Sustainability in Digital Design
We’ve all heard about ways to be more sustainable in how we buy groceries, how we live, and considerations we make when we’re out; carpooling and skipping a straw. But there are considerations we can make at work too, especially in digital marketing and as designers. While we don’t really think about it, the use of paper, ink, water, and electricity in design can be wasteful and harsh on the environment. Ecodesign is designing with the Earth in mind and taking conscious steps to reduce our carbon footprint.
In web design we can take a number of steps to reduce our footprint. There are a heap of data and file storage considerations as well as how we use computers – which we’ll get to a bit later – and then there’s printing and even colour considerations to keep in mind.
The way we use colours on websites can affect our carbon footprints more than you think. Designing a website with a darker background, particularly a black shade, with a white font uses significantly less energy than a white background with a black font.
On the other hand though, there are clients who prefer viewing their website in progress in print. The best and most ideal thing to do in this situation is to advise them against that. Share the file with them, share it with them via InVision or ProtoPie, or if they’re not techy enough for it, record your screen and share a video walkthrough of their website with them. If you can’t get out of showing a printed version, then a black background is no longer ideal, because it’ll use a heap of ink.
Web designers can even offer up options for websites that have been designed to reduce environmental impacts.
A lot of the points under web design apply for graphic designers as well. But they do have their own unique set of issues. Graphic designers create a lot of print media assets so ink usage, printing, and the products themselves have environmental implications. Think posters and flyers, more white space would significantly reduce the energy consumption from the printer as well as ink consumption. When taking steps to reduce ink usage though, it’s important to think about whether more paper will be needed if you’re upping that white space.
Designers can try and be creative or unique when taking steps to reduce their eco-footprint. There are designers getting among alternative business card designs, making them small, using less ink, reducing paper needs. There have been some really unique ones, like printing it on recycled paper scraps, biodegradable paper, and using soy or vegetable based ink.
If you still own a filing cabinet… why? Okay, we know why, but we should all be pushing towards electronic everything. Contracts and proposals can be digital, we can email, and any file or document can be stored online.
Paper is one of the easier materials to recycle so it’s not as bad as plastic. Though, the paper industry does use machinery to lob trees (which clean the air for us) and mulch the tree to turn it into paper. In fact, every step in the process of turning trees into paper releases huge amounts of carbon emissions.
Printing can be super wasteful and crazy bad on the environment. We’ve talked about the paper side of things and we’ve only really touched on ink. Normal ink contains heavy toxic metals which pose major health risks for us, but even worse, risks for the environment. There’s a tonne of ink wastage in printing from colour changes, cleaning of the printer, and general poor ink management. Using a soy or vegetable based ink can improve your environmental footprint.
On top of the paper and ink usage, there’s solid wastage. Ever thrown out a printer because it’s cheaper to buy a new one instead of a cartridge? Ink cartridges, printers, wasted prints. These all end up in landfill and are often pretty unnecessary. A simple start is asking how printing services deal with their waste and carbon footprint before choosing to print with them.
Offices gulp up energy. There are air conditioners, computers, phones, iPads, televisions. There are steps you can take to reduce your office’s energy consumption. Turn computers off overnight, put them to sleep at lunch, don’t use a TV to show a motionless image, and keep your air conditioner at 25 degrees. If you’re in the position to, consider using clean energy, even if it only covers 10% of your energy consumption it’s still helping.
Data and file storage seemingly wouldn’t have an impact on the environment if you’re not keeping paper copies, but it does. There are design flaws in data storage and ways to optimise it. If you’re not backing up your data and files in a cloud system that’s a problem. Using hard drives and USBs to share information is outdated and a waste of money and plastic. Transferring your information to a cloud system is the best practice. Using Google Drive is ideal because they use 100% clean energy, utilising both solar and wind power. Google’s Environmental Report noted that research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found if all offices in the US moved their email and documents to the cloud the IT energy use would be reduced by 87%. That’s apparently enough to power Los Angeles for one year.