Green is firmly on the agenda – from bi-weekly bin collections to wind farms and bags for life. But what can you, as a designer, do on an individual level to help turn the world greener?

Green is firmly on the agenda – from bi-weekly bin collections to wind farms and bags for life. But what can you, as a designer, do on an individual level to help turn the world greener?

Finally, the threat to our environment is being taken seriously – and it’s acting as a catalyst for change in how we source and consume energy and resources.

From where we buy our produce (hopefully, locally and ethically) to how we dispose of our packaging and beer bottles, it seems that being green is permeating our daily lives in a wholly positive way.

While that’s good news for the planet, we can still do more – and as a creative professional, you can ensure that your work and studio are as friendly to the environment as possible.

Design and the environment is a bit of a double-edged sword in terms of their relationship, though. On one hand, designers and creatives are responsible for producing content that is one of the biggest consumers of natural resources we have.

From inks, print and paper, to energy-guzzling interactive digital media, through to the constant churn and demand for new content – design is dangerous to the environment.

But design can also be the environment’s champion. From designing smarter, more sustainable products and content, to making small changes in how we work, design can change the world.

We’ve assembled some less-obvious tips that reveal how you, as a creative individual, can be greener.

Paper size = green prize

IMPACT: High
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: When possible
Print designers love paper – but the amount that gets wasted is staggering. By being intelligent about how we choose paper sizes for our jobs, we can use as little paper as possible and still present a good end result.

So, consider choosing the smallest size of paper possible for your project – can an A2 poster be as effective at A3, for example – and choose as lightweight a paper as you can get away with.

You should also make more efficient use of white space on a design to eliminate waste lost through trimming. For example, a 12-page document designed as a 210-x-210mm square book will need two A1 sheets to be commercially printed. Reduce the document to 200-x-200mm, and you need only one A1 sheet.

Green is the only colour

IMPACT: Medium
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: When possible
Ease up on colour in your printed work, especially when using bleeds. When paper with bleed material is trimmed from commercially printed work, it needs to be deinked before it can be recycled. If possible, consider keeping your designs within your document’s trim area.

Be accurate with print runs

IMPACT: High
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: Depends on client
When printing commercial work, some clients are a little loose with the numbers needed. With run-on costs a negligible part of a project’s budget, the temptation is to over produce in case extras are needed. Try to work with your client to ensure accurate forecasting of the numbers they need to avoid wastage.

Ink different

IMPACT: High
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: Depends on printer
Inks in commercial printing can be the devil’s own nightmare when it comes to toxic waste – and are a major source of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs can cause cancer, while other ink nasties include Acetone, that is toxic to plant and animal life.

Most print ink is petroleum-based – as the ink dries, alcohol and petroleum evaporate and up to 30 per cent VOCs are released. Alternatives include water-based inks, with a zero VOC release rate, but these can’t be used on certain types of coated papers.

Popular alternatives are vegetable-based inks that reduce VOC emissions to under four per cent. They’re cleaner, brighter, more rub-resistant than petroleum inks, are easier to deink, cost the same as petroleum inks, but take longer to dry. Speak to your commercial printer to explore ink alternatives.

Soft proof

IMPACT: High
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: For all non-critical work
While designers need to deliver high-quality proofs and demand high-fidelity colour accuracy for their clients’ projects, if you can deliver and proof digitally, then do.

If possible, always send artwork digitally, and use PDF soft proofs if colour accuracy isn’t paramount. If a file is too big to wire, then send it on reusable media, such as CD-RW, and then get the recipient to reuse it themselves.

Be vocal in your work

IMPACT: Low
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: Depends on client
It depends on winning over your clients, but if you’re using green materials, then stick on some logos stating the fact. Recycle logos, forest stewardship, acid-free paper – it’s all good, and also boosts your clients’ green credentials as well.

It might not change the world, but adds to the drip-drip message that being environmentally responsible is a positive thing.

Work pro bono

IMPACT: Very high
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: Time intensive
Want to make a difference as an individual, but limited by clients? You can make a major impact working pro bono for small environmental groups and organizations, and help spread the message of all things green.

Maybe an environmental pressure group could benefit from your Webdesign skills to revamp their site, or you could help them brand their message more effectively.

Green begins at home

IMPACT: Low to medium
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: Simple
Or rather, green begins at studio level. If you produce lots of paper proofs for in-studio design, or have many workstations, then there are plenty of common sense green steps that will also save you money.

You can investigate installing a recycling bin for discarded paper proofs, and collect and recycle waste such as CDs, plastic wallets, and so on. Also, ensure that you turn off your workstations at night at the socket, and that the screen sleeps after a short period of inactivity.

Ink refills

IMPACT: Low
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: Depending on output
Contentious one, this. If possible, look at getting spent cartridges refilled by a third party. They might not offer the quality of output that a fresh-from-the-manufacturer one does, but you save a significant amount of waste by not binning printer cartridges.

If, however, colour fidelity is vital to you, then probably best to stick to official, shrink-wrapped products.

Be personally responsible

IMPACT: High
DESIGN PRACTICALITY: Simple
If you work in a large studio, then it’s easy to allow being an environmentally aware designer to be someone else’s problem. If you work as a freelancer from a home studio, then the pressures of the hustle and demands on time can mean green design takes a back seat.

Being green involves making a stand, right now, and taking responsibility for your department and your output. Don’t wait for someone else to take the lead – they’re probably waiting as well. If you want to make a difference, it means starting to make changes yourself – then others will follow suit.