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Go Green With Sustainable Design Practices

Green sustainable design is possible

Going “green” has become somewhat of a trend, and companies everywhere are adopting sustainable practices that help to preserve our precious resources for future generations. It is now more crucial than ever that everyone is on board with protecting our planet, and creative agencies are not exempt. Here at Vital we’re not superheroes of sustainability yet, but we’re working together to learn more about how we can make better choices for the environment every day. Here are some ways design and digital media agencies can help preserve the environment.


Print Media

The first thing we need to ask is “Should this be printed?”. With modern technology, a postcard campaign can easily transferred to email—and is likely to be more successful, too. Shifting the campaign to email means it’s instant, will cost your client significantly less money, and won’t affect the environment by being thrown away and sent to a landfill.

There are always going to be situations when the reality is that stuff just has to be printed—but there are still many ways we as creative agencies can be environmentally conscious even when sending projects off to printer. Here are a few to start with:



Is it Post Consumer Waste (PCW) certified? Check the labels before purchasing. PCW means that this paper has been made from recycled materials. It needs to be at least 30% to be considered sustainable.

How about certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)? The FSC is an independent, non-profit organization that sets standards under which forests and companies are managed and certified to ensure balance and highest level of integrity in sustainability.

Is it Processed Chlorine Free (PCF)? Did the company manufacturing your paper use only processes or products that are manufactured free of chlorine chemistry? Recycled paper may contain fiber components that have originally been bleached but virgin pulp is Totally Chlorine Free (TCF).

Is your paper uncoated? Paper coating produces harsh chemicals that are released into the air and toxic to our environment. Some coated paper products are not recyclable either.

Was it made using sustainable fibers? Two of the most common sustainable fibers used to make paper are bamboo and hemp.

Did the manufacturer use renewable energy? One way to ensure that the paper you are using is sustainable is to find out if the manufacturing practices renewable energy such as wind or solar power.



Can I use less ink in my design? In most cases it is cheaper for the client to use a one or two-color process rather than four. A design can still be beautiful and still make just as big of a statement.

Does the ink have a bio-based medium? Many types of ink are made from synthetic oils that can wreak havoc on the environment and are not recyclable. Making sure the medium in your ink comes from sustainable oils like linseed, flaxseed, cottonseed or even soybean means your paper can be easily de-inked in the recycling process and will not hurt the environment.

Does it produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)? Any ink that is considered to be non-toxic should create less than 5% of VOCs. Most scents and odors contain VOCs, however, synthetic inks are especially dangerous and contain harmful neurotoxins.

Can aqueous coating replace chemical coatings?  Aqueous coating is a water-based vegetable cellulose product that is used as a clear coat and comes in gloss, dull, or satin finish. It is the most sustainable option next to using vegetable based inks. Ask your print shop if they use aqueous coatings, and if they could use them in place of harsh chemical coatings on your projects.


Digital Media

The buck doesn’t stop at the printing press—in fact, studies are finding that digital media isn’t as green as we once thought. The Web has a carbon footprint as well. In 2006, a study was release by the Department of Energy, stating that in the U.S. alone, data centers and servers consumed over 60 billion Kilowatt hours of electricity (For comparison, the U.S. papermaking industry used more than 75 billion kilowatt hours of electricity).

If that was a mouthful, try this: for every 10,000 searches on Google, the CO2 emissions are equivalent to a five-mile drive to the grocery store. 91 million Google searches are done in one day!

There are ways creative agencies can help reduce carbon output from digital media. Here are a few:

Renewable Hosting

Choose a host provider that uses 100% renewable energy

Minimize HTTP Requests

  • Use CSS sprites instead of individual images
  • Combine all your CSS files
  • Combine all your Javascript into one file
  • Use CSS for graphic effects

Reduce the size of your files

  • Optimize your jpegs and pngs – there are several great tools online that can help you filter your images.
  • Use Object Oriented CSS
  • Delete duplicate or unused files from your server
  • Validate your code

Did you know?

The colors you choose for a website have wattage ratings. In fact a man named Jon Doucette came up with a color palette for the lowest wattage colors. Black is the most energy efficient color.

It’s tough to go green all at once—implementing all of these measures at once would be time consuming and costly. What matters is that we all start thinking about simple ways to be more sustainable every day, and that whenever possible we make the best choices for the environment.

When going to your next project, try approaching it with the end result in mind first– that is, think about where your design will end up after it is finished with use. We can make that noticeable difference and help prolong the health of our environment for future generations.

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