Sustainability in design

Published:  May 31, 2011
Alison Copley
Sustainability in design

Where did the stock you’re printing on come from and how much energy was consumed for it to be made and transported to you? Can you make the job smaller so that you use less paper? Does it need to be printed at all? Do you ever ask yourself some of these questions while working on a design project? Considering ‘sustainability’ in design has risen in importance, with far more designers considering ‘ethical’ questions about their work.

In this vein, we caught up with freelance graphic designer, Sonja Meyer (who is currently studying sustainability part-time at Swinburne University in Melbourne) to share her views on and aims for sustainability in design.

What does sustainable design mean to you?
By working as a sustainable graphic designer, and offering a ‘green’ design solution to my clients where possible, I’m not only effectively creating a bit less waste or being more socially responsible, but I can wake up in the morning with peace of mind, knowing that what I do for an income is not directly contributing to our evidently disastrous future. If I wasn’t able to work sustainably in some way or another, I probably wouldn’t work.

Why do you think designers should adopt sustainable principles?
In the words of David B. Berman – “Designers have far more power than they realise: their creativity fuels the most efficient (and most destructive) tools of deception in human history. The same design that fuels mass over-consumption also holds the power to repair the world.”

Graphic designers create all the advertisements and marketing pieces you see, without choice, hundreds of times on a daily basis. How this effects our social system is no secret, as most of us are now ingrained with this perpetual desire to just consume, waste, and consume some more in our ‘pursuit of happiness’.

If every graphic designer in the world make the decision to do only socially responsible work, and implement more sustainable practices into their design work, I believe we would see a complete global shift in the decisions made by consumers. Eco-products and sustainability would become completely mainstream, and maybe we really would have a chance to save all of the earth’s natural resources and ecosystems before it’s too late.

Image copyright elisfanclub.

Where does your interest in sustainable design stem from?
I guess it all started when I found myself creating an advertisement for something that I really just didn’t care about, or would never, ever buy. I remember feeling uninspired and wondering why I would want to take part in marketing a product that I thought was unnecessary and wasteful. I realised at that point that I never thought I would become someone who would contribute to mass consumerism, and especially not for personal gain. After this, there was no other option but to work out how to ‘design for good’.

After reading up on the subject I realised that I needed to do two things. The first was to adopt sustainable practices to use throughout the design process and learn how to think of the bigger picture.

Now during the design process, new questions arise, such as: Where did the stock we are printing on come from and how much energy was consumed for it to be made and transported to me? Can we make the job smaller so that we use less paper? Does it need to be printed at all? Can I give this piece a second life somehow? Is this design effectively influencing positive change or will it influence greed and wastefulness? Does this business card really need to be printed on a non-recyclable coated glossy stock or will a beautiful recycled board with vegetable based inks suffice?

The second thing I did was to change my design philosophy to one that would enable me to do only work that I truly believed in. To design with honesty and integrity. To design for causes that were effecting positive change. And to use what I’d learned to help others do the same.

What design work have you previously done in the non-profit sector? Anything that you’re currently working on?
I’m currently working on an identity design for the North Coast Weeds Advisory Committee in Bellingen, NSW, which has been fun. All those words make for some complex design concepts.

Last year I worked with the Port Phillip EcoCentre to redesign some of their marketing and communication collateral and to help them market to a wider audience and project a more professional image.

After this I realised there was a serious need for graphic designers in the non-profit sector, because many organisations and groups don’t have the budget for a professional designer. I am now acquainted with several other non-profit environmental groups who are looking to refresh their identity and I hope to work with many of them in the near future.

Can you tell us about your future aspirations to open a non-profit graphic design company? What steps are you taking to achieve this?
My long term goal is to start a not-for-profit graphic design company. Possibly the first ever, so back away idea thieves (no, I’d actually encourage others to do the same!). Its main focus will be on offering complete sustainable graphic design and printing solutions. I will offer design services to sustainable businesses and pro bono and discounted services to non-profits and environmental groups. I hope to put together some programs and workshops so other designers can learn about sustainable design practices. I’ll also provide resources and information packs for designers and their clients. It’s all very exciting but I have a long way to go and it’s going to be tough finding the appropriate funding. This year I’ll be writing a business plan as part of a sustainability course I’m studying at Swinburne. It might take me a few years to get to where I want to be but anything worthwhile always takes work.

Anything else you’d like to add?
The concept of ‘sustainability’ relates to the idea of balancing social, economic and environmental needs, to create a system that will continue on indefinitely. One day someone will work out how to get that balance perfect, and when they do I hope they shout it from every rooftop until the rest of the world finally gets it.

Thumbnail image available here.

One Response

  1. Elaine

    Moral ethics are needed these days in all businesses

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