top of page

UPCIRCLE INSIGHT: sustainable graphic design

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

Upcircle Insight bring you to the world of brand design, interiors and sustainability - the Upcircle mindset on projects.

Here, we’re looking at how to produce a sustainable graphic design pieces, taking on board a wide range of considerations including printing techniques and external factors such as shipping and carbon emissions. And not to mention, the choice of materials, toxicity of ink and paper, the sheer quantity of paper produced, the design itself and the choice of suppliers.

We don't design just for humans, it's for the environment, for the collective and for nature.

Print only the essential.

Is extremely important to consider the waste that we create with our work. Asking ourselves what the impact of our work is on the environment and if we are solving a problem by creating a new one. Everything you produce will exist for as long you can remember, if not, for longer than your own existence. So, it's important to understand the coverage necessary for the prints to optimise the number of copies that will be truly necessary. Also, taking in consideration that an effective design is timeless, and it could become an artwork that people would like to keep and collect instead of instantly discarding after using it.

Resume your message and utilise your resources.

Marketing has the power to transmit information, values and messages using fewer words. So why having a long and unnecessary printed material when your end user won't even bother to read it. You might find more efficient to add all this information on a website or utilising better the printing resources with effective message. Reducing printing format not only will save your client money but also a few trees.

100 million trees are felled annually to produce junk mail.

Information is power.

The more knowledge and tools the designer has, the easier it is to make better decisions that when added up can change the world. It also increases the chances that you will be able to persuade your client to make better decisions.

The capacity of graphic design is to persuade, educate, advocate and move people to take action. Designers can be agents of positive change.

Choose your materials and suppliers wisely.

Once you know what goes into making paper, you can start looking for better options, and there are plenty to choose from. Also be efficient on the printing and check with your printer how to adjust dimensions to create less waste. Reducing bleed and fitting more prints into one sheet.

You can find a full expanded list of definitions in Re-nourish website, but in general, greener paper should be:

  • Made from non-wood sources when feasible

  • 100% PCW (Post Consumer Waste) recycled fibre is the best choice, but at least 30% PCW recycled minimum

  • Processed chlorine free (PCF)

  • Uncoated and not foiled

  • Certified Ancient Forest Friendly

  • Manufactured using renewable energy, or be offset by legitimate renewable energy credit programs (such as Green-E)

  • Sourced and manufactured as close to the printing facility as possible.

Hemp paper resists decomposition and does not yellow with age. Hemp paper can be recycled 7 to 8 times, compared with only 3 times for wood pulp paper.

When selecting your printer, look for the following:

  • A local printer within 100 miles of you where the final printed piece will be distributed.

  • Certified by a legitimate third-party environmental group.

  • Powered by a renewable energy source.

  • A formal energy, waste reduction policy

  • Uses plant-based ink instead of petroleum (linseed, cottonseed, tung, flaxseed, soybean, or other agriculturally-derived oils) in offset printing.

  • Require only non-toxic solvents and additives for offset presses.

  • Be part of an ink recycling or recovery program on press (ask your printer how they handle their press waste).

This mindset will help lower the Greenhouse Gas emissions on the planet, including the need of transportation, which is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Is digital design the solution?

Creating for the web or mobile device can provide many opportunities to connect, educate, and mobilize. However, it is important to remember that just because you aren’t using paper, that digital design does still have a negative environmental and social impact. Server farms, for example, that host our online creations and data, can use up to 100 billion KwH of energy (NRDC). So be careful so streamline your code and images to reduce download time and consequently energy.

Also, digital designers could be playing a crucial role in helping to reduce the human impact on the planet. Every year, we bring thousands of new products and services to life, devise different ways to interact and create new habits. Digital means these can scale at an unprecedented rate. The challenge for designers is to start thinking about how we can integrate sustainability into every project we do and not only change consumer behaviour for the better, but also offer digital services they can feel good about, knowing the environmental impact has also been considered.

Sustainable Digital Design is a topic Upcircle will investigate further on a different Insight Report as it covers many other subjects that need to be considered when creating websites and digital campaigns.



bottom of page