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Sustainability: How Can Graphic Designers Contribute?

Questioning our environmental impact is becoming a larger issue today. I try to find relevance with graphic design and environmental sustainability. Finding the significance is difficult because I have not experienced many conversations about environmental sustainability in the graphic design field.

When looking at images of landfills I think about the fact that so many designers’ works lay there, which is both a bit sad but also a part of a product’s life. The waste that is produced through the creation of a design can be disheartening to think about. Work is being produced to quickly be wasted in landfills.

Reducing, reusing, and recycling is something we are taught about in grade school ,but these systems are not always possibilities when we still need to produce. An alternative solution is to design and integrate a process that involves sustainability prior to the production. In the book Cradle to Cradle William McDonough writes about how recycling is post production when it can and should be thought about preproduction “Recycling is more expensive for communities than it needs to be, partly because traditional recycling tries to force materials into more lifetimes than they are designed for.”

Environmentally sustainable graphic design products include:

-Transportation: Where are we sourcing materials to be used to make a product? Is there an ability to choose a product that is local, reducing emissions from transportation costs?

-Materiality: What makes up a product? How many different parts are there? Are we using dyes and color processes that waste large amounts of water?

-Life: How long are these materials supposed to be used for? How much longer past their life will they last? How long will the materials take to decompose?

These questions are just a start to this never-ending discussion. There may never be a single defined answer to the waste production we are facing. For now, we can maximize the resources and technology we have available.



McDonough, William. “William McDonough Quote.” A-Z Quotes,

Press, Associated. “The US Government Grossly Underestimated How Much Trash We Throw in Landfills.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 Sept. 2015,