Week 6

Reaching out

I have decided to email design studios and printers to identify what the core problems are within the design industry and access to sustainable alternatives in the market.

My question is as follows:

“I would be really grateful if you would have a few minutes to respond and tell me your experience personally with access to sustainable resources. This can be anything at all -whether it’s your experience with clients requesting specific materials and how you approached it/recommended alternatives, or any suggestions on how the design industry needs to improve its sustainable footprint. For instance, are there concerns that opting for sustainable materials means compromising on quality, is sustainable pricing too high for client budgets, or is it simply an access/awareness issue?”

Design studio 1: (Osborne Pike)

“To be honest as graphic designers for brands and packaging (as opposed to corporate identity, print and digital design), we find ourselves downstream of most decisions or questions about sustainability. That’s because our clients’ brands are already fine-tuned for optimum production down very fast production lines, and materials have very large effects on speed, efficiency, transportation and safety. As a result all of these things have already been thought about, and our questions tend to be limited to the print opportunities or constraints. Any sustainability initiatives will have been through months or years of testing by the client before we get to ‘work with’ their chosen sustainable solution.
Designers who work with the 3D nature of packaging are much closer to the questions you are asking, and may have considerable influence (if they know enough about the technology of using new materials on very fast production lines). I think you’ll get far more relevant information from companies like Studio Davis (will@studio-davis.com) or KInneir Dufort (https://www.linkedin.com/company/kinneir-dufort/_ ).
To your specific questions on quality, pricing and access, all three can be barriers but there is now considerable pressure to overcome these barriers and simply get it done. We’ve seen brands like Pip&Nut move out of plastic into glass (even though the carbon footprint discussion is still equivocal on this kind of change). 
I definitely see the reduction or recycling of plastic as the number one issue in our industry. However as I said above, only material designers have enough technical knowledge to advise clients on new, more sustainable materials from a practical perspective, and even then the clients’ own production teams and/or their packaging suppliers might have more influence.
We’ve recently designed cheese packaging with recyclable mono material (PET) for a big dairy client, but this is hardly state of the art; it’s still something that took them years to get right, considering the need to adapt many production lines and achieve the right bacteriological and shelf-life considerations. In the future I expect new materials (including new types of plastic) to come on-stream and we’ll be very happy to design for the brands that use them. But packaging is way too technical a field for graphic designers to advise on in most cases, certainly with multinational clients anyway.”

From the recommendation above, I have contacted Kinneir Dufort and Studio Davis with a similar query; but based around their work on their website*.

*Revised October: I have not heard back unfortunately.

Design studio 2: (Freestone)

“This last 1-2 years has seen a shift in the industry for more sustainable graphics / Materials
Clients / Brands are now requesting that the print materials used are more sustainable and if possible locally sourced. And while this is possible that are many caveats to what is viable to be used.
One of the crucial factors is cost – going sustainable does cost more… Materials are generally more expensive, due to the fact that they haven’t as yet been bought in the same quantities as legacy materials, to get the costs down.
Mostly the plastic boards used in large format Exhibition graphics.
(It’s worth mentioning that many of the new ‘ECO’ materials don’t perform quite as well as their non ECO counterparts, although the new materials are getting better.)
And buying in the UK vs China to save the carbon footprint makes a big difference to costs – China can often be 50-70% cheaper.
It’s just whether large companies can justify the additional costs to make this statement.
The paper industry has been very proactive this last 10 years, with nearly all stocks sourced within Europe, and from sustainable / re-planted forests.
Also many of the finishing materials now have an ‘ECO’ equivalent, like the plastic laminates that are often used to give a premium feel to printed literature, these can now bio-degrade.
Some clients are now really questioning the use of so many graphics atEach of their events, now opting for a more minimal approach, while good for the environment, it is impacting on the turnover of graphic design companies who produce these items, who now have to find other ways to supplement their income.
We are currently creating a new swatch book to help clients understand new sustainable Expo type materials and show them that are alternatives. And also to promote our approach to sustainability. (See attached – not finished yet). I could go on – but hopefully this gives you a quick view of our current perspective”

Design studio 3: (Beanwave)

“I would say, the biggest problem is that the issue of sustainability has dropped well down the priority list for marketing and brands in the last 10 years. This is going to sound cynical, but it’s much easier to make a logo rainbow coloured once a year, than actually dig into areas like sustainability (or any complex issue).
I can’t recall too may instances of being asked anything about sustainability of materials or production practices in the past few years. Certainly less than 10 years ago. Doesn’t mean I don’t deliberately source sustainable papers and materials (I do), but it’s not often a pre-requisite. There’s also the myth that not using paper is by default a good thing, but that anything digital is without any environmental footprint.
I guess the big question is: “Is it a designer’s job to educate clients on sustainability?”. Probably not. As with footballers tackling racism and equality, it’s certainly not what we’re being paid to do. But, regardless of what our job role or industry may be, it IS the responsibility of every human being to do better for the planet, and therefore we as designers absolutely should be doing what we can.”

Design studio 4 (Studio mango)

“We often apply such materials, the biggest problems I can easily sum up:

  • Clients all want it but are very cost price sensitive. And such materials often are 200 to 300% more expensive, then it is a no-go.
  • There are huge amounts of companies / startups busy with developing such materials and marketing them to receive funding. On websites you are made to believe it is all ready but when you contact them often it is not the case and will take years.
  • Homogenous quality, in industrial manufacturing process many of such materials fail because each batch is different to the next. So machine settings need to be reinvented and adjusted with each production run which is not feasible.”

MLSK studio meeting booked with founder Sheri, for Weds 21st July (week 8)


  • Graphic designers are downstream from sustainable manufacturing decisions and that is where all of the information is to persuade clients… Reach out to those
  • Finishing materials for print are developing to be biodegradable, and paper is being sourced within Europe and certified. Materials are now becoming available on the market
  • For some designers, clients aren’t prioritising sustainability
  • Pricing inflation, delays with material development, unique production runs can be problematic

Overall, a mixed set of responses especially where client requests are concerned – some are asked a lot for sustainable alternatives, some have no requests at all. Obviously this depends on the client, scale, budget and type of project so I expect there will be variances. I am really pleased to see Freestone’s snippet of sustainable offering publication – it is really great to see that materials are becoming available on the market and an absolute well done to Freestone for doing their research and expanding their offering to clients. I genuinely believe this is a huge step forward in the right direction for our future as designers.

I’m going to look up the sustainable alternatives mentioned in the publication above:




Green Cast Acrylic



PVC-free Self Adhesive Vinyl