Green Graphic Design: Why And How to be More Eco-Friendly

Wine Bottles

Green Graphic Design: Why And How to be More Eco-Friendly

by Angela Ferraro-Fanning of 13thirtyone Design

Why Green Design?

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the world population is expanding at a mind-boggling rate. The world reached 1 billion people in 1800; 2 billion by 1922; and over 6 billion by 2000. It is estimated that the population will swell to over 9 billion by 2050. That means that if the world’s natural resources were evenly distributed, people in 2050 will only have 25% of the resources per capita that people in 1950 had.”1

Both our individual lifestyles and the way we run our businesses contribute to this rapid decrease in resources. If we as small business owners or freelancers can control our services easily and lessen their harmful effects on the environment, why wouldn’t we? Many people are under the impression that running an environmentally friendly operation at work or at home costs loads of money and time. This isn’t necessarily true at all. In my experience, going green has helped me to reduce costs on utilities such as electricity and water and keep less paper in my printers (which means more money in my bank account). It’s also helping my clients save money as well. They’re no longer paying for the printing of single-sided, countless brochure inserts; they’re using double-sided pages instead or moving their information online entirely. But this isn’t the portion of the article where we discuss the “how-tos” of going green; that’s later.

On a global scale, going green is good for the earth. It joins the worldwide effort to save our planet and to preserve the resources we have for generations to come. In a business sense, it can work to your marketing advantage. It can also keep your expenses down all while giving you a warm and fuzzy feeling. And finally, in terms of design, it uses the skills we have for the greater good. We can use our knowledge of self-promotion to help our clients to market themselves in a more eco-friendly manner. Imagine how much paper could be saved if all designers thought this way!

1 Go Green Initiative’s website, http://www.gogreeninitiative.org/content/WhyGoGreen/

Going Green: Starting With Your Work Environment

Before we start talking about ways to “green your design,” we must first visit the office space in which you’re working. I feel it’s important to practice what you preach. For example, if you’re telling your clients to use less paper, don’t keep your trash can filled with old print-outs while your recycle bin is empty.


Start by evaluating how much paper you use versus how much paper you really should be using. Printing out endless mock-ups for client approval is not the most tree-friendly option. Send your proofs via pdf in an email. Keep paper out of it all together if you can. But what about client signatures? What about having them sign off on a project? According to the American Bar Association (http://www.abanet.org/scitech/ec/isc/dsg-tutorial.html), digital and electronic signatures are fully adequate. Furthermore, computer software providers such as Adobe now have programs that are entirely created for Digital Signature recording and security (if you’re interested, check out Adobe Digital Signatures here: http://www.adobe.com/security/digsig.html)

Secondly, for those times when we do need to print off directions from Google Maps for our next client meeting, try printing on paper that is already using a percentage of post-consumer content. Then, use it again. In other words, save sheets of paper that have been only used on one side. Reprint on the back-side and you’ve just gotten twice the amount of printing paper for your buck.

Finally, invoicing takes up lots of paper. I send my statements once a month using pdf files via email. While this may not work in certain instances, it certainly saves on paper, envelopes and postage. PayPal (http://www.paypal.com) also has an electronic invoicing tool for credit cards. Check out the Merchant Services portion of their website.


Designers need adequate lighting when it comes to looking over those Pantone swatch books. But do costly fluorescent light-bulbs really do the trick? Lucky for me, I’m able to position my desk under a skylight. On sunny days, I use absolutely no electricity to light my workspace! Don’t have a window? Try investing in Compact Fluorescent day-light light bulbs. They require far less energy and won’t make your own skin appear green.


Being that graphic designers do use so much paper, it’s important to look at our recycling methods. Did you know that “for every ton of paper that is recycled, the following is saved: 7,000 gallons of water; 380 gallons of oil; and enough electricity to power an average house for six months”?2

Try to be better about recycling old mock-ups, client print-outs, and even mail. Nothing is a greater distraction than flipping through those beautiful full-color stock-photo catalogues, but at 20 pages a piece, a lot of trash can be created. If you’re not interested in receiving those offers or notifications all together, be sure to get your name removed from their list as opposed to just throwing them out and calling it good.
2. Go Green Initiative’s website, http://www.gogreeninitiative.org/content/WhyGoGreen/

Website Hosting

Most designers and design firms have websites. Some provide web design services and offer hosting as a service to their clients. Move both to an eco-friendly hosting company next time your contract is up for review, if you can. I’m about to make the switch myself and have found a lot of great companies out there. Some run entirely on solar and wind energy while others buy carbon credits and “pay back” the carbon emissions they create. The preference is up to you, but either way, there are many green providers out there. The list below is just a few that I’ve come across in my search for a greener hosting alternative:

