Designers can’t change the world- but what we can do instead

After one of the Designmonat lectures I just needed to research a bit about what it means to be sustainable/environmental conscious as a designer.

Designer can’t change the world – But what they can do instead

Sustainable graphic design

Social and environmental issues are forcing designers to acknowledge that also their design process is most of the time the very opposite of eco and social friendly. 

As the population is continuing to grow, natural resources are becoming more and more scarce. There need for fresh air, water, food, dependable transportation, safe jobs, and housing is increasing. Apparently, paper distribution and use have contributed heavily to the elimination of our world’s forests. 

Lead a sustainable design revolution.

What does it mean for graphic design to be sustainable?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines sustainability as ‘allowing for current economic needs to be met while preserving biodiversities and ecosystems to maintain the same quality of life for future generations.’ 

To know what sustainability means for graphic design, one must examine the tools and resources designers use on a daily basis. 

A main material which is used is paper. Paper is usually made from wood pulp which is taken from trees and requires a great amount of energy and water to produce. After the paper is manufactured designers use it for printing that also requires water, energy and, of course, ink (which is made from petroleum products requiring energy and water to refine and manufacture.) It is pretty clear that all of this has a huge impact on our planet. 

So, for designers to work in a sustainable way, all of their materials and energy must be renewable, recyclable and/or reusable. As a starting point, graphic designers should be more aware and better educated of their actions. 

  • Which ways are there to significantly reduce our tree-fiber paper use?
  • Learning more and switching to the Cradle to Cradle model
  • Reducing our carbon emissions in our studio
  • As well as: cooperating with vendors that utilize both renewable energy sources and environmental policy
  • Reducing unnecessary packaging in our designs
  • Use inks that are organic, non-toxic and vegetable-based

Working sustainably should be at the beginning of every design process. At first the designer should decide if the project deserves to exist in a tangible form, should be communicated digitally or should work as something else e.g as an intellectual system (e.g. cooking classes instead of printed recipe cards)

It is very important for graphic designers to think about and discuss the project goals before starting with any design measures. As a designer: educating yourself is just as important as educating your client. The solution of the project then should follow these four sustainable design principles:

  • Respect and care for the community
  • Improve the quality of life, conserves Earth’s vitality and diversity
  • Minimize the depletion of non-renewable resources
  • Change personal attitudes and practice to keep with the planet’s carrying capacity

These goals should then motivate the designer to engage in more specific tasks like:

  • Choose local, sustainable and recycled materials
  • Choose renewable energy
  • Educate the consumer about the life cycle of the object through messaging/marketing
  • Cooperate with vendors which are environmentally and socially aware/friendly

(Benson, 2007)


Benson, E. (2007). What is sustainable graphic design? Design Philosophy Politics.

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