What does sustainability mean in the context of Graphic Design?

What is ‘cradle to cradle’ design and how can you see this applied in the Graphic Design industry?

Cradle to cradle design is a method or practice in design and science that was developed by architect William Mcdonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart. Cradle to cradle can be described as the most effective green design method and can be characterized as follows:

  • Materials are defined as biological and/or technical nutrients for safe use and reuse
  • Products are designed for disassembly/recovery
  • Uses renewable energy
  • Maintains and enhances water quality
  • Honors social fairness and human dignity
  • Improvement is continues and aspirational

(Make It Right, 2016)

This process allows for production to have almost no environmental impact and making sure the end product can either be reused as it is or be recycled and be re-inserted into another cradle to cradle project. In other words, the cradle to cradle process isn’t just reducing the carbon and environmental footprint but also improving it. This is also mentioned by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry or MBDC (2016), where they state;

“Rather than seeking to minimize the harm we inflict, Cradle to Cradle® reframes design as a beneficial, regenerative force—one that seeks to create ecological footprints to delight in, not lament. It expands the definition of design quality to include positive effects on economic, ecological and social health.”

I personally believe C2C could quite easily be applied to the design industry (if it has not been already) as all it takes is learning to incorporate a new step into the design process that factors in this practice. By understanding outsourced processes such as printing and paper production, a designer could then start to move towards a much greener and regenerative design process. This is mentioned by Design Can Change where they encourage green thinking as second nature in the design step. They describe this as; Make a sustainable mindset second nature

Beginning to make a sustainable mindset second nature.

  • Take the environment into account in all aspects of your studio’s decision-making
  • Consider the complete cycle of the products you produce
  • Explore new ways of working that reduce your studio’s negative impact
  • Ask questions: Is the project necessary and effective?
  • Are there other ways to achieve its goals?

It is also said by Design Can Change that “The public is starting to recognise the importance of good design. They demand it in their products, entertainment experiences and almost every facet of their lives. It is now accepted that our efforts are pivotal in shaping the world around us”. This being said I personally believe that by all Graphic Designers should be following C2C when possible. This will reinforce the current situation and need for change, both in the environment, and the materials used in product production. Through design, we could begin to benefit our planet greatly.


What ad has the most impact for you and why?


(T-Y-V Media, 2011)

This ad created by T-V-Y Media is and advert that had the most impact for me. I believe that the amount of packaging we use throughout the world is not needed and over the years has drastically got out of hand. It is stated by Tim Elliot (2010) for the Sydney Morning Herald that, “In Australia alone we have used almost 14 million tonnes of plastic since 2000, according to the latest industry figures. But tonnes and tonnes of discarded plastic wind up polluting the ocean and waterways and endangering wildlife”. We do need packaging to stop certain foods from spoiling and to protect certain items but I don’t believe we need a plastic bag to put a wax paper wrapped sandwich in. This is a bag that will instantly be thrown into the garbage or left on the ground to end up in the waterways. This is also stated by Elliot (2010), where he mentions, “Some of the most damaging material comes in the form of lightweight every-day items such as bottles caps and supermarket bags”.

This is common practice for one certain fast food outlet and is just one example. As human beings, we are consumers (Ivanko, 2008), but I do believe it has gotten out of hand. The amount of nonbiodegradable plastics that end up in a landfill and the ocean is slowly strangling the planet. This advert sheds light on this topic, using the cabbage leafs as a metaphor for a call to the world to start using biodegradable, green and recyclable alternatives and to steer away from our addiction to plastics.

List five things that a Graphic Designer can do in their practice to decrease their impact on the environment.

Research conducted into decreasing environmental impact as a graphic designer led to may many different solutions. This included not only methods to put into practice when working on a design project but also turning your surroundings into a green environment. Natasha Storm (2010) outlined a list of things one can do as a designer to reduce their environmental footprint which include

  • Are you using energy efficient light bulbs?
  • Are you turning off your PC/appliances when you’re finished?
  • Are you using more paper than needed?
  • Are you printing more than necessary?
  • Can you reduce your own waste materials?
  • Do you have recycling methods in place?
  • Are the materials you’re using recyclable?
  • Are the materials coming from somewhere nearby?
  • Are the materials non-toxic?
  • Can you use ?
  • Can scrap materials be used?
  • What will happen when the user no longer needs this piece?
  • If printing, are the inks vegetable-based or soy-based?

This checklist holds many things that can lower one’s environmental footprint. I believe these questions should be asked, answered and implemented to ensure that all designers are doing their part to help the environment where possible. Not only through their green design practice but also by working in a green environment.

Works Cited

Design Can Change. (n.d.). Make a sustainable mindset second nature. Retrieved April 6, 2016, from Design Can Change: http://www.designcanchange.org/#/act/becoming_sustainable/slide2

Elliot, T. (2010, July 25). Addiction to plastic is fuelling marine disaster. Sydney Morning Herald .

Ivanko, J. (2008). Why are People called CONSUMERS? Retrieved April 6, 2016, from Sustainable Blog: http://sustainablog.org/2008/06/why-are-people-called-consumers/

Make It Right. (2016). Design + Science – Cradle To Cradle. Retrieved April 2016, from Make It Right: http://makeitright.org/c2c/

MBDC. (2016). C2C Framework. Retrieved April 6, 2016, from MBDC: http://mbdc.com/c2c-framework/

Storm, N. (2010, March 25). Going Green in Graphic Design. Retrieved April 6, 2016, from Creative Overflow: http://creativeoverflow.net/going-green-in-graphic-design/

T-Y-V Media. (2011, 01 2011). WWF: Sustainable Packaging. Tonronto, Canada.



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