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Green Design: The Missing Link?

By on November 14th, 2012

Via The Living Principles (via the Modern Species blog via GD USA [whew!]), Gage Mitchell asks “why isn’t the sustainable graphic design conversation progressing?” That is, on the design side of the equation, the conversation seems to have stalled around recycled paper and soy ink (although as the GD USA June survey found that other issues are creeping into the mindset).

it seems everyone should be aware that regardless of what the aesthetics may be, the future of design must be sustainable because the business world is changing. As evidence, almost every large corporation today has a Director of Sustainability, or at least a public waste reduction plan.

So why has green design stalled circa 2007?

Perhaps it’s because our creative counterparts who design buildings, spaces, and products learn about sustainability issues in school. They also have certifications setting a baseline from which to start, and then push beyond. If communication design schools could add sustainable design thinking to their curriculum, not only would it create that needed baseline for our industry, but it would also produce an army of young, motivated designers equipped with this new (and much needed) set of tools – ready to offer great value to any design firm / business.

I think the commenters to this post add some valuable perspective. A lot of the stumbling blocks are the nature of the work that designers do. Here at Going Green, we often highlight cutting-edge package design work that takes sustainability in new directions, but few rank-and-file designers are, as one commenter puts is, “designing new Puma boxes.” What is—or can be—sustainable about redesigning a Web site or optimizing it for a mobile device? At the same time, many of the specifics of a project are dictated by the client. If those clients have a sustainability agenda, they instruct the designer if/when to use sustainable materials. If the client doesn’t especially care, or if the budget is the more pressing concern, it may or may not be the designer’s place to bring up sustainability options—and some of the more drastic experiments with new, greener consumables are not likely to come up. “Hey, here’s an idea, let’s use bamboo-based paper for your business cards” is probably not going to realistically come up in most design conversations.

Ultimately, the design client defines the specs of a job, much like it is the print client that defines the specs of a job when buying print. Much like savvy printers can work with print buyers to devise more sustainable options, so, too, can designers work with their clients to at least broach the subject of “greener” design. One key element, of course, is education and knowing what those green options are.