The Day After Earth Day: What Can You Do Tomorrow?

I have mixed feelings about Earth Day. For years now, it’s served as a day of overwhelming do-good messaging and sales pitches “honoring” the planet and its health. Some of us might get the idea that Earth Day is just a gimmick. But a pretty substantial part of my brain thinks that Earth Day can serve an actual purpose in the life of a graphic designer.

We often have our heads buried so deeply in client work, in budgets and deadlines, and project specs, that a day to come up for air might not be such a bad thing. Environmental expert John Thackara estimates, after all, that a full 80% of a product’s environmental footprint is determined at the design stage. That gives us a whole lot of control that most of us don’t even think about. The following ideas, based on Re-nourish’s Sustainable Design Roadmap, can help you make better design decisions so your work exists in the world the way you want it to:

Step One: Ask Better Questions

Designers are problem-solvers and ask questions by nature. So when you tackle your next project, ask a few more:

  • What resources will be needed to make the project happen?
  • What will the project leave behind?
  • How will the project be used in the real world?
  • What can I do differently than I normally would to reduce the project’s impact?

Identifying these things at the outset will allow you to make better design decisions as you go, reducing the project’s overall footprint.

Step Two: Use Fewer (and Better) Materials

As designers of artifacts, our biggest footprint is often caused by the materials that go into the things we design.

Try Re-nourish’s Project Calculator, which takes your project specs and automatically spits out recommendations for reducing paper usage and trim waste during printing. The environment will thank you, and your client will love that paper savings translates into cost savings for them.

Specify FSC- or AFF-certified, recycled paper. The Re-nourish Paper Finder offers more than 300 paper choices that meet our rigorous environmentally responsible criteria, from bleaching to recycled content, to responsible forestry.

Avoid paper wasters like full bleeds (which require your printer to trim off the excess, causing more waste), and finishes like foils and metallic ink that disrupt the recycling process. Lower impact finishing alternatives include blind embossing, die-cutting, and laser-cutting.

Consolidate components. Flex your design muscles and get creative by replacing envelopes with self-mailers, using self-fold tabs instead of die-cuts, etc.

Step Three: Collaborate and Educate

Designers rarely do their best work in a vacuum. When we join forces with other creative thinkers and push ourselves, the work almost always improves.

Find a printer who knows their stuff. Yep, we’ve got a tool for that. Nothing beats a good relationship with a responsible printer, and our Printer Finder will help you locate one.

Educate yourself. HOW’s new print column and section on the HOW Blog “Designing Change” shines a light on what your colleagues are doing to make a difference in the world, and Re-nourish offers plenty of case studies, primers, and definitions to inspire you.

Educate your clients. This could be as simple as asking them if they’d like to include footprint reduction among their project goals, or it might mean that you provide a 100% recycled stock as one of their paper choices. But the opportunities are endless. As soon as you save a project in our Project Calculator, for example, you’ll get a project footprint report that you can provide to clients to help them understand how our design choices impact the planet.

So tomorrow, when the Earth Day sales are over and your email inbox is a little emptier, consider how easy it really is to take control of your design footprint.

Writer and designer Jess Sand is partner & content lead for
Re-nourish, a not-for-profit project dedicated to helping the graphic design industry grow into a more sustainable field, and communications manager for the San Francisco-based nonprofit Net Impact.



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