:: Green Tips for Designers

This is me standing on my little reused soapbox : Green is the new Black!!! Going green is pretty easy, just takes a little reprogramming of our daily work habits… ask yourself these questions as you start a new design :

  • • What impact on the environment will the production of this design have?
  • • How can I design this item with recycled or reused materials?
  • • How can this item I’ve designed be 100% recycled?
  • • How can I make this a cradle-to-cradle design?
  • • How can I make my work process and designs carbon neutral?

So with those questions in mind, below you can find heaps of helpful posts, links, and freebies to help you green your creative business.

think green before you design

  • • Less is More : a powerful design doesn’t necessarily need a lot of materials. Design the end product to use less materials such as paper, plastic, adhesives. Try a stapled booklet rather than perfect bound booklet. Just design smart for your clients. If they don’t care about reducing waste…they will care about reducing their bottom line.
  • Petite Design : Design slightly smaller brochures and booklets with less pages to reduce materials needed.
  • Die Cuts : When creating designs with die cuts, ask your printer if they have any dies in stock… and design to what they already have. This saves your client from having to spend money on new dies, and also makes use of existing resources.
  • • Incorporate Recycled Materials : Design with intent of printing on recycled materials. There is quite a difference between partially recycled materials & fully recycled materials…know what you’re printing on & purchasing by educating yourself a bit more about the humble recycling symbol (I’ve posted a free recycle symbol template here to download!)
  • • Sustainable Packaging : When designing packaging, remember to consider both how much space the product will take up both on shop shelves and to transport. Be clever when designing packaging so that your client can both fit more product on the shelf, AND save in shipping costs by designing less excessive packaging. Above all, avoid using the bane of the packaging world, styrafoam… there are many recyclable paper solutions now for padding merchandise. For more great tips on sustainable packaging, check out Sustainable is Good.
  • • Sustainable paper : Spec paper that is recycled, unbleached, renewable-power produced, or synthetic. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified papers are environmentally responsible, readily available and can meet almost any printing need.  Durabooks.com creates plastic recyclable books, and for the extremely enthusiastic, you can even buy paper made from panda poop. For more helpful info, check out designer blog Renourish on sustainable paper.
  • Use local, carbon-neutral service providers
  • Green Printers : Spec alternative printing processes like waterless, or those that use vegetable based inks.
  • • Smarter Stationery | Letterheads : For companies who print many types of letterheads, try to consolodate them into one design in creative ways… a colleague suggested printing in the upper right hand corner boxes to check whether it is an invoice, regular communication, notice, etc. Encourage clients to include coupons/rebates pre-printed on their business cards & letterheads, to avoid the additional waste created from seperate advertising materials.
  • • Smarter Stationery | Envelopes : Get creative with envelope designs, such as creating note-cards that fold into a self-contained envelope, or check out this bevelope design for inspiration.
  • • Reusable Promotions : Design promotional items that can be reused by the recipient such as calendars, bookmarks, notebooks, or fabric recycle bags. Avoid designing promos with no other use than to promote your work which will be thrown away or filed away and forgotten. The more attractive and useful it is, the more likely it will be kept and not thrown away.
  • • Green Book Publishing : Talk to your publisher or author about arranging to offset the printing of new books by arranging for trees to be planted for each book printed through an organisation such as Eco-Libris.


  • • Recycle : all cans, bottles, paper…
  • • Ink cartridges : can be refilled. Or, if you’re not willing to compromise the quality of a pristine cartridge, donate used cartridges to local ink-refill shops where they will be refilled & resold.
  • • One designer’s junk is an art student’s treasure : donate unwanted books, magazines, equipment and art supplies to your local university… or post them on Freecycle.
  • • E-Cycle : When your computer, celphone, ipod, and other electronic equipment kicks the bucket, don’t chuck it out… e-cycle it. Staples takes back all sorts of electronics across all its U.S. locations, and many manufacturers have take-back programs (check out this list of computer, cellphone and electronic e-cyclers.)
  • • How Can I Recycle This? is a great website where you can search for ideas on how you can recycle various items around your office & home.
  • • DVDs & CDs : Have more coasters (i.e. unwanted used DVDs & CDs) than you have use for? Instead of tossing them in the bin, save them up and drop them (or mail them) to a recycling center (such as CD Recycling Center in the US) that specializes in recycling discs.


