Is the design industry engaged with sustainability?
A recent lecture I attended entitled ‘Taking a Stance on Sustainability’ by Lynne Elvins, Design Advisor at Design Wales, looked at how ethics and sustainability are still strangely optional within the design industry, rather than being part of mainstream thought.
Many people, small to medium businesses and even global corporations still run a mile when the word ‘sustainable’ is mentioned, conjuring up images of recycling vigilantes and Greenpeace campaigns from the 1980's in their heads. The truth is that sustainability is really more about people than it is the planet. The planet will keep spinning as it always has through ice ages and heatwaves. Sustainability is about making sure we look after the planet and resources so that we can continue living here pleasantly.
A balance of three agendas
Society (People), Environment (Planet) and Economy (Profit) are the three key things that need to be balanced when talking of sustainability.
Keeping it in context
It's very hard to engage your clients or even your own business, when faced with the all-too-often-talked-about potential doom and gloom of ‘breaking’ planet Earth. This is why it's important to keep things in context and tackle issues depending on the size of your business. It can even be done on a project by project basis.
What are the main drivers for clients and/or businesses?
The important thing I learnt here is to talk of the benefit of sustainability on business and profit. It's not about politics or guilt or of wanting to be ‘eco’ particularly. It's simply good for business.
Potential drivers for business are:
- money saving
- a need to because of legislation
- expectations from your supply chain (Sainbury’s for example would demand a certain take-up of sustainable policies from a supply, to tie in with their own sustainability policy).
- USP or price premium for sustainable products
- brand reputation
- long-term survival
What are examples of areas of design that need to look at sustainability?
Products – e.g. reducing packaging materials or innovations in electronic products to use less energy when operating
- Services – e.g. car share clubs (promotion/branding), supermarkets promoting sustainable campaign such as bags for life and using electric vehicles for shopping delivery
- Branding and communication – product labelling tools, campaigns by industry leaders such as Proctor & Gamble’s Ariel ‘Turn To 30 Degrees campaign’, ethical product and packaging campaigns such as ‘Fairtrade’.
Analysing suppliers we (designers) use
A relatively embedded and simple thing such as sourcing print can be thought about from a sustainable point of view. Does your printer offer the following?
- Water-less printing technology
- Recycled paper stocks or stocks using trees sourced from a sustainable source (Forest Stewardship Council regulated)
- Water or vegetable based inks
Analysing our need for print and the impact it has
As designers we can also think about our approach and attitude to a print job and sell suggestions and ideas forwards to our clients:
- can we suggest smaller sizes of brochures that use less paper or produce less wastage?
- foil blocking and laminates look beautiful, but they often don't recycle very well
- should we charge per page for design so it might spark an idea in a client’s head to reduce the length of a printed document?
- does your client need a printed brochure? How about an emailable or downloadable pdf version instead?
These thoughts barely touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to thinking about sustainability (sorry, didn't mean to get all ‘eco’ there!) but just go to show that we can make a massive impact, very simply, without becoming preaching, political or shoving guilt down people’s throats. Think about what it can do for your business and your client’s business.
Thanks to Lynne Elvins, whose insights guided much of the content and thoughts for this blog post.