ThinkHost (http://www.thinkhost.com/) They plant a tree for every new customer!
Sustainable Websites (http://www.sustainablewebsites.com/)
Elfon.com (https://www.elfon.com/green.jsp )

The list can go on and on about how to have a more eco-friendly office. A great podcast that I’ve listened to is hosted by GreenLivingIdeas.com (http://www.greenlivingideas.com/). Their Green Talk Radio host Sean Daily has uploaded several podcasts where he discusses green office ideas with actual consultants. Check out the podcasts directly on itunes to download previous episodes. Otherwise, the direct link is http://personallifemedia.com/podcasts/234-greentalk-radio

Going Green: Greener Graphic Design Solutions

Obviously all design projects and clients are different, so telling you that your brochures should be of a certain size and be only a one-color job won’t really work. However, there are some definite points to keep in mind when assigned to a particular project. Thinking in terms of creating a more eco-friendly design solution tends to keep the end-result more in mind. Asking yourself, “What will happen when the user no longer needs this piece? Can it be turned into something else? Is it something that people would want to hang on to? Can be recycled?” become routine questions.

Below is a list of several possible design projects and some eco-friendly alternatives I’ve come up with. I would definitely recommend throwing some of these ideas in your “save for later” box as they can make great self-promotional ideas as well.

Email Campaigns, Not Postcard Campaigns

As said previously, one of the best ways to help the environment overall, is to create less trash. As graphic designers, we can contribute largely in this area. Direct mail campaigns may be effective, but they’re also costly. Between design services, printing and postage, the dollars really begin to add up. Furthermore, having a 7% response rate, on average, is considered “doing well.” That means 93% of the postcards or direct mail pieces create little or no response at all. Where do you think they’ve ended up? Yep, most likely in the trash.

Not only are email campaigns paperless, but they’ve been proven to create better results. It’s delivered directly to one’s email inbox, it creates easy viewing, and there’s a level of convenience. If the viewer wants more info, all they need to do is click and they’re at your website. That’s instant gratification, and consumers love that. Try convincing your client that this may be a more cost-effective and sustainable way to go.

If You Have To Print, Print This Way

So you’re client’s all about making postcards and they seem to get great results. Great, but if you have to print, do it wisely. Print the quantity the client will really need; not enough to store on their bookshelves in boxes behind their desk, nor enough to leave you with 400 “samples.”

Talk to your printer about paper options that are created from post-consumer content; options that also won’t hinder your design or the project objective. Find out if your printer can use soy or vegetable-based inks. Sometimes, some printers only have these inks in specific colors. Make sure you find out these color restrictions, if applicable. If your printer isn’t into the “green thing,” you can try out a few of my resources:

*On A National Level: Greener Printer (http://www.greenerprinter.com)
Very eco-friendly and easy to work with online.

*On A Local Level: Graphic Design, Inc. (http://www.gd-inc.com/)
Located in Hastings, Minnesota. A full print shop with many green capabilities.

*On An International Level (label printing): Metro Label Group, Inc. (http://www.metrolabel.com/eng/index.asp)
I’ve never worked with them personally, but understand they actually run their business in an environmentally-friendly building. Located in Canada, this company offers label printing solutions.

Better Banners

If you or your client has decided to do a tradeshow, the most typical signage pieces are banners. There are actually printers out there that specialize in printing not only with environmentally-friendly inks, but on eco-friendly, durable banner materials as well. A good example of such a printer is Green Banners (http://www.greenbanners.com/).

Put Catalogs Online

If your client prints and distributes product catalogs, there’s never been a better time to inspire them to sell products online. E-commerce websites can be pricey and time-consuming to initialize, but once they’re up and the products are listed, it will take less time to manage and advertise them, than it would to redesign and print them however often. Sounds like you just got an opportunity to put a client on retainer and gain a little security.

E-Coupons, Not Paper Coupons

Coupons are great and they tend to be very effective. You can help your clients cater to their lazy customers (and to the earth) by not printing and mailing paper coupons. This creates work for the customer (they have to cut!) and trash. Instead, feature coupons on the client’s website or in an email campaign with a promotional code. Your client now has an effective coupon with no paper and no cutting.

Check DontPayFull.com for latest coupons and offers.

Again the possibilities are endless. But it’s not about having a check-list of what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to being a green designer. It’s about determining the so-called “after-life” of a project and thinking about its affect on the environment up-front.

Make the Commitment

If you’re really finding that green design is a new passion for you, there are several organizations you can join to mingle with your Green Designer counterparts. Some of these design groups can make great resume builders and others are just great networking opportunities

Design Can Change: Graphic Designers Unite to Address Climate Change
Make the pledge here to be a more sustainable designer and to do your part when it comes to the welfare of the environment.

Co-Op America: Economic Action for a Just Planet
Join Co-Op America and if your green membership is approved, you’ll be placed in their National Green Pages, a directory of environmentally friendly business nationwide. You also get a nifty approval badge to display on your website.

AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts)
Not necessarily a green organization in itself, but they host conferences on green design. Check out the sustainability section of their website: http://sustainability.aiga.org/

Minnesota Green Pages Directory
(http://www.thegreenguide.org/greenpages )
For the locals – become a member of Do It Green Minnesota and you have the option to be listed in their directory.

An online resource for green graphic designers. Contains links to blogs, the ability to share case studies and tools for the environmentally concerned designer.

For more info and ideas on being a green graphic designer, please visit my blog at 13thirtyone.blogpost.com.

Wine Bottles

My gift to my clients. The champagne goes to my wedding invitation clients on their wedding date. The other red wine bottle was last year’s Christmas gift. Both gifts are recyclable once their empty!

NDG Stationary

When working on this identity system, Nordeen Design Gallery was very enthusiastic about printing all their pieces on recyclable materials. Their letterhead, envelopes, return envelopes, proposal sheet and terms and conditions notice is shown here (all printed on recycled paper).

Kick Invitation

Kick was throwing a VIP party in February. They wanted an invitation that utilized their branding while giving the recipient the idea that this was a very special event. Recycled papers were printed on for both the card and the envelope.

Eco Friendly Tote

Self-promotional piece I did recently for a trade show event of mine. I wanted to pass out something that was eco-friendly, so I screen-printed on these reusable bags. People carried the bright orange bags around at the conference for their other free giveaways (which was awesome advertising) and they can be reused over and over again!

[tags]green design, green graphic design, eco friendly design, eco-friendly design, eco-friendly graphic design, how to be eco-friendly designer, how to be more eco friendly, green marketing materials, eco-friendly marketing materials, eco-friendly printers, eco-friendly printing, green printing[/tags]

Bookmark and Share


del.icio.us | Digg it | Furl | ma.gnolia | Netscape | RawSugar | reddit | Simpy | StumbleUpon | Yahoo MyWeb |
Post a Comment or Leave a Trackback


  1. liam
    Posted May 13, 2008 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    Hmm, some interesting points. But I’m not convinced that getting everyone to stop using paper and start using a PC is really Green? Surely more damage is done using a computer than there would be writing a letter.

    Electricity, metals, plastics etc etc…?

  2. nksoni
    Posted May 13, 2008 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    very nice blog- nice concept- i liked it…

    also visit my blog at http://www.graphixdesigns.blogspot.com

  3. Posted July 18, 2008 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    Excellent post. The design studio I run is also environmentally aware and is taking steps to be a ‘green’ company.

  4. Posted September 6, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Check out our blog which has lots of green tips and ideas. http://www.cipacs.org

  5. Carly Bannerman
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Dear Sir/Madam

    I am a degree student currently in my second year. As part of my term requirements I am undergoing a research project. Within this project I will be investigating sustainability within the design industry, and how it has introduced new ways of thinking about design and the roles and responsibility of a designer. So it would be much appreciated if you could help me with my research, by filling in a questionnaire. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards

    Carly Bannerman

  6. Margaret
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Eliminating all printed materials would marginalize those who cannot afford a computer or broadband access at home. I personally know many unemployed or underemployed folks who have cancelled their internet access, and I know many older folks who just don’t use a computer. There are also many, many people who simply can’t afford this technology. The answer lies in the middle — offer electronic versions of media for those who request it, and have some printed materials like catalogs and pamphlets available for those who prefer that.

    If there was a law that required an easy way to opt-out of any marketing snail mail - for example, a requirement to include in an obvious place on the piece a website or phone number to call if you no longer wish to receive offers from a certain company - this would go a long way to reducing waste.

    We want to be careful that we don’t marginalize those in society who don’t participate in commoditization and the electronic culture when going “green.” Green really means a reduction and conservation, not substituting one material (computers) for another (paper).

  7. Posted July 22, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Great set of ideas. I would like to add that you can figure out if your printer into “green thing” by asking few simple questions. http://www.auadesign.com/work/5-questions-green-designers-should-ask-a-printer.html

4 Trackbacks

  1. By Green Graphic Design on May 13, 2008 at 2:08 am

    [...] Green Graphic Design [...]

  2. [...] how to be a more eco-friendly, green graphic designer. Save money and help preserve the environment.read more | digg [...]

  3. [...] ideas courtesy of and adapted from allgraphicdesign.com. Thank [...]

  4. By Green Graphic Design on December 7, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    [...] wrote another article for All Graphic Design’s blog on the subject of being a green designer. Check it out if you have time. Otherwise, the article [...]

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

About Us | FAQs | Contact Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy

All website design, text, graphics, selection and arrangement thereof, and software are the copyrighted works of Allfreelance, © 2003 - 2015 QuinStreet, Inc.