Sustainable practices for graphic designers include a wide range of issues. When creating traditional print materials the toxicity of ink and paper and the sheer quantity of paper produced need to be considered. In addition to these factors there are other phases of the life cycle of products that need to be examined. To really determine the sustainability or carbon footprint of a product, one needs to follow it through its entire life cycle. Questions need to be raised about how much fuel is being used for shipping, what the final end product is, how long the life cycle is, and how long before the product ends up as waste.
In Green Graphic Design author Brian Dougherty asks graphic designers to start at the end of the process instead of the beginning. Imagine the best possible destiny for your design and visualize the process of every phase from the final destination of your product at the end of its life cycle back to the design studio. Consider everything from the time of its ultimate disposal to its conception including transportation, warehousing, production, and manufacturing that may prevent green solutions from being implemented.
In Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart make a similar case for how sustainable practices need to be implemented. They assert that it’s not enough for us to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” They explain how products need to be designed from the outset so that after their lives they will provide nourishment for something new. McDonough and Braungart feel that when designers employ the intelligence of natural systems—the effectiveness of nutrient cycling, the abundance of the sun’s energy—they can create products and systems that allow nature and commerce to fruitfully co-exist.
One of the biggest challenges that graphic designers face is educating their clients about sustainable practices. When companies claim to be ecofriendly based on a myopic view of sustainability and without looking at all the implications of their actions, they may end up being guilty of greenwashing—the practice of “spinning” their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources. Sustainable practices need to be authentic. If they are not, they lose all credibility.