Business Cards And Waste

I can give you a thousand examples of how being Green can actually SAVE you money but I have to relate an experience that provided me with a prime example this week. One of the basic principles of being a positive force for the environment is to not create waste.

Well, thinking this through, I created my business cards to complement my brand and to use minimal amounts of ink. On my card I listed the relevant information, name, services, website, email and phone number. I then ordered 1,000 cards expecting them to last me for the next year or two.

I had been using my personal cell phone as my work phone for sheer convenience and it was the cheapest option. I decided I couldn’t handle my clients calling me all hours of the night and especially those that knew it was my cell phone would treat it like a lifeline making last minute requests or starting the barrage of calls at 5am. With a new phone number I looked at updating my website, my social media pages, and my various search listings.

Then I examined those pesky business cards. Potential suggestions involved using stickers to cover the number, scratching out and changing or ordering new ones. Unfortunately stickers were too large and I didn’t like the lack of professionalism from scratched out cards.

I ordered new ones. 900 cards are now waste.

When you design your cards and letterhead, take this into consideration.

  • Do you change numbers or phone companies frequently?
  • Do your clients even need it? I know plenty of freelancers who are accessible only through email.
  • Do you plan on moving soon or relocating your business?
  • How many do you give out and is the turn over low enough to worry?

Think it through very carefully as it can be an expensive mistake and not good for the environment. For a freelancers who are starting out and still trying to iron out their office procedures, there is a good chance that less is more (and will let you change your numbers or business address without making all new materials!)

While I was forced to buy new business cards I am also presenting a workshop that requires me hand-making paper from pulp that will consist of my old business cards. Thankfully the cards will be recycled and turned into the covers of sketchbooks for fledgling designers.

Anyone else dealing with this?

41 thoughts on “Business Cards And Waste

  1. Halley | Business Card Design

    I would definitely take note of everything you’ve just suggested. I’m still a newbie in the freelancing business, this would definitely help me a LOT not just in making decisions for my own business card design but also for the information I needed to put into my profile. Thanks!

    1. Jeremy

      I think putting yourself into the mindset of your customer is a good mentality to have. Will they be adamant about phone calls? Are they more tech savvy? Do you have a firm setup (location, phone, email) that won’t change in years to come or are you still transitioning? Each of these questions may help you iron out the “must-haves” of your business card.

  2. Kenny Colvin

    Jeremy, I totally agree. As a letterpress printer, though it may not be in my best financial interest, I’ve steered away from ordering huge quantities of cards for the exact reason you stated. Sure I’d initially make money and even more when they re-order, but I think it makes me a better person and business man to be honest with people.

    Another point worth bringing up is, most of us here are designers. We’re constantly re-branding ourselves and tweeking things. Unless you’re a well established business, or brand, chances are you’ll get sick of your current design in a couple years (or months)

    1. Chris Charles

      Kenny, I completely agree. I too am a letterpress printer–as far as my own cards, I usual want to redesign them by the time I’ve run out of the 200-300 that I’ve printed (if even that many).
      I say go with smaller quantities and splurge for something hand printed 🙂

  3. Adriana

    I think about this a bit. Do I keep giving out cards that are slightly outdated, with explanations and scribbles. Or do I waste some more ink-paper-money and order a new set?
    Tell us more about your paper workshop! Do you need some cards!

    1. Jeremy

      The paper workshop I’m doing involves taking the business cards and turning them into pulp. I then add water and use the pulp to make my own papers and later I’ll turn them into things like thank you cards or even holiday cards. You can do it with any type of paper but business cards work well because they’re thicker. While I still get flustered over creating more “things,” at least this allows me to give them a second use that can still be recycled!

  4. Lindsay

    I’ve seen a new trend where people are using QR codes on their biz cards. It’s simple… your name, business name and QR code that directs customers to your site where can change your contact info at any time.
    It’s an interesting concept… definitely has pros and cons.

      1. Jenn

        I don’t think the market is there yet with QR codes and here’s a personal experience I just had that reconfirmed my suspicions. On vacation we met a restaurant owner who gave us his new business card with a QR code. He admitted he didn’t know how to use it, but his designer told him he needed to have it. The person I was with said he had been seeing them around but didn’t know what they were.
        I’m sure in the marketing world most people know what they are and how to use them, but among the general public, my sense is that they have a way to go.

