The color green has long been associated with nature, life, renewal, growth. In the design world, it carries a hefty weight. Green has come to represent the environment and designers’ commitment to it, manifested in the finished product. Laden with responsibility, understanding the concept is the first step in creating sustainable design.
Green design is complex; it is not just a matter of choosing the right paper and inks—though materials are definitely part of the sustainable equation. Designers need to see green design as a whole. The bigger picture presents many layers according to Brian Dougherty of Berkeley-based Celery Design Collaborative, a firm with roots soundly planted in sustainability and social justice. “At Celery, we talk about the ‘stuff’ aspect of green design as the outer layer of an onion. Stuff means materials such as post-consumer recycled paper and low VOC inks, as well as manufacturing techniques like efficient use of the press sheet and molded pulp packaging. This is the most visible aspect of green design.
“If you peel back the onion, you can get to a deeper sort of green graphic design where the ‘message’ promotes positive social and environmental change. This involves a value judgment on the contents of whatever is being designed—an uncomfortable proposition for some designers. We need to acknowledge that most of the ‘stuff’ we create is intended to effectively communicate information and messages to particular audiences. If we use our communication skills to add value to positive environmental and social messages, then we are engaged in green design. A brochure for a 12MPG Humvee is not green design, even if it’s printed on recycled paper and has photos of big pretty trees.
“I reserve a special place—the very core of that onion—for designs that truly go beyond the status quo and re-imagine how we approach graphic design. Ideally, the exercise of green design can be a springboard for solving problems in fresh ways.” Dougherty sites FedEx’s reusable envelopes and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s pocket-sized Seafood Watch List as examples of good design resulting in a big, positive impact.
Phil Hamlett, MFA director, School of Graphic Design at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, believes that despite the fact that sustainability is being linked to graphic design more and more, “Few designers have a clear understanding of what the word and its attendant concepts actually mean, while fewer still can relate it to their everyday business practice or understand the implications it holds for their future.
“It’s actually a progressive issue in which the business community is out in front. Designers have some catching up to do. The problem is that many designers perceive the issue to be punitive (‘But I don’t want to print my nice photos on shitty recycled paper.’). Some of the speakers at the Vancouver AIGA conference had difficulty putting a positive spin on the notion. Inspirational speakers from successful companies (like Chris Hacker from Aveda) are one of the best ways to get designers interested.”
Hamlett builds awareness through the many hats he wears. He is both the Environmental Chair of the San Francisco AIGA Chapter and the founder of Compostmodern (www.compost-modern.org), a 2004 interdisciplinary design conference that promoted sustainable design as an everyday practice and mode of thinking, rather than a niche way of working.
“Making people aware (designers and clients) that it’s not just about paper and printing, but business practices as well, is a difficult thing to bring up in polite conversation. There is a lot of latent guilt associated with it. Many people would prefer to just look the other way and conduct business as it has always been conducted. I try to put enough information out there to attract the people to whom it speaks, then use them to gradually change the definition of ‘standard business practice.’ Everyone else will come around eventually, once those expectations are clearly delineated.”
Hamlett and Dougherty are focused on positive change within the industry. In keeping with the work that they, and others, do, the following twelve projects demonstrate the many facets of green design.
Dougherty concludes, “I believe that designers need to own their power as persuaders/communicators and use that power on messages that have a positive impact.” ca