How Green Are You?

I recently had the opportunity to poll 126 graphic designers for my MFA thesis. The poll focused on their knowledge and commitment to the environment.

Folks, I have to admit, while it wasn’t the bleakest of results, it definitely didn’t paint a pretty picture for creatives and how we treat the planet. There is a lot of room for improvement.

The first question I get asked is, why should I care? Beneath my business sense, my client-relationships and my work ethic, I like to think I’m an artist and I have a unique way of seeing the world and my relationship with it. I understand that we are currently using roughly three times the resources available to us and that it’s a matter of a time before they vanish.

I also realize that I am part of the problem, and I don’t like being the problem, I want to be part of the solution. Why let my kids deal with my mess when I can clean it up? I want to set an example for my kids. I can’t convince every person to be a tree hugger (a term I use lovingly) and I can’t convince everybody to treat the planet with respect, but it won’t stop me from trying.

So where do you begin? It’s a large undertaking to change my entire way of doing things and my way of living, but there is an easy first step. Be aware. That’s it for my first step, sweet, simple and takes little action.

Every time you’re about to send a client a bill, every time you schedule a meeting with a client, every time you order a cup of coffee, ask yourself, “Is this good for the planet?” You’ll be taking the first step by figuring out where you stand at being green. None of us start the journey saying, “Wow, me and the planet are copasetic.”

The first step is just finding out where you cringe the most at the end of the day. For me, it was in my home office. I felt ashamed at the end of the day. It’s been a year since I set out to become green throughout my business life, sometimes I’m extremely successful, other days I still see room for improvement, either way I can thankfully say I’ve come a long way since I first asked myself, “Is this good for the planet?”

From here on out, we’ll give you some ideas of how to take you and your business from the consumers of stuff to green in no time. In the meantime, what are you doing differently so far?

BTW: check out this book from Allworth Press on “Green Graphic Design.

14 thoughts on “How Green Are You?

  1. George Garrastegui

    Hey Jeremy, it is glad to see all the collaboration through our group has gotten you to this point. We as designers are really bad at being environmentally conscious. Especially as a print designer and need to see everything @ 100 %, we waste a lot of paper 🙂 I am glad that my company recycles and I am in a green building in NYC.

    Cant wait to see your suggestions, then I can past them along and make my small dent on our collective carbon footprint.

  2. Sharon

    While this article was interesting, it didn’t explain what exactly was bleak? What questions did you ask in your survey? Did you find out whether designers are using 100% PCR paper in their printers (at least for internal proofs), whether they always give the client a recycled, forest-friendly paper option (or even insist on it), suggest an online conference instead of driving or flying, or enroll in a local utility program to source electricity from wind? Do they shut down their computers at night, even though it interferes with indexing, because saving 30-60% power is important? Do they have an intelligent building? Are they as designers involved in any other efforts, such as a neighborhood solar array, river greening, or or or

    1. Jeremy

      Sharon,

      Why I do believe you are correct! I could add more to it. Designers aren’t doing much. They make little to no attempt to sell “green” to clients and seldom provide green solutions. They rarely use recycled papers or PCW Product. While this doesn’t paint a pretty picture, many of them did turn off computers, keep electronic invoices, rely on sunlight vs. the lightbulb. There was also an awareness of the negative aspects of the industry (chlorinated papers, virgin papers, etc) just not the action to supplement it. So I think there is a desire to do good, just a long list of factors that slow down or stop the process. That’ll be some of the stuff that comes up later in this column.

      Jeremy

  3. Laura Foley

    If I recycled any more I’d be drinking my own… Let’s just say my family and I recycle as much as we can. For example, I stopped using K-Cups for my creative fuel (coffee) in favor of a reusable filter, I teach my kids about how excess packaging adds to the products’ cost and to the waste stream, I collaborate with my clients online when possible (http://www.freescreensharing.com/ is an awesome FREE resource!) , and I print out way fewer documents than I used to.

    I think I’m doing pretty well at this!

    1. Jeremy

      Laura,

      That’s awesome! My family grew up in a place where recycling was unheard of. I think of all the years I just tossed papers, drank bottle water and tossed it in the trash and all the computer equipment that hit the landfill. I look forward to teaching my offspring the importance of footprint. My hat’s off to you! Keep up the good work (and for giving me a great idea for a future article!)

      Jeremy

  4. Rosa

    Hi all, Long time tree hugger here. I am always looking out for other inventive ways. I would love to know what clever ways someone has used another industries waste products and how they approached the business. I have a hefty list of ideas for you I hope it inspires you!

    – Recycle all old computers to the neighborhood schools
    – Of course recycle paper
    – Email billing
    – Research and provide green options for print
    – use blue sky power
    – put computer on auto shut down
    – check into an amazing solar panel lease option with Solar City
    – if you have some cash? Go electric or hybrid when buying a car
    – trick out that bike and use it for at least one trip in your day
    – plant a tree, who doesn’t like shade and oxygen?

    I am sure there are many more. I look forward to reading about them.

    1. Jeremy

      Rosa,

      Inspire you did! I have some computer equipment that I need to dispose of and I think my local elementary school would be more than delighted to take it off my hands and put it to good use, I hadn’t even thought of giving it a second life (was going to donate for parts!)

      Jeremy

  5. Michelle Fehler

    Hi Jeremy,

    I am so glad you polled graphic designers for their “greenness…or redness” – I am a graphic designer, however, I could not continue doing what I was doing due to the fact that it was harming the environment. So I went back to school to get my MSD in Biomimetic Graphic Design. If you would not mind, I would love to reference your poll in my thesis. Is there a way we can connect over email?

    Thank you for all you do – mother nature is very appreciative!

    Michelle

  6. Syd Salmon

    I like your ideas. Another layer to this thinking is how being “green” help clients. Sending PDF invoices helps them handle their paperwork more effectively and you get paid faster. At certain stages of the design process, online viewing tools can be highly effective. Calibrating your monitor for precise color representation means fewer printouts. A big one that’s easy to overlook is face-to-face meetings. Eliminating unnecessary meetings will make a difference on many levels.

  7. Martha Koenig

    Thanks for the article and comments, Jeremy and all. This topic is very interrsting, and I appreciate learning new ways to minimize my environmental footprint.

    I would like to add that being a “green designer” goes beyond ecotactics, and includes considering the impact our work has on our economy, culture, and people. AIGA’s Living Principles is a great framework to learn how to think/see this type of shift: http://www.livingprinciples.org/

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