  5. Paula

    These are all important considerations and food for thought, especially since I’ve found I can’t go without cards. Many people still like the card. Many don’t have smart phones or don’t use all of the capabilities, so the mobile business cards won’t work with them.

    I don’t have a mailing address on my cards, I have phone, email and my website, where all my contact info and social media accounts are collected. The URL will probably never change, even if the info does.

    1. Jeremy

      Paula, I think I’m on board with your train of thought. A design mentor of mine said, “If they can’t navigate to your website and grab your personal information, do you really want to deal with them as a client?” When I look at it with that in mind, it’s minimal work and takes seconds to do. I like just the website!

  6. Jill

    I printed 1,000 cards a few years ago…and they are still sitting in my home office collecting dust. For the rare occasions that I hand out my card, I keep a few with me in my pocketbook. Otherwise, it’s really a waste! Even though the information won’t be changing for a while, I don’t really put them to good use.

    1. Jeremy

      I started to rectify this by playing a game with my business cards. I set a number of how many times I have to hand it out during the week. If I had out 1 a day, then I’ll give out 365 to people who I might do business with. It’s daunting at times, but it makes me feel like the brave designer when I approach strangers and pitch them!

  7. Patrick Fairbrother

    Freelancers should only print a few cards! As one comment I’ve read here states, “Re-Branding”…. This happens even with large corps. We have gone through several re-branding cycles and continue to look for ways to keep up in this economy. We started publishing 1 magazine and are now publishing 3 and offering design and printing services to make ourselves a “One Stop Shop”. I say “Save where you can, but keep making money.”

    1. Jeremy

      Patrick, my undergrad college went from a “state school” to a “university.” During this rebranding they estimated the loss in paper products in tons (I wish I knew the actual number.) They wouldn’t use the remaining letterheads and cards because of the rebranding. (Thankfully some design and art students used the waste to make art.)

      I think I would suggest looking at it in 6 month intervals. That way you have a set amount of time to see how many you use. I think as a freelancer I rely on digital far more than print in my social interactions.

  8. Brad

    I have to say this is a pretty silly post. I don’t use that word very often, but I don’t know how else to dismiss the thought that spending $30 is a big waste. Even if you throw away 900 of the cards, if you’re any good at marketing, the 100 you gave away should have made you some money. You need to have contact info on you at all times, you never know when you might meet a new client.

    That said, I’ll agree that it may be better to print a few hundred instead of 1000, but 1000 is better than 0.

    1. Jeremy


      The point isn’t having versus not having. It’s being effective, efficient and at the same time being environmentally responsible. Wasting 900 cards shows that somebody is doing something wrong and some simple suggestions can make fix that. Saving $30 is the perk, not the reason.

      1. Jason

        How do you know the printer that ran your 1000 cards did not make a mistake and through away 1000 cards before they even sent it to you. 900 tiny peices of paper will have such a minor “environmental impact” that it is a waiste of my time to even think about it. I give out roughly 2000 cards per year and estimate 50-60% of them simply get lost or thrown out by the client.

        1. Jeremy

          If that many are being thrown away I think you may need to re-evaluate the need of having them. Also, every positive step is a negative step averted. The “why bother” mentality is why it is now a problem. Look at some of the other posts where people discuss large corporations and this exact problem. Replace the 1,000 with 1,000,000 cards. We should be a positive environmental impact at all levels, small and large.

          Also, my printer gives me my over runs so that I can use them with my students. I’m generally aware of my supply chain, I would suggest being part of the printing process and asking these questions so you’re aware of what’s going on behind the scenes.

          1. Jason

            Unfortunatly that is the normal for printed material, that most of it is discarded. I do not mean to be negative, and i have so many clients thay I turn away work on a daily basis. I simply think is the nature of the print business to have waste, and I do not think that it has nearly the environmental effect that you think.

  9. Ephraim Schum


    Indeed I am experiencing this as well not only for myself but for many small and even large clients. It’s not so much because cell phone numbers need to be changed or fax numbers removed (remember the fax machine way back when?) but because clients want to add their updated Web address, Facebook, and Twitter information to their business cards. While one may not be moving their office, the rapid changes and additions to the way we communicate online have influenced what we do, and how often we do it, offline.

    While many people communicate exclusively through e-mail or by phone these days, there is, in my marketing opinion, still the need for a physical card — especially for first impressions. Having a well-designed, well-printed business card will be remembered and held onto much longer which leads to greater exposure and retention and hopefully more business.

    I, and my clients, have used fewer and fewer traditional/offset printed business cards as each year passes and as digital printing and finishing techniques get better and less expensive. Traditional letterhead and envelopes have become used even less as electronic communication has increased and standard home/small office printers have gotten better in their quality of reproduction. This has helped cut down on the use of paper, ink, and postage too.

    My new motto: “Print when it’s needed, not when you think it’s going to be needed.”

    Thanks for the tips and for looking out for the environment.

    1. Jeremy

      Remember when you could just write:


      and that was enough? I now see them with:


      You make a great point about print on demand for these situation. I would think as departments expand and new innovations are developed that they’d run to try and incorporate them (and perhaps ditch them once they fail.) To print contact info each time that happens would be crazy. I’m glad to see that it’s not only at the freelancer level that it’s a concern!

  10. Emma

    The comments about QR codes are counter to the point that we should plan ahead for not wasting cards making changes later…I mean shouldn’t we get them on there now, so that when they do catch on, our cards aren’t out of date?!

    Also, many graphic designers ARE working with those marketing folks who are familiar with them, not the general public, so I think QR codes are an important feature.

  11. Alex Sanso

    Regardless of how much people are online these days, I still find that having a physical card is important and never leave the house without a few. I’ve ended up handing them out when I least think I would need to.

    I agree that there are some great options out there for print on demand, and one of my favorite sites is (I am not affiliated; just love their product.) What’s great is for an order of 100 cards, you can print as many as 100 different images on the reverse, allowing you to show off different examples of your work, if you are inclined to show it on your card. Might make you more memorable for the recipient, too. It’s a UK company, so their cards are a little different in size, but I’m sure there must be other companies doing this.

    Thanks for bringing attention to a small thing that can make a big difference!

    1. Jeremy


      I wish I could say I’m a strictly digital person, but when I meet somebody (personal or professional) my first question is, “Do you have a card?” I love the tactile sensation and when they’re really well designed I save them and that impression is permanent as opposed to hearing, “Oh, I’ll email you my info.”

  12. Jacob

    You could have kept using the old number for business and let your friends and family know that you have a new personal number. Then those 900 cards would have still been good and you wouldn’t have needed to get new ones printed.

    A little thinking would have gone a long way towards being more green.

    1. Jeremy

      Some of them did get set aside for when I do wedding photography. Since I have to put a sticky label on them with the address of the wedding album it worked out that I could cover the irrelevant information. (But I have to admit, my business card’s color scheme does make for some beautiful home-made papers!)

  13. Joan Schnee

    I have much to say about this subject. Where to begin!…

    Full disclosure: I own both a paper store ( and a recycled stationery company (

    Day in and day out I see the power of communication and impression of the printed word. I believe that business cards are an essential for any creative professional. It conveys a message of stability, quality and design. I can not tell you how many of our customers tell us what an impression their cards, personalized stationery, handwritten notes made on a client. It is not a myth!

    A few suggestions:
    – Use recycled paper- 100% PCW is ideal and readily available for about the same price as 30% PCW. You should never use less than 30% PCW for any paper. FSC certified is better, but can be more expensive.
    – Large print runs are old school and you can easily do 100- 250.
    – Vegetable based inks are common place- ink choices/colors make a difference.
    – Design green: read some great print design tips here:
    – I highly recommend and use (no affiliation to us). They are fast, affordable and truly green 😉

    As far as what info to include on your card…
    – Phone number=Yes! If you are a professional, you should have no qualms about customers reaching you by phone. It is a professional courtesy to give access. If you do not want to be “disturbed at all hours”, simply turn off your ringer or decline the call.
    – Address=No! If you work at home do not include your address, unless you expect clients to come to your office on a regular basis.
    – Email and an FTP if you have one
    – Website, FB, Twitter, Blog – if they will give a broader picture of your creative talents

    The old saying is more true today than ever- “You never have a second chance to make a first impression”.

    1. Jeremy


      I think the information you included should not only be applied to cards but printing as a whole, really some great considerations!

      As for the phone. I think one of the issues is our reliance on cell phones. I JUST got a land line after 10 years of only having a cell phone. My clients have had access to that number in the past and will abuse it. I think for people who rely only on a cell phone it might either be an issue of remove the number or purchase a land line (mine actually made my cable bill cheaper!) That was what prompted this fiasco for me!

