The phrase ‘sustainable print’ used to mean choosing a printing firm that sources its paper from sustainably managed forests, and perhaps screenprinting with eco-friendly inks or ensuring that your T-shirts are made from ethically sourced fabrics by workers who get decent wages. Now the idea is taking on new dimensions, such as considering the entire environmental impact of a project, from its carbon footprint to the amount of office waste it generates.

“Output from dirty factories pollutes rivers and destroys wildlife, and paper from illegally [harvested] forests takes away people’s livelihoods,” says sustainability expert Nat Hunter. “If you don’t care about sustainable print, you are destroying people’s lives in countries far away.”

Nat, who is also one of the founders of the north London creative agency Airside, has been working with outgoing D&AD president Simon ‘Sanky’ Sankarayya and Harry Pearce of design group Pentagram to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of the D&AD Annual 2011, which was launched today. “The idea was to encourage other creatives and publishers to reconsider their own methods. If we haven’t moved on from this in 10 years, we’ve failed,” Sanky says.

A key factor in improving the book’s green credentials was reducing its weight. Using the lightest feasible paper stock and leaving it uncoated meant fewer fuel-guzzling lorries. The paper itself was made in Austria, where 70 per cent of the power is hydroelectric. All this lowered the CO2 emissions per copy from 2010’s 4.3kg to 800g.

“When you design something on a computer that is going to exist in an analogue form, it is essential to consider the life cycle of what you are making,” explains Nat. “You should go way beyond the choice of materials, and think about who is going to use it, and how, and for how long.”

Nat argues that designers should find out as much as they can about how their creations are turned into physical items. For instance, you could pay a visit to your printers to find out how you might optimise the job and save on materials. “Once you consider the life cycle of what you are creating and reduce waste, you often find that you are saving money,” she adds.

But what if you don’t have the time and resources to carry out in-depth sustainability research, as D&AD has done? Nat suggests checking out, which she says is invaluable for recommendations of papers and printers to use. “There are also some excellent books, for instance Do Good Design by David Berman,” she says.

Upping your environmental credentials needn’t mean skimping on aesthetics. Inspired by D&AD’s Fletcher, Forbes and Gill-designed logo, Harry created the 2011 annual’s minimalist white cover and crisp layout without feeling at all compromised. “The idea is reflective of the hope that we have kept everything [to do with materials] to a minimum, but of a [decent] quality too,” he says.

Nat stresses the importance of developing a strategy. “The most important thing is to have a green audit of your studio by someone like Julie’s Bicycle [a non-profit group] or Green Mark [run by GLE, a company owned by the 33 London boroughs], then create an environmental policy,” she explains. “Once you have a clear policy, both you and your clients know what you are trying to achieve.”

This infographic from the D&AD details how they claim they reduced their carbon emissions by 82 per cent (Click on it to see larger).

The D&AD Annual 2011 is available from Taschen.