  • • Spot illustrate on scraps : Save trimmed off scraps of illustration board & watercolor paper for spot illustrations
  • • Reincarnate bad artwork : Failed illustrations can be given a second chance to live by priming them and painting over them… or restretch canvas over old frames.
  • • Give the kiss of life to water based paints : Revive dried up tubs of gauche and watercolor : slice open the end of the tube, add a little water at a time, and work back into a paste.
  • • Diluents & Thinners : Turpentine can be reused again and again… and never dump it down the sink!
  • Pencil Graveyard : Sharpen, sharpen, sharpen… and then reuse your pencil shavings by adding them to your compost or to mulch the garden! Once you’ve drawn with pencils till they’re too small to comfortably use, save them up and give them to your favourite four year old to draw & colour with.
  • Resharpen : blades from paper cutters, exactos and pencil sharpeners rather than buying new ones
  • Notepaper : trim down old print-outs to use as scrap paper by the phone
  • Wash up : and reuse empty glass and plastic jars, milk jugs, coffee cans, dairy tubs, and other similar containers for paint water buckets or to organize studio supplies
  • Raggedy : Use old cotton clothing by ripping into rags to use for cleaning brushes… wash, and reuse.
  • Stubby Brushes : Reuse damaged brushes for oil painting, stir sticks, painting with adhesives / glues, and any dirty stuff. Or give them to your kids, or schools to use in their art classes.
  • Second Hand Magic : Buy & sell office and art equipment second hand
  • Plastic makes perfect : If you can’t avoid taking a plastic bag, reuse them to line your trash bin rather than buying garbage bags… any bags that are ripped or can’t be reused, bring to your local grocery store, they often have recycling programs for their bags.
  • Twice as useful : Use some of household products for other useful purposes as suggested here by the EPA
  • Mailouts : Reuse packing materials for shipping (bubble wrap, popcorn foamies, cardboard boxes)
  • Kids stuff : Dammaged Children’s books & toys can be creatively reused… try making a bird house out of an old picturebook, or creating new monster toys with that legless G.I. Joe!

reduce waste

  • • Offset Carbon Emissions : There are many companies that offer carbon credits, just be sure that the way they produce their carbon credits is ethical (i.e. Forest Stewardship certified, and not just planting trees that will be logged in 20 years time!) There are other unique ways to offset carbon emissions, such as signing up to ClickGreen (each email ad you receive from them and click on earns you carbon credits.)
  • • Zero Waste : Aim to significantly reduce the waste created by your studio… Greenbiz has an interesting article on the concept of a zero waste office.
  • Use ‘em up : Use supplies until they are finished… or donate them to local schools or art students.
  • • Squeeze gently : avoid wasting paint by only squeezing only as much as you know you’ll use before it will dry.
  • Clean watercolour brushes in a glass of water rather than under running water.
  • Extend the life of your paintbrushes by cleaning them properly. (Check out how to recycle your oily paint brushes here.)
  • Reusable paint palettes : use an old glass plate for your oil or acrylic painting palette… they are easy to clean with a scrub brush, and are less wasteful than using disposable palettes or wax paper.
  • The Dregs : Slice open paint tubes (especially watercolor tubes) to get out that last bit of paint
  • DVDs instead of CDs : The best option is to backup digital files to an external drive or server, but if you need to create a “hard copy” of a file, go with DVDs. You can fit five times more information on a DVD than CD, so you can store much more and reduce waste. Rewritable DVDs are the way to go if you are regularly in need of a quick backup.
  • Go paperless : It is so easy to go paperless these days… you can approve print-runs by accepting color-correct PDFs, send proofs & invoices digitally, use email, backup files to an external drive or online, use your scanner instead of a photocopier
  • PDF-ariffic : Instead of photocopying articles from magazines & books, use your scanner and save multi-paged PDFs instead. It reduces use of tonor, paper and energy
  • Share subscriptions not prescriptions : Share subscriptions to design magazines with other small businesses / colleagues.
  • Packaging Diet : Avoid purchasing products with a lot of packaging… buying items in bulk helps with this.
  • Just say no to plastic : Say no to plastic bags, especially when you’re just buying one or two items… just carry them out of the shops!
  • Canvas Bag-it : Bring canvas bags to take with you to the shops…use instead of plastic bags. Emblazon it with your business logo for a bit of easy advertising (Reusablebags.com.au does canvas bag promos.)
  • Party Green : For your hosted events, meetings with clients, and gallery shows, use fabric napkins, and non-disposable plates, glasses, and cutlery…rent them for the night, use your own, or buy them from a dollar store, anything but using disposable. It’s classy and reduces waste. Wash them and save them for your next big event.

