What Designers Can Do to Protect the Climate

by

The soaring temperatures of last summer’s heat wave and worldwide climate protests have been keeping us in suspense. In this current age of climate crisis, building an eco-friendly design process is not a niche subject anymore: Eco-Design or Green Design—the movement already carries many names, but usually aims to incorporate environmental and sustainability criteria into the development of products.

Leading companies such as Ikea and Apple have already established their in-house Eco-Design guidelines. But the term does not solely refer to industrial, product, or furniture design items, but also involves the creation of printed books, posters, and packages. Graphic design, like other industries, depends on a large number of limited resources which not often have a comparatively significant impact on the environment. These limited resources include not only paper and ink, but also energy and water which altogether determine the size of the ecological footprint of the final piece of work. Therefore, design for environmental and social good becomes increasingly important.

Like major companies, studios and freelancers can reduce their impact on the planet with wise material selection. All choices can be based on a systematic and comprehensive design approach at any stage of the project. This way, creatives can develop solutions for sustainable consumption of limited resources. Through sensible decision making, they can reduce their impact on the environment. Among the factors which influence eco-friendliness of a design are the following:

Concept

Eco-Design does not always describe the appearance of the final product but mainly the process of production. The conceptual stage is the most crucial and should always start with thoughtful conceptualisation. These first decisions already determine a large part of the eco-friendliness of the final product. Here, the designer can foster change by looking for the best solution. Determining if the product could be lighter or smaller could greatly reduce material consumption, shipping duration, and ultimately waste. Furthermore, this is the stage where the designer also has to think about the longevity of the product.

Eco-friendly design by Lauren Royal

Paper

Material selection plays an equally decisive role during a project, and despite digitalisation, paper remains a distinctive design material. In fact, more paper is used today than ever before. Graphic designers are accompanied with the consumption of paper and cardboard in their daily work. Often, it is a Hobson’s choice whether to use it or not. However, the environmental impacts which are affected by the consumption of large amounts of paper, are less visible. Hence, the final design should make use of environmentally-friendly materials which can be bleach- and chlorine-free paper as well as recycled or certified sustainable paper.

Inks and Printing

The ultimate goal of Eco-Design is to create products that only require small amounts of resources while achieving the desired aim. This is especially true for the usage of ink. Print inks often contain pollutants that create emissions and thus contribute to climate change. Therefore, the use of inks that are not certified should raise red flags. Today, there are many alternatives and environmentally-friendly printing techniques designers can utilise. Instead of using inks that contain high levels of toxic materials, one could work with soy-based inks or print entirely bleed-free.

Packaging

While avoiding complex production is crucial, the lowering of packaging materials results in a reduction of waste problems and is of equal importance. Today, many materials like plastic and foil are still used for wrapping up the final goods. Making use of non-recyclable elements often leads to unnecessary pollution of the environment, even though such materials are used for a limited amount of time. Rethinking the product cycles of packaging and making it part of a graphic design might bring promising results that are more aesthetic, useable, and change the future for good of humankind.

Shopping made from recycled paper by geographic

Office energy consumption

The main goal in the production of an eco-friendly design is to limit the use of non-renewable resources as much as possible. This is valid for design materials and energy, which has a major impact on emissions. Computers and servers require large amounts of fossil fuels, which can be reduced by making use of a greater amount of energy from renewable sources. Switching a portion of fossil fuels to renewable energy can only help improve the climate.

All in all, designing eco-friendly requires original ways to be innovative. But certainly, eco-friendliness in design is becoming more popular. Even first courses are offered by design schools. Here, students learn how to create a sustainable design practice which evokes sophisticated aesthetics with environmental protection that everyone benefits from. Hopefully, this trend will settle down to become a mainstay part of the design practice. Though designing eco-friendly might involve more planning, it can also narrow down the number of design decisions that must be made in advance of a project. All in all, Eco-Design needs a greater public focus to strengthen social awareness towards a conscious graphic design practice.

You may also like