Four years ago I noticed a number of beautiful direct mail pieces that I spent countless hours designing in a trash bin near a bank of apartment mailboxes. It dawned on me that warm summer evening that everything I had previously created and in the future will design would end up in the landfill or be incinerated into our atmosphere. During the seemingly innocuous process of choosing a nice weight/color of paper and burning a CD of files for the printer, I was helping to destroy the forests where I loved to wander, breathing in their wisdom. This awakening led me to question whether there was a more ethical yet still fulfilling way to design. I began reading about a topic, which at the time seemed foreign to me: sustainability. I spent many days afterward frustrated with, and disappointed in, my profession. I wondered how it could be saved. I was drawn by these thoughts to graduate school and eventually to the launch of my website www.re-nourish.com. The site holds my research on sustainability and how the professional can easily switch to this better way of designing in their day-to-day profession.
I wasn’t alone in this line of thought, as ordinary citizens, paper companies, designers, printers, professional organizations (like the AIGA � http://sustainability.aiga.org), and business leaders noticed that our climate is indeed changing and our forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. The National Resource Defense Council estimates that half of our planet’s forests are gone and calls out the paper industry as the third largest emitter of global warming pollution. This collaborative awakening has led designers and paper companies to increase the demand/supply of quality recycled/post-consumer waste (and tree-free) paper sans deadly chlorine and the realization (for some) that for all of us to continue to function profitably in our economy, we need to have a way of sustaining our natural resources and without question need an everlasting supply of clean and renewable energy sources.
In the capitalist model of economics the consumer drives the market through their spending decisions. The past six years has seen the demand for recycled paper increase around 10 percent. Consequently the flexibility of many printers to incorporate these papers and other energy conserving/FSC and ISO-certification methods into their daily business operations has also risen proportionately. The printers that I list on re-nourish have even gone the extra mile changing the way they operate, writing and adhering to an environmental mission and in many cases investing in renewable energy and only using post-consumer papers. These actions should be applauded as a means to continue to grow the sustainable nature of the industry.
However, all the “green” headway shouldn’t occur in individual silos of industry. It is vitally important that designers and printers form a tight bond if our future is to be sustainable and socially equitable. In a recent project I collaborated with senior graphic design students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where I teach graphic design). We decided to use New Leaf Everest 100% PCW/PCF paper in our 162-page booklet to send a message to potential parents and students that our College of Fine and Applied Arts supports our environment and collective future. The printer that won the bid was very open to using the paper despite not having it in their warehouse. The representative from the printer and myself spent a great deal of time discussing what we wanted to accomplish environmentally on the project and they consequently allowed us to order the New Leaf paper separately from their buyer to get it delivered in time to finish the job. Moreover, through careful planning and deliberation we were able to expedite the proofing process via FTP (saving paper/CDs) and used soy-based inks to lessen our ecological footprint. The project was a great success for the University of Illinois based on the efforts of the talented student designers, workaholic professors, the New Leaf Paper company and of course the flexibility of the local printer.
The conversations with the printer leading up to the deadlines were enlightening for myself and hopefully for them as they were introduced to 100% PCW paper on their presses for the first time. As more designers and printers embark on the sustainable journey it is best for us to stick together. An open line of communication is not only educational but also the best way to start discussing project goals early as many times obtaining sustainable materials may take a bit longer. We must quickly recognize that we are all in this together. Our future depends on this realization and I am proud to be a part of the sustainable revolution.