that, a new generation is embarking on its working life – and one of the things today’s youngsters judge employers by is their approach to sustainability. They expect more than a quick fix that seemingly makes a company climate-neutral overnight – they’re interested in the mindset and how it’s translated into practice. And in whether the company contributes to the common good. It’s all about attitude, about a company’s approach to society and nature.


We normally think in terms of gradual optimisations. But a transformation is more than that.

DR ODETTE DEUBER: You’re right. We need to set our sights on the goal and be more radical, more disruptive in our thinking. Tried and tested things that have seemingly proved their worth need to be scrutinised with fresh eyes. And we should be willing to change our behaviour from one day to the next. We can do it if we want to. Role models are important for that, including at company level. We have to listen, learn from one another and realise not just what’s at stake but what we stand to gain as well. Together.


  1. Buy electricity from renewable sources – preferably from a provider who is making a significant contribution to the energy transition
  2. Save heating energy through lower room temperatures and selective heating
  3. Consider how employees get to work and encourage car sharing, public transport usage or company bike schemes
  4. Start thinking about vegetarian or vegan offerings for in-house food services and at events, source locally when possible
  5. Sustainable procurement: is the supplier or manufacturer part of the solution?
  6. Reduce resource consumption
  7. Pay true prices
  8. Always factor in climate relevance when making investment decisions, be mindful of true prices
  9. Convince others to become socially engaged – in your private sphere, at the company itself, but also in your professional sphere


DO Climate was founded by Dr Odette Deuber in 2020.The five-strong team of climate protection and sustainability consultants advises SMEs and organisations on transformation. From 2013 to 2019, Odette Deuber helped establish the KlimAktiv GmbH thinktank as managing partner and is on the board of the German Federation of Sustainable Economy (Bundesverband Nachhaltige Wirtschaft / BNW).