Sustainable graphic design (an intro)

Creative professionals, like all business professionals, have a responsibility to conduct their work in a manner that is mindful of the communities in which they operate and of the world as a whole. A big part of such conduct centers around the concept of sustainability, or taking into account the economic, social, and environmental health needs of a community (and/or the world) and making decisions accordingly.greendesign.gif

In the case of designers, sustainable graphic design is a systemic approach that involves much the same mindset as other areas of sustainable design, such as minimizing the depletion of non-renewable resources. However, it also requires some additional considerations specific to the design industry. Although far from a complete list, below are some of these considerations.


  1. Begin by examining the potential impacts of the project and how they can be lessened.
  2. Ask yourself if printed material is required to accomplish your objective (or would could the same goal be achieved electronically via email or web).
  3. Look for ways to maximize longevity/re-use of any materials produced? (ex: Could you extend the material’s lifespan by omitting dates?).
  4. Choose recycled, nontoxic materials. (ex: recycled, chlorine-free paper, water-based vegetable inks, etc.) Sidenote: For a cool quantitative illustration of the benefits, check out Neenah Paper’s Environmental Savings Calculator.
  5. Choose local materials. (reduce shipping impact and aid local economy)
  6. Reduce waste. (ex: layout job to print on entire press sheet)
  7. Choose local vendors and/or vendors that use renewable energy.
  8. Avoid unnecessary ink coverage in your designs.
  9. Plan ahead for product delivery, maybe tying it in with other errands (ex: avoid high impact rush shipping).
  10. Foster sustainable design at the workplace (yours and other creative professionals’). Maintain a dialog with coworkers about the ways to reduce impacts of your projects.

Many corporations are beginning to see the benefits that environmental responsibility can have on their bottom line. A few are even realizing the benefits of what John Elkington, co-founder of the business consultancy SustainAbility, dubbed the triple bottom line, a win-win-win for People, Planet, and Profit. Some businesses are going as far in their commitment to social responsibility as to measure their success across all three of these areas. Unfortunately, for others the message is slower to sink in. As creative professionals, we have a unique opportunity (if not an obligation) to facilitate this change through the work that we do and the various companies that we work with.

Additional resources:

For graphic designers: renourish: nutrients for the graphic design community , including listing of environmentally safe(r), EPA -approved, Pantone Colors

For any small business: Greening Your Business: A Primer for Smaller Companies

Never underestimate the power of a planted seed:



10th Way

Thanks for the article, I totally agree. Please feel free to visit, this is a little site I’ve put together to do my bit to save the world…

Rob Gough

Thanks for the note.

I checked out your site…you’re providing some helpful information on practical ways to conserve energy. Keep up the good work.

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