Sustainable graphic design: how to reduce the environmental impacts of your designs
Are you trying to make sure you’re doing everything you can to achieve sustainable graphic design?
Whether producing a design which will be displayed electronically or printed, your decisions as a graphic designer can impact the environment. This is why it is becoming increasingly important for creatives to think about truly sustainable graphic design.
What is sustainable graphic design?
Put simply, sustainable graphic design is an approach that considers the impact of the design being created on the environment.
Making careful choices when it comes to the shape, size and colour of your designs can have far-reaching implications. For printed designs – paper choices, ink and materials can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a design piece. This means less emissions and more efficient use of natural resources. For images that will only ever be viewed electronically, there is also an associated carbon cost, and considerations to be made. There is also the way that you work as a designer: your working environment, the power consumed by your equipment, the companies whose products you choose to use.
It is possible, as graphic designers, to work in a more mindful way that takes into the account the carbon cost of your work and to reduce it.
5 ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your graphic design
When thinking of print, the 3 Rs approach ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is a useful technique to keep you focused on thinking of creative ways to make your design more sustainable. Think of the 3 Rs and make environmentally-friendly choices when it comes to the design, paper, ink and printing. Here are some ideas you could implement in your next project.
1. Make your designs more environmentally friendly
● Less is more – do your leaflets need to be that big? Rather than separate letters and envelopes, can your letters double up as origami-inspired self-folding envelopes with no glue?
● Use more space – fill up white space with your design and you’ll reduce the amount of paper you need to communicate your message
● Don’t bleed to the edges – by simply leaving a white border around your design, you can reduce ink waste and allow for more paper to be recycled
● Give your product a chance of a second life – could it be used as something else instead of ending up in the bin?
● Printer-friendly website design – consider the amount of ink your design will use if a user decides to print out a page from your website, for example, white text on a coloured background will use more than dark text on a white background.
2. Choose environmentally-friendly paper
Carefully consider the following when selecting paper materials for your designs to be printed on:
● Sustainable forest management – use paper sources that are accredited by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)
● Avoid paper that has been created from toxic processes – source paper that has been created from pulp bleaching using a non-elemental chlorine process
● Use recycled paper – look for the highest percentage of recycled content you can find
● Avoid unnecessary printing – think about your workflow – do you really need to be printing out so many design drafts?
● Consider how the materials used in your design can easily be recycled – for example, does your design have to be printed on the highest quality card or will the message be equally as clear using a lower GSM product?
3. Select the most sustainable printing company
● Select a printing company who has considered its emissions – check that they have an environmental accreditation for printing and a management system in place
● Ask the printing company what actions they are taking when it comes to sustainability – find out measures they have in place to reduce their air and water emissions and what activity they are involved in in the wider world, such as activity and involvement with environmental charities, such as Tree Aid
● Consider if a digital solution will achieve the same (or better) results – where possible go digital as this will drastically reduce the environmental impacts of your product. Consider personalised digital marketing solutions that communicate across social media, SMS, email ad apps.
4. Examine your electronic consumption, and consider the impact your designs will have online
● Look at the size of your designs – you want your designs to look beautiful on a screen. You also want to mitigate their impact on the environment. The larger the image and file size, the larger the energy consumption. Reducing the size of your design is a small change that cumulatively can have a positive effect on energy consumption
● Look for a green cloud provider – as you work on a design for a client, you will need to share the design with your client as you work on it. Rather than emailing them your designs, use a cloud-based solution for sharing and collaboration, and have a look around to make sure the provider you choose has suitably green credentials. Climate Care tells us that a small business of 100 people or less could cut its carbon footprint by 90% by moving to the cloud¹.
5. Take responsibility for your own consumption and choose who you work with
● Switch to a greener energy supplier – graphic designers rely on their computers for work and where the energy powering your machines comes from matters. Look for energy providers that are using renewables
● Look at the equipment you use – as graphic designers, you will need to have up to date computing equipment to run resource-heavy programmes. However, there is a carbon cost to new machinery. A study by The University of Edinburgh found that by increasing the amount of time you use a single computer and monitor from 4 to 6 years, you could save the equivalent of 190kg of carbon emissions. Before throwing away your computer and replacing it, ask yourself if you could upgrade or repair your machine instead²
● Save energy – don’t just turn off electronic devices when you’re not using them: unplug them. This will eliminate what Climate Care calls “vampire power”¹. Plugged in but powered down computers still draw power: 5-2 watts of energy. This energy is totally wasted, so make sure you keep your equipment unplugged unless it needs to be plugged in.
Finally, shout about your environmentally conscious business
Communicate and educate your clients as to why you are making a certain design decision. This will increase the chances of your designs being approved by your client and also help to spread the knowledge of how to approach sustainable graphic design to others.