January 6, 2012

Waste Not, Want Not

The Science and Practice of Sustainable Design

Author: Aaris Sherin

The role of a designer is undoubtedly a demanding one: You have obligations to your boss, your clients, yourself, and the project at hand. However, a graphic designer's responsibility to the environment is often overlooked and underestimated. Every day, we make decisions on behalf of consumers by specifying papers, inks, and special printing techniques that visually enhance our work, often without realizing the environmental consequences of our decisions. Designers who want to be proactive and minimize the consumption of natural resources can make relatively small changes to benefit both our clients and the environment.

Proof On Screen, Off Paper

Every day in design studios around the world, office printers are going nonstop. For example, the headline size of a brochure is changed from 24-point type to 26-point type, and the designer prints out another paper proof to view the change. Fifteen minutes later, the headline color changes from PMS 648 to PMS 647, and another sheet of paper runs through the printer. While the nuances of design do require a close examination, you can be much more efficient and reduce an enormous amount of paper waste by proofing onscreen as much as possible before you print.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that waste paper constitutes 90 percent of all office waste by weight, and it ends up in landfills if not recycled. If you really have to print, such as in-house memos and proofs that will not go to a client, it is easy to make a simple change and use both sides of the paper.

Educate the Consumer

Minimizing waste isn't just about the designer; it's about the end-user as well. Though recycling was on a solid and steady rise for about twenty years, recent studies indicated that consumers are not recycling as much as they used to. One study estimates that consumer recycling has fallen by almost 5 percent in recent years. Many experts attribute this apathy to the fact that recycling isn't new or trendy anymore. Others say that recycling has become an inconvenience, even though an EPA study shows that on average it takes just over two minutes a day to separate your recycling from your trash.

In many cases, it is not about being inconvenienced, but rather about being uncertain. Consumers are often unsure of which products can and cannot be recycled. This is especially true in localities without formal recycling programs.

Designers should place a high priority on ensuring that the consumer knows a product is recyclable. In just a small area of real estate on the package or printed piece, you can add the recycling logo or a phrase that signifies the product's recyclability. By indicating that a package design or printed piece uses recycled content or vegetable-based inks, for example, you can inform the consumers that they are making smart choices on behalf of the environment. That makes good marketing sense.

Consider Size

The size of the paper your project will be printed on typically exceeds the dimensions of your original design. Printers will fit as many pages of your design onto one sheet as is possible. Your objective should be to choose the most appropriate paper size for the project, keeping in mind that the U.S. printing industry uses multiples of the 8½ x 11-inch sheet as a basis for their paper stock sizes. In many cases, your printer will assist you in this process, but knowing beforehand what is available enables you to make informed decisions during the initial sessions when you think about the size and shape of your project.

If you specify an unusual size for your layout, a large amount of the paper will go unused, which wastes resources and money because paper is typically one of the higher costs in the production process. While the unused paper will be trimmed and recycled, simply adjusting the size of your design can allow you to use the paper more efficiently.

If you do have to create a design at a size that leaves a lot of trimmed waste, consider including another project on the print run to use the excess paper space. Or you could work directly with a paper manufacturer to develop a custom paper size specifically for your project. This will insure that you are using the most effective paper size for your needs and will reduce waste.

Curb the Ink Flow

Another way to create a more environmentally friendly piece is to use less ink. Reducethe number of inks required to print your project, or better yet, reduce the amount ofink coverage in your design. Incorporate more white space into your layout, use feweror smaller photos, vignette the photos, or use screened colors. Unless the success of your design hinges on a specific color, talk to your printer about using the ink already on the press from a previous job. As a result, less ink will become waste and the chemicals usedin cleaning the press is reduced.

As you design, think ahead to how your product will be disposed of. Ideally, it will be recycled. As it is being recycled, each page will go through a de-inking process, in whichink is removed from the page. The de-inking process leaves behind a sludge containing ink, dyes, adhesives, staples, and other contaminates that must be disposed of. By anticipating the disposal stage of your product, you are working toward a better understanding ofcradle to grave design, and you are limiting the amount of waste that ultimately ends upin a landfill.

Lay Off the Trigger

Today, many businesses rely on a shotgun approach to marketing. Company literature is sent to hundreds or thousands of people in hopes that a few will respond. You can reduce wasted resources by carefully researching and targeting your audience, making sure you are reaching your prime audience with maximum efficiency. Instead of creating a direct mail piece for 10,000 prospective customers, a designer can do some additional research and create a targeted, personalized campaign for 1,000 more likely prospects and a more cost-effective and less paper-intensive job.

While you probably won't be able to incorporate every suggestion into each project you work on, even a few changes in your design process will make a noticeable difference. Your decisions will have a positive effect on the environment, and you might be surprised to learn that some of these tips will save you and your client time and money.

Source: SustainAble