Design Strategies: Paper & Packaging

Design in the era of 400 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere means that we are working against the clock to avoid a climate change catastrophe. To create going forward means that we have to reduce our impact and also design to renourish our planet. It means improving our air, water, and land, and then sustaining that progress. The Earth is as much a stakeholder in our design projects as our clients.

Once you know what goes into making paper, you can start looking for better options—and there are plenty to choose from. You’ll find an expanded list of definitions in our glossary, but in general, paper should be:

  • Made from non-wood sources (Agricultural Fibers)
  • 100% PCW recycled fiber is a substitute.
  • Processed chlorine-free (PCF).
  • Uncoated.
  • Ancient Forest Friendly and Rainforest Alliance (See Canopy’s Ancient Forest Friendly database).
  • Manufactured using renewable energy, or be offset by legitimate renewable energy credit programs (such as Green-e).
  • Sourced and manufactured as close to the printing facility as possible.

Practical Strategies to Lower Your Impact (Green Design)  

  • Reduce
      • Reduce the amount of paper and other materials used overall by designing smaller and more efficient pieces.
      • Avoid additives or excess finishing like foil stamps, varnishes, and laminates.
      • Create pieces to be as light as possible without sacrificing durability (also known as lightweighting).
      • Avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plastic in general
      • Stick to digital printing for shorter runs.
  • Reuse & Design for Durability
      • Design the piece for extended use or intentional reuse.
      • Know the user and co-design whenever possible. This ensures they are truly invested and will use it for a long time
  • Recycle 
    • Aim for 100% post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled content.
    • Be easily disassembled for appropriate disposal channels.

Practical Strategies to Create a Positive Impact  (Design to Renourish)

  • Renourish
    • Replace wood fiber papers with agri-fiber papers (wheat straw or hemp for example) when doing so is regionally and environmentally preferable.
    • Employ Cradle-Cradle thinking. Create to compost and improve our soil.
    • Select a local certified greener printer, (use the SGP database) for production.
    • Manufacture and transport using renewable energy.

Paper, Printing, and Ink Worksheet

A quick reference guide for sustainable print design best practices.

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Materials Worksheet

A quick reference guide for choosing greener materials.

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