reduce the use of harmful chemicals

  • Diluent Disposal : Dispose of artist chemicals (turpentine, mineral spirits, varnishes, paint, etc) safely by contacting your local waste management…do NOT dump down the sink or toilet. Read up a bit more on how to recycle / dispose of turps safely.
  • Eco Art Supplies : source biodegradable & environmentally safe chemicals and art supplies.
  • Anti-aerosol : Avoid using aerosol sprays and adhesives.
  • Environmentally Safe Cleaners : Keep your studio green & clean with environmentally safe (biodegradable, phosphate free) cleaners, and later reuse the spray nozzle and buy refills instead of new units…they are often better value anyway. I use Earth Choice cleaners, and in North America, Clorox has introduced a new line of green cleaning products… who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Other places you can get eco-cleaners are NaturesOrganics.com.au, Organic-Items.com, and Todae.com.au.

reduce energy consumption

  • Green Servers for your Website : Your business website runs 24/7 on a server… is your web host green? Check and see if they have arranged for carbon offsets for the energy use of their servers… and if they haven’t yet, ask them when, or switch to a green webhost provider (such as Dreamhost).
  • Computers need naps too : Set your computer to switch to sleep mode when idle rather than a screen saver, and to automatically shut down when you know you won’t be using it. If you’re on a mac, it’s easy with the mac energy saver.
  • Switch off & unplug : Turn off & unplug electronic devices when not in use, such as scanners and printers when idle. Even when turned off large appliances consume energy…try unplugging the washing machine & dishwasher between uses.
  • Consolidate your office equipment into one : a computer can replace both your stereo, radio, and television with the right software
  • Lower your thermostat by 2 degrees in winter, and up 2 degrees in summer
  • Clean or replace filters on your furnace and air conditioner
  • Switch to green energy…it’s only a dollar more a week, and comes from renewable energy sources (wind/solar)
  • Farmer Hours : Go into the studio earlier and go home earlier to use more of the natural daylight, and consume less energy
  • It’s better out here : Work outside when you can
  • Reflected Light : Have a dim studio and need a lot of lighting? Try putting up a few large mirrors…they reflect what little light you may have, make your space feel bigger, and will reduce the need for those extra lights
  • Light Bulb Evolution : Replace your studio bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulb, or swirl bulbs. This is one of the easiest changes you can make with the biggest impact.

green your environment

  • • Green Purchase Policy : Next time you need to replace something in the office, source supplies that are made with recycled content, can be recycled, and are non-toxic. TheGreenOffice.com (USA only) is an online shop where you can purchase greener options of many of those odds & ends you use around the office.
  • Choose a studio location walking distance to ammenities
  • Walk to work, the shops, the library
  • Green thumb? Bring in some plants to your studio, they are great for the environment, and they bring life into your studio. If you work from home and have a yard, plant a tree (or more!)
  • Furnish your office with dual-purpose furniture… for instance, a glass tabletop can double as a light table.

green your transportation

  • Carpool to work, or take public transit
  • Buy a fuel efficient, low-polluting car
  • Keep your car tuned up : Regular maintenance helps improve fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. When just 1% of car owners properly maintain their cars, nearly a billion pounds of carbon dioxide are kept out of the atmosphere. - an inconvenient truth
  • Check your tires weekly to make sure they’re properly inflated
  • Proper inflation can improve gas mileage by more than 3%. Since every gallon of gasoline saved keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, every increase in fuel efficiency makes a difference!
  • Purchase offsets for your car’s CO2 emissions… just be sure your contribution is going towards protected forests, or sustainable power development such as wind and not just forest that will be harvested in 20 years.
talk about it :
  • Vote
  • What are your service providers doing to be green? Ask your service providers how they are helping the environment
  • Educate your clients: many don’t realize that using greener processes can be comparable in both cost and quality to conventional methods.

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