TCG Roadmap: Green Up Your Act

Team Green: Incorporating Sustainability Into Design

The social emphasis on a more environmentally sensitive approach to doing business is bringing significant changes to the design world – far beyond previous eco-conscious initiatives, such as the use of recycled paper or soy-based inks. Terms like “sustainability” pop up frequently in conversations among design professionals who are on the lookout for ways to help their companies better align business goals with progressive ecological principles.

Join the Green Vanguard

In addition to responding to internal clients’ requests for “green” collateral, creative directors should take steps to ensure they’re on the cutting edge of change. “We advocate that design teams begin to learn about sustainability, develop a plan for implementing and incorporating sustainable practices into their work and communicate what they’re doing to clients and suppliers,” says Lisa Wellman, CEO of Mercer Island, Wash.-based SustainCommWorld, producers of the Green Media Conferences and ECOfocus Seminars. “It’s always easier and cheaper to be proactive rather than reactive. Right now ‘sustainability’ is a differentiator. Start now.”

Participate in Corporatewide Green Initiatives

Designers need to make sure they have a place at the table when their firms are developing environmental policies. Meredith Fordham, creative design manager at JAXPORT, worked with the organization’s full-time environmental manager so that practices like posting documents in the agency’s online media room and using an eco-friendly font (like “Ecofont,” a typeface developed by Dutch marketing and communications agency Spranq that uses up to 20 percent less ink when printed) on internal documents would be part of the company’s Environmental Management System Plan.

Put Suppliers to the Test

Sustainability calls for thinking about the work from concept to compost, explains Wellman. This includes examining every link in the supplier chain, from prepress houses and printers to paper manufacturers, and looking for suppliers that are already offering carbon neutral workflows, products and processes.

“Typically, design teams get very comfortable with a group of trusted suppliers,” she notes. “To keep up, however, they’re going to have to examine whether those suppliers are up to speed with sustainable best practices and make some hard calls about who they’re going to do business with.”

Educate Yourself and Your Team

New products and services that address the greening of the media are coming to market almost daily, notes Wellman. It’s a lot to keep up with, but staying on top of such developments is part of continuing professional education. “Designers are going to have exciting new materials to work with and they need to make themselves aware of what’s available and on the horizon,” she says.

Know When Not to Green

As companies try to save money and earn environmental credibility, designers may sometimes find themselves in a curious position: steering internal clients away from what seems like an eco-friendly option. An example is when businesses distribute corporate newsletters or magazines as PDF files rather than printed copies, a strategy ISO has used. “It saves our paper costs, but it doesn’t save paper,” observes Ivan Boden, creative director at ISO, a Jersey City, N.J.-based company that supplies data analytics to the insurance industry. “What you have is all the recipients printing copies that are single-sided on low-quality, office-grade copier paper. So really, that doubles or triples the amount of paper used. If anything, it’s anti-green.”

Quality also can be sacrificed in the process, he adds. “That’s been something I’ve been trying to educate people about. ‘Is electronic versus print worth the quality degradation?’ In some cases, it probably is. But when it comes to a high-end piece, it’s not.”

Green Gradually

It’s not possible – or practical – to “green” every aspect of your company’s collateral in one swift step. Fordham recommends a gradual transition – even if it means taking it one item at a time. “Next time you do a brochure, do it with PCW-content or FSC-certified paper,” she suggests. “Then build from there. When you order those promotional stress relievers, get the biodegradable ones, then the recycled newsprint pencils. A big change starts with a small choice.”

One thought on “TCG Roadmap: Green Up Your Act

  1. Rob Corwin

    Thanks, Andy. This is a great post. Sustainability is an important subject for designers, and it’s and area where I think in-house design teams are well positioned to provide leadership. It’s also an area I think many of us find particularly challenging in practical terms. I’m an in-house creative director working in a sustainability-focused organization, and I still often find myself facing questions with too few authoritative resources to turn to.

    I wanted to suggest one resource I think your readers will find helpful. I’m proud to be working with the planning committee for Compostmodern 11. It’s a conference about design, ideas and sustainability — organized by AIGA and taking place in San Francisco on January 22. It’s shaping up to be an inspiring event, and we’re looking for designers to join our conversation. We hope people will send in their key sustainability questions, so that we can incorporate those subjects into the event.

    Find us on the Web at

    Join us on Facebook at

    Or follow @CompostmodernSF on Twitter

    –Regards, Rob Corwin (San Francisco)