Design Can Change is a great resource that educates designers on the current changes we are seeing in the climate around the globe and the impact these changes will have on our future. They specifically link the core role of designers and the relationships they have with suppliers and printers to achieve outputs (examples outlined below).

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 5.31.57 pm
Image credit: Design Can Change

As designers, it is interesting to learn how we can both influence clients to become more sustainable and work with suppliers and printers to identify sustainable options. And as more people are demanding environmental accountability, it is crucial that designers endeavour to reduce their footprint and ensure they encourage and are able to provide sustainable options.

What is Cradle to Cradle design and how can you see this applied in the graphic design industry?
Cradle to Cradle identifies a unique approach to design whilst considering reducing environmental toxicity. It is identified in the 2002 book written by architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart, called ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things‘. It discusses how products should be created in accordance with the cradle-to-cradle life cycle model as opposed to the cradle-to-grave model – the core difference being the focus on a waste-free end result (as opposed to a disposal phase). Cradle to Cradle suggests that industries have a responsibility to protect and enrich the environmental ecosystem.

As a result, the Cradle to Cradle Certified product standard has been developed to guide both designers and manufacturers through an improvement process judged in accordance with five quality categories. These categories being:

  • Material health – knowing the chemical ingredients of every material in a product and optimising towards safer materials.
  • Material reutilisation – designing products using materials that come from and can safely return to nature.
  • Renewable energy and carbon management – foreseeing a future in which all manufacturing is powered by 100% clean renewable energy.
  • Water stewardship – treating clean water as a precious resource and essential human right.
  • Social fairness – designing product operations to honour people and natural systems affected by the creation, use, disposal and reuse.

Some examples of Cradle to Cradle Certified products are a plant-based laundry detergent, Mushroom Materials (seed husks and stalks combined with mushroom roots) in place of plastic foams such as Styrofoam, and bricks made from clay.

I can see Cradle to Cradle being applied successfully in the graphic design industry through having a solid sustainability strategy. New Paper Leaf, outlines some great considerations relevant to the graphic design industry.

Firstly, a designer can check whether the design solution must be a printed piece, or whether it can be digital (eg PDF/web-based). If it can be web-based, the designer can consider using web hosts that use renewable energy or who purchase carbon offset credits.

If a printed solution is necessary, there are many other considerations that can be taken into account to minimise environmental impact (or to aim for a neutral impact). Some examples include:

  • work with local printers to reduce emissions from transport/shipping,
  • maximise the use of the paper when designing (consider unnecessary excess trimming, bleed and the ability to print multiple pieces per page),
  • consider the next phase of use for the printed piece (could it have dual purpose or serve another purpose after primary use),
  • consider what the paper stock is made from (trees or straw, 100% recycled, has it been bleached, etc),
  • consider what inks and coating the paper stock and printer uses (vegetable-based inks rather than petroleum-based, UV coatings, varnishes, laminates and metallic inks can be non-recyclable),
  • consider what finishing processes the paper stock and printer uses (saddle-stitching is preferred to petroleum-based glues when binding),
  • does the chosen printer have a waste reduction strategy? (waterless or digital printing, FSC Certified, etc), and
  • if the item needs to be packaged, can it be packaged in a material Cradle to Cradle Certified?

A local graphic design studio (whose work I was browsing recently through their newsletter), is Papercut Graphic Design. They caught my eye as I noticed they have created their own ‘green tick’ (below).

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 8.36.29 pm
Image credit: Papercut

Even though they’re not at a Cradle to Cradle approach, they proudly identify “from the inception of the design, through the studio, in the choice of paper stock, to the selected printer and to the end of the lifecycle, the products sustainability and reduction of carbon footprint has been considered and managed for the least impact or longest life“. In addition to “…the design should be print friendly and the hosting should be powered by solar wind or a combination of both. Papercut manage the production process of web and print products through the studio so that the most sustainable requirements are met, resulting in the smallest carbon footprint” for web.

The Papercut Green Tick of Approval is a wonderful representation of Papercut’s commitment to sustainable business practices and design. They market the tick as something that both sets themselves apart from other design studios, as well as something that organisations should be eager to display. On reflection, I think having environmental and sustainability policies and strategies is a great asset for any freelancer, studio or organisation. It helps spread awareness, identifies accountability and influences change in the current climate.

In the Creative Gallery of Sustainable Communications, what ad has the most impact for you and why?
When considering the ads most relevant to graphic design, the below ad really speaks to me.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 10.01.39 pm
Image credit: United Nations Environment Programme

The ad’s headline is “A perfect packaging doesn’t involve” and shows icons of water, oil, hazardous chemicals, petroleum, trees, carbon dioxide and animals.

I like it as it identifies the fact that nature can produce perfect packaging itself. It doesn’t need the shiniest, sturdiest, most-cushioned, easily-produced, man-made material. The world often thinks man can better the Earth, but it is already pretty spectacular to begin with – all we need to do is look to nature for our solutions.

Packaging is required on a temporary basis when comparing it to the product it holds, and is used to contain, protect, present, identify, inform and advertise. Even though it is important, the negatives can outweigh the positives when we produce tonnes of excess and non-recyclable packaging.

Environment Victoria outlines that the packaging process already takes a lot of energy, water and natural resources to produce, and identifies that when we throw away packaging after a single-use, these natural resources are lost. They also advise that in Australia, we’ve doubled the amount of natural resources we use to produce packaging in the last 30 years – that’s only produce! That does not mention the effect of the litter it produces and the earth and wildlife it destroys post-use.

I find it quite disappointing to learn this, as I don’t think environmental destruction was a consideration before these types of processes became the norm. Upon reflection, it seems having environmental accountability is a commodity and not something everyone should be doing out of responsibility. This is saddening and I am concerned about my previous ignorance.

List five things a graphic designer can do in their practice to decrease their impact on the environment.
After conducting my research, it is actually hard to limit myself to only five. Some steps I can personally take would be:

  • to suggest alternatives to printed materials and explore whether the clients needs could be met through a digital outcome,
  • to consider the emissions of unnecessary shipping/transport and use local printers,
  • to check what paper stock and inks the local printer uses and discourage unnecessary varnishes and coatings,
  • to maximise the use of the printed material, and
  • to check whether web hosts use renewable energy to power their servers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *