Find Your Green Graphic Design Niche

In the November 2012 issue of HOW magazine, I wrote about how you can incrementally make your freelance design business greener by making small, manageable changes (Freelance; “Giving Greenlancing a Go”). For those of you who want to take the extra step of working with green clients, here I’ve outlined green graphic design opportunities so that you can find one that’s right for you.

photo from Shutterstock

A few years ago the Federal Trade Commission sat down to revise its “Green Guides,” the official guidelines that govern the claims advertisers can make about environmental claims. Their research uncovered a curious insight about consumer perception. The term “green” leads some people to assume that a product is biodegradable, compostable, ozone-safe, recyclable, non-toxic, made with renewable materials and made with renewable energy.

While legitimate “green” products fulfill one or more of these criteria, very few can claim to satisfy them all. In the same way, serving the green graphic design market isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Each segment has a unique character that requires its own design and marketing approach, and some will probably have more appeal for you than others. Here are a few to explore:

Alternative energy

The fortunes of renewable energy companies ebb and flow with the tides of government subsidies and the cost of fossil fuels, but the industry is emerging from its infancy. Wind energy has the strongest lead, accounting for more than 35% of all new generating capacity in the U.S. since 2007 according to the American Wind Energy Association. Solar energy is gaining ground as well, with geothermal energy, marine energy and other innovations somewhat further behind.


Much of this market is still business-to-business work for providers of utility-scale installations. Since many renewables generate power only under certain conditions, there’s some movement toward installations that combine more than one type or include high-capacity storage (nighttime storage of energy generated by solar panels during the day, for example).

Consumer opportunities are still challenging because of the cost and complexity of installing them. Companies in this market could benefit from creative designers who can help tell their stories more clearly.

If you’re a socially conscious designer, you may enjoy “Just Design: Socially Conscious Design for Critical Causes.”

Alternative fuels

Pain at the pump drives this segment. When gas prices rise, so do sales of the Toyota Prius and investments in emerging fuel technologies. This market includes everything that hopes to compete with gasoline, including electric cars, biodiesel, ethanol and even experimental microbes engineered to turn wastes into gasoline. Big clients include the U.S. Military, which seeks to reduce the manpower needed to defend oil and gas supply chains, and companies with large vehicle fleets.

Green building

Government incentives and buyer demand are prompting a green renaissance in construction. Some players in the industry are calling for faster change, others are half-heartedly following the trend because it’s where demand is growing most rapidly. Get involved with the U.S. Green Building Council to meet the people in the vanguard. You can often find prospects from other segments at their larger events as well.

Natural and Organic Food

From your local farmers’ market to vegetarian/vegan restaurants to organic food corporations, consumer demand for healthier food is driving growth in a variety of niche products. If packaging is your strong suit, this segment probably offers the most opportunity, as long as you can get beyond the clichés of Papyrus type and kids’ hands cupping baby plants.


Not just a progressive novelty anymore, recycling and reuse are now integral to many corporate cultures—especially since the cost benefits are clear more often then they used to be. Entire industries are now based on recycling plastic bottles alone, turning them into everything from park benches to auto components. Other companies are giving new life to paper and wood, used tires, chemicals, industrial byproducts and more.

Other Business Types

Long-established companies in every industry are eager to green their image. Some are merely responding to consumer demand, but an increasing number are owned and operated by people who value sustainability themselves. My first green assignment was a PR brochure for a global manufacturing company eager to let retailers know that it had been pursuing green values since the 1950s, long before it was trendy to do so. Other companies have their own green stories, new and old, and you can help them do it.