The 10 Biggest Myths of Sustainable Design

What you need to know about environmental claims

1. “I’m buying Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper so I’m as green as possible.

It’s not the recycle content that impacts the environment most, it’s the practices of the paper mills and printers we choose that matter most. By seeking out paper mills and printers whose practices consider the environment you will increase your business’ sustainability.

2. “If it can be recycled, then my project is environmentally friendly.”

You’ll notice in the three R’s that recycle comes last. Start with solid strategies to reduce the burden on resources and follow that with the reuse of materials. As designers, we are guilty of assisting overconsumption in our industry. Try doing more with less and use creativity to compensate for the reduction of materials.

3. “Two-colour printing is better for the environment than four-colour printing.”

Technologies have advanced far more quickly for four-colour work than for other processes due to demand. Even though Pantone launched the GOE System in 2007 with eco friendly inks, printers tell me that it’s a huge financial investment to change over all their Pantone inks. So there is no one correct answer here—keep an open mind. It is possible that four-colour will be a better environmental choice. Talk to your suppliers.

4. “I design for the web so I’m already a sustainable communicator.”

The impacts of computers are often invisible. We don’t deal with computer waste or see energy use. The impact of reading online for extended periods of time is actually more resource intensive than print.

5. “Anything printed on paper is recyclable.”

Unfortunately, paper recycling varies widely by location so consider the possible locations of the end user and find out what recycling facilities are available to them. To create more recyclable products try to stay away from non eco-friendly adhesives, metallic inks, foils, varnishes, substrates and bindings.

6. “I care about the environment, so I am already being sustainable.”

The environment is just one of four pillars to sustainability as defined by the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada. Social, cultural and economic considerations are all components that must also be included.

7. “Recycled paper costs are way outside of my client’s budget.”

Today, the cost of recycled papers runs the gamut. Price differences may be minimal while offering leverageable benefits. Ask for quotes and put the cost difference in perspective for the client.

8. “It’s not my job to suggest sustainable alternatives to my clients.”

Recommending appropriate materials and substrates for your design work IS your job. If it is important that your client maintain an up-to-date profile in the marketplace, then your recommendations about communication tools are appropriate.

9. “My computer is already on all day so I might as well surf.”

Every Google search has an impact and the more complex the search, the more power used. The amount of electricity used by U.S. server farms is growing at a rate of 14 per cent per year and accounts for approximately two per cent of all electricity consumed in the U.S. Reducing your online activities is better for the planet.

10. “Buying carbon offset credits and going carbon neutral is the answer to sustainability.”

Being carbon neutral is just one of many strategies employed to reduce the environmental impact for businesses. But it’s just a starting point. Determining the resources you use is a first, necessary step in changing the way you do things.

First published: Jan 5, 2012