From paper weight to white space, there are plenty of ways to make your print practices more eco-friendly, as Anne Wollenberg discovers
It’s not easy being green, so the saying goes – but it’s certainly worth trying. Aside from the obvious benefits to the planet, adopting more sustainable print practices can also make for an important selling point when it comes to attracting those all-important clients. “Caring for the environment and pursuing sustainability has always been good business practice,” reflects Claire Connelly, creative director at Papercut. “And this is also a distinctive point of difference from our competitors.”
While designers may compete for eco points, that doesn’t mean that your clients will do the same. As Tom Bradley, partner at Root Studio explains, eco-awareness has reached a stage where clients don’t necessarily want to slap on a ‘made with recycled paper’ slogan – it’s a lot more subtle than that.
“Lots of people use green print as a marketing point, which is fair enough if it helps their business,” he says. “However, a lot of our clients choose greener print because it makes them feel good about what they’re doing. I think people really appreciate the ethos behind the way we do things. They like the fact that everything has been considered and taken care of, they like the textures recycled paper brings, and they also like the fact that they’re using local producers.”
So how do you go about evaluating your own print processes and taking steps to make them greener? Justin Ahrens, creative director at Rule29, says there are three main issues to consider when designing a piece of work: “We start by thinking about the lifespan of the piece – how can we make it last longer? Then there’s the paper we’ve chosen – is it FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified, and does it contain post-consumer recycled content?
“Get familiar with the various paper and materials that have high PCW (post-consumer waste) content and are made in a way that is positive for the environment,” he advises. “And do the same when it comes to local print partners. Find printers that are holding themselves to high standards, in both their work processes and certification. Then, work with your printer throughout the project to help size your piece in the most efficient way.”
“The biggest challenge is usually the extra cost of going recycled,” says Bradley. “The other, less obvious way to cut down the carbon footprint of a piece of work begins in the design studio. Usually, our clients will get it right, but if we feel that we’re designing something that has more pages than necessary or we’re working to the wrong format, then we’ll suggest a more efficient alternative. Lighter weight type, shade colours and use of space are all factors too. The end product is another thing to consider – can it be reused? Does it have another purpose? Can it be recycled itself?”
While recycling is a key issue, it’s by no means the first step on the eco ladder. There are various other issues to consider too. “Most people interested in working from an environmentally conscious perspective have heard of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle,” says Noah Scalin at Another Limited Rebellion. “But what people may not realise is that the order they come in is important as well.
“If you’re more efficient with the materials you work with, you will have less to deal with later,” he explains. “Then, ask yourself: what aspects of this project can be reused? The key is to treat each project individually and not put the same eco-template on every job. For example, choosing local printers and available materials can be a much more environmentally friendly choice than having the latest ecoproduct shipped.”
According to Scalin, a couple of extra Rs should also be added to the list: “Rethink and restore. Can you rethink a project before you get started? Rather than accepting something has to be printed, would a digital version suffice? When you do this type of questioning before you start working, everyone benefits. Not only will you be doing something good for the environment, your client will appreciate you are being careful with their budget, since wasted materials mean wasted money.”
Scalin’s recent designs include a brochure for New York theatre company New Georges, which functions both as a mailer and a poster. “When unfolded, the piece gives detailed information about the production on one side and a dramatic image on the other that can hang as a standalone poster,” he says. “It’s also printed on recycled paper and designed to be mailed without the need of an additional envelope.”
This is the kind of practical thinking that can make for print projects that are multi-purpose and therefore make better, more thorough use of the materials involved. Papercut employed similar thinking when putting together a capabilities pack used to demonstrate their dedication to green design and print, aiming to squeeze the maximum possible usage out of their materials.
The goal was for the project to be compact and postage-friendly, made from environmental paper stock and using the whole paper sheet, leaving no unnecessary waste. “The pack’s envelope is designed to hold the contents securely,” says Connelly. “Four flaps fold in and form the envelope, and the reverse can be addressed and posted without requiring another one.”
Nestled inside the pack are six square cards printed on FSC stock. “To get the absolute most out of the paper, we designed a die that used all the off-cuts of the card from the envelope,” Connelly explains. “We printed a capability pack, postcard, door hanger, four business cards, promotional drink ticket and game instruction – all in one print run, and produced from one die-cut.”
Toma Pople of Meltoma Design has recently been working on an eco-friendly print campaign for the Rainforest Foundation UK, depicting the effects deforestation would have if it happened somewhere closer to home. “The campaign was to raise awareness of indigenous people in the Congo rainforest,” Pople explains. “They’re changing a law that will free up a lot of space that has previously been protected.
“To get people signed up to the cause, we decided to take something they would be familiar with and bring the effects of deforestation and destruction of the rainforests to that space,” says Pople. The result is an imagining of what would happen if London was ravaged by the kind of destruction that’s threatening rainforests. “The idea was for people to see something they could automatically connect with so they’d ask questions and want to know more,” explains Pople.
To keep the project green, 100 per cent recycled stocks were used. “If you’re using recycled stocks, you need to be conscious of the amount of ink used,” says Pople. “Keep the ink levels down to 225 per cent or thereabouts, or the paper stocks don’t tend to absorb and that can cause set-off, where one item transfers onto another. Be aware that recycled stocks can absorb some of the ink, so colours can appear dull. So if, say, you want a striking red, make sure it’s very red and the areas around it are not.”
“Make sure you have a very strong relationship with your printer and that they understand the printing process,” advises Marc Nipp, co-owner of Canadian studio El Designo. As well as finding ways to reuse paper waste, he also advises making size adjustments where possible. “It can double the amount of product that fits up on press, saving money and eliminating waste.”
When it comes to the printing process, Nipp highlights the handling of any Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which can affect water and soil quality, as a key concern. “Replacing mineral oil with vegetable oil means you can reduce or even cut out VOC emissions,” he says. Waterless printing – sheet-fed litho using different printing places – has earned itself some staunch supporters, who say it results in improved colour constituency, greater colour saturation and a faster make-ready time.
The main green schemes on offer to printers include EMAS (the Eco- Management and Audit Scheme), which recognises organisations that go beyond minimum legal compliance, and the internationally recognised environmental management standard ISO14001. Some design companies, such as Root Studio, have made the decision to only work with printers that have both these accreditations.
“Set yourself standards,” agrees Caroline Clark, a graphic designer who runs green print information resource Lovely As A Tree. “For example, decide you will only specify 100 per cent recycled paper or you will only use printers that have ISO14001. If you set yourself standards you can’t go below, it allows less room to cut corners if you’re in a hurry.”
And if your printer doesn’t have the environmental standards you recognise? “Ask them what they’re doing,” says Clark. “Try to investigate digital, and consider using lighter weights of paper. And look at the materials you use. The moment you start using comb bindings or anything similar, it’s something else that has to be removed.”
It’s important to remember that adopting eco-friendly practices isn’t a clear opt-in or opt-out process: there are many degrees of sustainability. While the very nature of print means it will never be the most environmentally friendly medium, it’s certainly possible to engage in greener practices just by taking a few simple steps.
“Today’s eco-friendly line of products is bigger than ever, so everyone should have some ‘greenness’ in their work,” concludes Rule29’s Ahrens. “The most important reasons are that we can, and we should.” But, he adds, keeping eco issues in mind when developing design concepts needn’t come at the expense of your creative practice. “Let them inspire you, not limit you.”