Sustainable design is an emerging discipline within the wider sustainability movement where making an organisation’s impact on the world a positive one is just as important as generating profits.
You may know it as environmentally responsible design, eco design, green design, or ethical design but at the end of the day, it’s simply good design practice. It’s about seeing the bigger picture and finding better ways to solve problems.
Giving You An Informed Choice
Designers are often called upon to guide their clients through a production process – whether it’s a website build or designing artwork for print.
I, and a growing number of designers, believe that it’s important to help our clients make informed choices that go beyond cost and aesthetics. For example a small change in spec can make the difference between a product that’s recyclable and one that will end up in landfill at the end of its life.
It’s the designers duty to take responsibility for the whole lifecycle of the items we design – and that could mean recommending the most sustainable materials, production method and distribution as well as producing a design that will meet the brief and do the job.
Of course at the end of the day it’s our clients who decide on the path to take, and budget, timescales and other constraints can sometimes mean that compromises must be made to get the job done. Just as profit should not be the sole driving force behind a project, nor should sustainability – the ideal outcome is a practical balance between the two.
How Sustainability Can Help Your Business To Grow
We can all agree that working responsibly and sustainably, is the right thing to do, but just in case you need a little more encouragement, it could also make your business more profitable and attractive to customers.
More and more consumers are demanding responsibly produced products and services, and that trend covers all sectors from responsible travel and tourism to household goods.
Back in 2015, Nielson’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report showed that 66% of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. And that jumps up to 73% for millennials. (Source Forbes.com)
The Ethical Markets Report 2016 found that 53% of the UK population are choosing to avoid buying products and/or services over concerns about ethical reputation. (Source ethicalconsumer.org)
And for businesses looking to recruit fresh talent for their workforce, a huge proportion of young workers – 80% of 13-25 year olds – want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society. (Cone Millennial Cause Group via Forbes.com).
So not only is sustainability the right thing to do, it’s also meeting a growing consumer demand, attracting young talent and increasing customer trust, loyalty and engagement.
Sustainable Design For your Business
If you’re keen to explore ways that your business could become more sustainable, you’ll probably want to know exactly what this involves from a design perspective. The guide below covers some of the essential considerations for ethical, sustainable design:
HOW YOUR DESIGN & BRANDING CAN BE SUSTAINABLE
Message and Impact
What message does your product, service or item project?
Are there ways that you could adapt your approach to encourage a more positive impact?
For example if your product involves disposable packaging that can’t be avoided could the design incorporate a message encouraging people to recycle or reuse it?
How necessary is the item you’re planning?
What problem will it solve and are there other, greener ways to achieve the same result?
For example if you’re planning a direct mail campaign and are considering having thousands of flyers printed, think carefully about how much waste that will generate and the level of return you’re likely to receive.
If you can discuss your objectives with your designer at the briefing stage they may be able to suggest more effective, less wasteful and even cheaper options.
Think about the complete lifecycle of your product or item. What will happen at the end of its intended use?
Are there ways it could be repurposed, reused or recycled?
Could it have a secondary purpose to prevent it being sent to landfill?
If there is no alternative than it going to landfill could it be made more biodegradable?
Remember, just because something is theoretically recyclable doesn’t automatically mean that it can be recycled everywhere, so keep local context in mind too. Recycling facilities vary across the country – if your product is specific to a certain area, can it be recycled there or would an alternative be more appropriate?
HOW YOUR PRINT CAN BE SUSTAINABLE
Printing uses up a huge amount of raw materials. From the stock being printing onto to the inks used, the cleaning process and finishing materials like glue and staples.
The first step in sustainable print is to get these materials down to a minimum. Is the item an unusual shape? Keeping to standard sized reduces waste.
Could the item be made smaller? A5 rather than A4 for example?
Could it be printed on a lighter stock?
Could it be folded rather than glued or stapled?
Could the ink coverage be reduced?
Is that spot uv or laminated coating essential? (Both make paper very hard to recycle).
Once the materials have been reduced, consider whether they could be improved.
Could you switch to a recycled stock?
Could the inks be more environmentally friendly?
Consider the compound effect of using a greener paper – the amount of water, wood, solid waste and CO2 emissions saved can be staggering.
Choose your print supplier carefully. Are they working in a responsible way?
Where do they source their energy?
How much waste do they generate and how do they deal with it?
What chemical byproducts does their process create and are they making efforts to reduce it?
How close are they to the the end destination for your item? If delivery is long distance this could cancel out other savings.
Think carefully about the quantity of print that you order. It may be tempting to stockpile to get a better deal, but try to order only as much as you need.
HOW YOUR WEBSITE CAN BE SUSTAINABLE
Energy Footprint – Hosting
Website must be hosted on servers, and servers tend to be very energy hungry.
Consider choosing a hosting provider that uses renewable energy and keeps its environmental impact to a minimum.
Efficiency – Speed of Loading
The faster a webpage loads, the less energy it consumes. Every element of a website, from code to images, should be optimised for reduced file sizes that load faster.
Lifecycle – Print Friendly Pages
If any pages on your website are likely to printed, offer a print friendly version that will use minimal ink. This might involve removing large images or backgrounds and reducing text size.
Finally, consider the overall practicality of the project. As important as sustainability is, if it makes the work unaffordable, impractical or prevents it from meeting the brief and solving the problem something has gone wrong.