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Sustainability in graphic and web design

Implement processes so you make less environmental impact.

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  • Consider your materials
  • Tips to become more sustainable

Reduce your environmental impacts of graphic design

The graphic design industry draws on energy, water, paper, inks, solvents and packaging. Designers make decisions that 'lock-in' potential environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of their designs. Eco design is a way of minimising the impacts of graphic design on the environment.

What are the impacts?

The size, shape, colour, printing style and paper stock choices made by a designer will ultimately determine the size of the ecological footprint. By making informed decisions, designers can reduce their environmental impact, resulting in less greenhouse gas emissions and a more efficient use of natural resources.


Despite the rise of electronic information systems paper products remain an important commodity in today's society. The life cycle of paper starts even before the felling of trees for pulp. The steel and fuel needed for the machines comes from other industries with their own environmental impacts. Once the trees are cut down they are turned into chipping, then transported, pulped, bleached and finally manufactured into paper. Each of these stages uses valuable resources, and releases pollutants such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and greenhouse gases into the environment.

Inks and solvents

Inks and solvents can contain pollutants and create emissions that contribute to environmental pollution. Many printing inks and solvents contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to climate change. Also, when VOCs are emitted and mix with vehicle exhaust they can form photochemical smog. Some inks contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and barium, which can pose major health and environmental risks if they find their way into the natural environment. During printing, waste ink is produced through colour changes, press cleaning and poor ink management.


A significant concern with printers is emissions to air and water, and solid waste. Printers who have some form of environmental accreditation or management system have considered their emissions. When selecting a printing service, always ask the printer about how they deal with their waste and what measures they take to reduce their air and water emissions.

Design for the web

When designing for the web, it is important to consider what might happen to the design if it is printed. Whilst techniques such as white text on a black background facilitates onscreen reading and can reduce the power consumption of computers, it wastes huge amounts of ink when printed. This is also true of web pages that, when printed, run onto two or more pages resulting in the waste of paper. Another key issue with web design and development is the energy required to operate Internet and IT servers.

Office energy use

Graphic designers are avid computer users, which consume large amounts of energy and contribute to climate change. Switching a proportion of your electricity to green power - even if it's only 20 per cent - will reduce your carbon footprint.

Tips for sustainable web and graphic design 

There are a number of ways you can design graphics in a way that considers the environment.


  • do more with less: be innovative in downsizing - go for originality rather than size, whether it is a retro self-folding envelope or itty-bitty business cards
  • rightsize it: by optimising rather than oversizing the job you reduce the demand for paper to be produced
  • fill the white up: by reducing the amount of white space in a document you can reduce the amount of paper needed to produce it
  • give it a second life: give your product a second chance at life so that it reduces the possibility of ending up in landfill
  • don't bleed to the edges: by simply leaving a white border around your design you can reduce ink waste and allow for more paper to be recycled.

Paper and printing:

  • make it chlorine free: request paper that has been bleached using either Totally Chlorine Free bleaching (TCF) or Process Chlorine Free bleaching (PCF)
  • look for certification: There are several certifying bodies that provide a tick of approval for paper stock from environmentally friendly sources
  • go for 'PC' recycled: use recycled paper to try to pick paper with highest percentage of recycled content available that suits your business needs
  • make it thinner: does it have to be on thick heavy-duty card, or can you get away with a lower GSM and still deliver a quality product?
  • request VOC-free inks: reducing the demand and choosing VOC-free alternatives can really make a difference to the amount of VOCs emitted.
  • don't print at all: go digital and use an alternative to printing where possible as this will drastically reduce the environmental impacts of your product
  • ask your printer: ask your printer what they are doing to reduce their environmental impacts. A good printer should be reducing waste.


  • let them know: communicate your decisions to your clients and encourage them to include the information on their product
  • give your clients the eco-option: always offer your clients an option that has been designed to reduce impacts.