  14. Chris Lane

    I am an example of a freelancer only having email on my business cards. The initial reason I didn’t put one on there (besides that I prefer email communication) was that I didn’t know which phone number to use at first, or if I was going to be changing companies soon. So, I have my email, and web address (which also has a contact form) for initial contact. I will give out my phone number to clients if they need it, but only if they ask. So far, I haven’t had to do that at all, everything has been through email, just the way I like it.
    Also, I have given out some, but very few. I don’t think I would ever need to get more than 200 of any particular design. By the time I run out of those, I may want to tweak the design anyway.

    1. Jeremy

      I really would like to see a poll of phone versus email these days. Most of my clients flat out say they’d rather email me as it’s more “convenient.” It’s hard to gauge if I’d lose business without the phone number.

      I think there needs to be some marketing research. I think this would help us see the direction the trend is going!

  15. Caroline

    I ordered a package of 500 business cards a couple of years ago and almost immediately my email changed. My phone number changed a year ago. Now I have 500 cards that are useless. I love the QR code idea. Personally I think that lots of people are now at least aware of what it is and you see more and more of them every day. I love the idea of recycling Jeremy!

  16. Chaz DeSimone

    Best of both worlds:
    A spectacular business card (inexpensive to print just a few)
    Always current information
    Design a very expensive business card, then print 10,000 of them to reduce the price drastically. Nothing impresses like special stock, foil, embossing, appliques, spot color, duplex paper, diecutting, or other effects. But don’t print any contact information. Imprint small quantities of these “shells” as new staff comes onboard, addresses and phone numbers change, even the tagline might change. As long as one or two elements — the logo or a diecut edge — has a special customized treatment (which brands credibility and memorability) the rest of the card can be blank, until it is imprinted.

    1. Chaz DeSimone

      Oops. I meant to say EXpensive, not inexpenisve. A spectacular business card is EXpensive to print just a few–extremely expensive! I mean like $3-5 per card for quantities under 10,000–but then little as $.30 in large quantities. A stellar impression is worth the time, money and effort.

  17. katie major

    I created a die cut business card that is actually a coaster! Our thought was that we wanted to create business cards that people actually wanted to hold on to! If you create something that is nice and usable that is the best solution. Create a business card that is more than just your information presented in a boring way and you’re sure to get phone calls, I know our business card has landed us more than a few gigs. Check it out here: we are second from the top!

  18. Brett Hawks

    As an insider who recently accepted a new position, in another department, I have this to share. The day after I received my new business cards, the company announced a reorganization that changed everything but my name and phone number.

    My inner freelancer designed and printed 24 business cards, on Avery stock, at about the same time, and just handed out the last one, last week. Thanks for the tip on how to recycle my 495 in-house business cards.

  19. Lisa Peruchini

    This is a GREAT thread, glad I stumbled upon it. I never use a phone number because I am hearing impaired, email allows for NO mis-communication. I also like texting. Since email arrived on the scene I have finally been able to compete with hearing designers around the globe on an equal playing field.
    As for card amounts, I simply print my own cards on card stock, 12 on a page and cut with an exacto knife. Of course I only make about 24 cards or so, whenever I need ’em, but I truly don’t hand that many out. And I can change stuff on a whim.


  20. Brent

    I gang-printed my cards with a client job a few years ago, so while it was efficient in one sense, I have a TON left. I plan on doing a re-brand in the next year and will be printing considerably fewer cards.

    Any creative suggestions for recycling/reusing the old cards?

    1. Jeremy

      Call the local high school. Many many schools have begun a program called ATC (Artist Trading Cards) and often times what they’ll do is paint right over existing cards and then exchange them. It also helps them save on purchasing that stuff (the high school I worked at would even offer a donation form for tax purposes.)

      Or, if you’re really industrious. Make your own paper from the cards. I’m currently using mine for thank you cards for those who helped edit my thesis (I’ve also ground up pages of my thesis into the mix to add a bit of irony.)

  21. Ipsita

    I chanced upon this and I think the topic drew me in as I shared something on the same line. Basically as a freelancer sometimes though the phone number or location is the necessary evil but I think the email id is the save bet. Its short, simpler and much more hassle free.
    About the idea of business cards though being a fan of print media myself but think we are moving away to a greener future which ensures less wastage of paper. Would love some thoughts on