Genius of Play Ambassador Spotlight: Malte Niebelschuetz, Founder of Shore Buddies

gop-play-ambassador-shore-buddiesJuly 13, 2021 | Malte Niebelschuetz is the creator & founder of Shore Buddies, a line of stuffed animals made from recycled plastic bottles that teaches kids about the dangers of plastic pollution for marine animals and empowers them to take action for a more sustainable future. Toy News Tuesday editors caught up with Niebelschuetz about his new role as a Play Ambassador for The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative and why he believes play and sustainability go hand in hand.

Q1: How did you get your start in the toy industry and what you are doing now?

Niebelschuetz: I had a very random start in the toy industry. Before moving from Germany to San Diego in 2011, I always thought California was at the forefront of the green revolution − that everyone was eco-friendly, everyone recycled, and everyone took care of the planet. However, I discovered that my understanding of sustainability was actually greater than many of my neighbors, especially when it came to single-use plastics.

Inspired by a line of Patagonia jackets made entirely of recycled soda pop bottles, I learned that you can make fabrics from recycled plastics, which ultimately led to the creation of Shore Buddies.

Q2: Sustainability plays a big role in Shore Buddies’ work, so how do you think being a Genius of Play Ambassador can help spread the word about sustainability in a playful way?

Niebelschuetz: With the current discussions around sustainability in the toy industry, I saw a big piece missing from the conversation. While most companies focus on how to make the packaging or the toys themselves more sustainable, I want to help others understand sustainability through play itself.

Incorporating environmental values in early childhood development will not only lead to a more sustainable lifestyle for generations to come, but also might inspire a child to become the next Dr. Sylvia Earle (American marine biologist) or to invent solutions to tackle global environmental challenges in the future.

Q3: Play benefits our emotional and physical wellbeing at any age, so what steps have you taken to make play a part of your daily routine both in and outside of work?

Niebelschuetz: I try to have fun with everything I do. When you are seeking fun, play comes naturally. Kids are always in that natural mode and constantly looking for fun but as adults, we somehow lose that at some point. Remember that fun and play are nothing to be ashamed of and connecting with your inner child on a daily basis is important. An active lifestyle and playing sports in my free time is important to me, but play doesn't stop there. At work, we play all the time, too. Celebration dances, trivia nights, and other fun games help us to stay connected as a team.

Q4: What is your favorite toy and/or play memory?

Niebelschuetz: I always had my favorite stuffed animals that I took with me everywhere I went. And they were not small – I had an over-sized polar bear and penguin that always needed to come with me. I was amazed by the fact that these two animals would never get along in the wild, or even meet each other, but the three of us were best friends. I enjoyed play that allowed room for imagination the most. Later, I enjoyed playing with LEGOs and building miniature train worlds. However, they rarely were built according to the package instructions. I liked to create my own things.

Q5: How do you think we as a society can better incorporate play into our lives?

Niebelschuetz: : Don't take life too seriously. Play is wonderful because there is no right or wrong to do it as long as you are having fun. When we play, we are not worrying about the outcome but rather enjoying the moment of happiness. Detaching from the outcome is a great way to start playing daily. At work, make your sales calls a game, for example. See how many you can make a day and enjoy the process of it. In your daily routine, make boring things fun by adding play. Making breakfast? Juggle those eggs for 30 seconds before you whisk them up for your omelet.

I believe that happiness is not something we need to seek out, but rather the natural state we should have all the time. We just need to reconnect with it.

This interview is part of an ongoing series that spotlights the members of The Genius of Play Ambassadors program, who serve as play thought leaders within their own professional networks as well as key supporters and spokespersons for ongoing Genius of Play initiatives.