Week 7

What we don’t see

This week I want to explore the issues behind sustainable practice which influence the decisions and positioning of large brands to opt for a non-environmentally friendly alternative.

Carbon footprint – general

How bad are bananas? – Mike Berners-Lee

We’ve all heard of carbon footprint but what about carbon toe-prints? Author Mike Berners-Lee explains how important fundamental information is regarding sustainability; how companies need to consider the bigger picture (the entire footprint) of their business, instead of just the basic things like print, packaging, using less electricity etc. (the toe-prints). 

What I have learnt so far in my research (particularly from doing a brand archive) is that there are a lot of companies who only think about the toe-prints and then when the entire footprint is investigated, they get into trouble. This includes but is not limited to: importing illegal materials (IKEA – timber), releasing eco-conscious garments but burning millions £’s of stock (H&M, Burberry etc.) and drivers making 3 separate deliveries to a customer in 3 days, when they could take 3 items in one trip after 48 hours (Amazon Prime).

Direct Emissions or Primary Footprint: “This category of carbon footprint results from activities that lead to the emission of Carbon Dioxide and other supplemental greenhouse gases, through direct combustion of fossil fuels. Consequently, all activities resulting in direct emissions have an immediate impact on the environment, also adversely affecting natural resources therein. For example, CO2 emissions from driving a car, flying an airplane, or even using electronic devices fall under this category.”

Indirect Emissions or Secondary Footprint: “This category of carbon footprint is used to denote emissions that are a consequence of an indirect relation with certain activities pertaining to human consumption, such as purchasing an internationally manufactured T-shirt. When an individual purchases an item, all emissions released into the environment due to manufacturing and transportation of that item would fall under the ambit of indirection emissions, also known as a secondary footprint. Additionally, this kind of emission also takes into account what happens after the said product is used, including the amount taken by the material of the product to degrade naturally, and the consequences of the breakdown process on the environmental health.” Source

Carbon footprint – design

So how does it impact designers and what needs to be considered to be ethical?…

LCD – Life Cycle Design

Source I really like this business model as it covers the key topics when considering importing/exporting goods as a business. Very much like the toe-prints above, this model could branch out to contain everything large to small relating to business emissions.

In summary, graphic designers can take the following steps towards sustainable practice and reducing carbon footprint:


  • Your website and functionality
    “In a world that is increasingly obsessed with data collection, addressing this may seem like an impossible task. However, what this means is that to reduce energy wastage we simply need to cut excess kilobytes swamping our pages. Or to put it another way, incorporating sustainable design principles into your digital strategy isn’t just good for the planet, it’s also much better for your users’ experience.” Source
  • The building and operations running the workplace/site
  • Your machinery and electricity used
    Not just obvious things like computers/printers, but any electrical appliances in the kitchen, TV’s, excessive heating/lighting/water use etc.
  • Data and storage
  • The source of physical printing materials and packaging
    “- More is less – Try to reduce the usage of materials that contribute to pollution and climate change. For example, use less paper when possible or replace current printing ink with less pollutant replacements.
    – Use recyclable materials – Depend on recyclable materials rather than then on one time used resources that end up in landfill.
    – Reduce the bleed when possible – expanding the design to lessen the bleed increase which leads to the ink waste. Try to reduce this waste by keeping the bleed white when possible.
    – Use VOC-free inks – the pollution produced by the VOCs can be diminished significantly by using VOC-free alternatives.
    – Use Chlorine-free paper – use chlorine-free paper rather than the paper materials that have been bleached using Chlorine. The materials are known as Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) or Process Chlorine Free (PCF).
    – Provide eco-friendly options to clients – graphic designers can provide an eco-friendly option for the client, encourage them to move to a sustainable approach and mention this approach in their products to increase their brand value.” Source
  • How you conduct meetings and travel to work
    Do you really need to travel for a 1 hour meeting when it can be done over the phone or virtually?
  • Who you work with (clients)
    More so with big corporations; do you agree with what they stand for and what goes on behind their scenes?
  • Who you hire (staff)
    Are your staff responsible and well educated?
  • How you recycle, and reuse goods and waste
    Put bins around your studio, encourage recycling in the kitchen/workspace, perhaps even purchase drinks for the studio staff that stand for sustainability and can be recycled

Very much like HAWRAF (week 2) where they logged their usage as a company, design studios can do this to detect whether they are wholly sustainable and ethical in their practice as a company. Something like a spreadsheet would work just as well to log down costs and how to reduce emissions:

Competitors in the design industry

From a graphic designer’s perspective, when you give the client the ultimatum to choose what materials they would like (this can be anything from print to packaging) it’s likely prices will inflate when the materials are more niche (sustainable materials for instance) as opposed to materials that are globally exported… This is a topic I’ve wanted to cover for a while, but it is a large one as it really isn’t that black and white. So here goes…

Why is everything cheaper from China?

With the highest population at 1,446,433,234 (one billion, four hundred and forty six million, four hundred and thirty three thousand, two hundred and thirty four).

The video below explains in further detail:

  • Making a device in the US would cost 15% more than to make it in China
  • Workers in the US don’t want to work 3 shifts a day for longer hours and less wages
  • Abundant sources of materials – natural resources, coal, iron, gas, mercury, bismuth, vonfram
  • Huge consumption market with high competitiveness; large country and large manufacturers are confident with production
  • China lures a lot of investors, multinational companies of different fields, therefore fierce competition between Chinese and foreign companies
  • The Chinese government supports low prices and devalues currency, which in turn allows China to export goods at low rates

In summary:

  • Cheaper labour (younger staff, lower wages, currency depreciation, labour requirements)
  • Bigger country (more factories, more produce, higher imports and exports)

Why is it better to shop local if possible?

  • The money used to support local businesses goes back into the community to pay for schools, parks, safety, etc.
  • More bespoke items and products, and often will accept personalised requests
  • Local jobs created which supports economy
  • Often support local charities and attend/run events

“When you shop at your local bakers, green grocers, or butchers, it’s more than likely a lot of what you’re consuming has a short farm-to-table journey. At first this may seem unimportant, but by shopping at a local company over a massive conglomerate you’re positively impacting the environment. Most local shops you visit are within walking distance so take out the environmental impact driving to a store may have, reducing air pollution and traffic all in one go. As well as this, the food you buy from a local retailer probably has more nutrients and way less packaging.”


As designers, what can we do to help promote sustainability?

  • Advertise/promote sustainable materials and ensure they are local if possible, if not local then make sure a reputable source
  • Get knowledge and certification (i.e. ISO 14001 standard for environment)
  • Talk to people, competitors, clients, manufacturers
  • Start creating sustainable work!!! (This one is a biggie as this attracts the sustainable customers)
  • Hire people in the business that care about environment
  • Reduce energy and resource use
  • Host virtual meetings
  • Green your supply chain
  • Advocate for change and support those who do the same
  • Create policies and targets

Source – 10 ways to support the economy as a green business