How to Think Like a Sustainable Graphic Designer

Sustainable may be the latest buzz word, but it’s hardly a new concept. Just like when we were kids, it’s all about reducing pollution. As graphic designers, both web and print, we have an incredible amount of power to reduce any company’s impact on the environment. Just think about these statistics:

So while that may be daunting, if you create printed materials, host on servers, or consume electronics, then you have the ability to improve the state of our environment drastically. All it takes is sustainable design thinking that takes the entire lifecycle of a product into account:

Step 1: Consider the source. What material are you choosing? If you’re printing, are you using FSC paper, recycled content, or tree free paper? For a website, can you find an eco-host that uses refurbished servers, renewable electricity, or carbon offsets? When buying electronics, can you find one made of recycled materials, or a refurbished or used model?

Step 2: What is the manufacturing process? Can you use natural inks instead of petroleum and avoid toxic laminates and coatings? Are you using as much of the press sheet at possible to reduce paper waste? Can you avoid plastics in favor of glass, metal, or paper? Was it manufactured using renewable energy?

Step 3: How will it be used? Can you create a reusable container? How much of the package will be thrown away? How much energy will the product consume? Is a website interface easy to use so that the user can find the information they need in a minimal amount of time?

Step 4: How will it be disposed of? Does the manufacturer of this electronic item have a take-back program so that it can be recycled? Can the printed item or package be recycled easily? Can you use a common 1 or 2 plastic that is recyclable in most communities?

Does sustainable design thinking take more time? Absolutely, but it’s worth it. Reducing and eliminating pollution is not about being trendy or joining Greenpeace. It’s about taking care of yourself. If you like clean air, clean water, and clean land, then being sustainable in your design ultimately benefits you. The happy consumers and more profitable clients are just a bonus.

To learn even more, join us for the Sustainable Design Thinking event April 14th in Madison, WI where you can get all the tools to become the ultimate eco-designer.

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Jennifer Stewart is a copywriter, project manager, and partner at Modern Species, a sustainable brand design firm specializing in organic food and body products.

Post by Jennifer Stewart

By AIGA Wisconsin
Published April 5, 2011
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