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Design’s Role in Sustainable Business

Sustainability in design is a weighty endeavor with business advantage and real life responsibility the result.

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AIGA green design
Phil Hamlett, AIGA Sustainability Center

Three P’s of Sustainability:

  1. What a company is doing for the planet
  2. What a company is doing for it’s profits (good management, etc.)
  3. What a company is doing for it’s people (quality of work, etc.)

Corporate Sustainability Reporting

Corporate sustainability reporting is on the rise, the highest it’s ever been in the United States and the world. A study has shown that 50% of the top 100 US Companies have environmental policies in place. Studies also show that consumer awareness is higher:
  • 89% believe it’s more important than ever for companies to be socially responsible.
  • 84% say a company’s social commitment is an important factor for entering into a business relationship.
  • 75% say it will influence their products and services decision recommendations.

Top Issues:

  • Educate yourself and know your options
  • Think like the boardroom: Sustainability is becoming part of the business DNA
  • Packaging is about to undergo a major industry overhaul.

Phil Hamlett brings humor as well as wide graphic design and management experience to his leadership roles in the communciations industry, "Designers have a hand in creating virtually every product, artifact, and message we encounter in the world around us, yet collectively we are only beginning to see ourselves as agents of change."

Print still captures the hearts and minds of the buying community, and designers hold the keys to greening the print industry. Designers can have the greatest impact by asking vendors pointed questions. Cutting edge answers will drive the industry forward. The “system” makes green choices available. IF recycling isn’t available in her town, “my mom won’t recycle. When it became available, she took to it naturally. It’s all about the system – about making choices available for everybody.”

2006 was a big year for sustainability – and 2007 is even bigger. “Katrina made climate change kitchen-table talking points,” says Phil Hamlett. “It’s now ‘Save the planet or else.’ People see climate change as an even graver threat than terrorism. Even business has responded with major initiatives: GE with its Ecomagination, and Wal Mart with greening its supply chain and building prototype green buildings, as well as making their truck fleet more greenhouse gas friendly. Sustainability is becoming part of the business DNA – core to how and why business exists and succeeds.

Designers are being scrutinized. Take the iPod. Beautiful, slick design – but the designers ignored sustainability and they designed it with batteries that die and get chucked into the trash. Not sustainable. The molecules of design are the physicality – the LOOK rather than how things ARE. Designers can help everyone embrace the conversation about sustainability. They have the platform to convey the urgency that is being discussed at the executive level of their employers and client companies. “Sustainability is about everybody. It’s global. If anyone is left out, we’ll all suffer the consequences. We must all embrace the principles of sustainable living.”

Printers are also being scrutinized – both with compliance and by corporate responsibility and supply chain pressures. Anderson Lithography (now Cenveo...) is one California company that discovered operational efficiencies could be eco-responsible and smart business.

Cenveo Anderson Lithograph was the first printer in the Western US to be certified under the FSC system as a chain-of-custody printer. They have discovered that the marketplace now appreciates their “environment management system” which took them into the current eco-business climate smoothly.

AIGA green design

This is Cenveo Anderson Lithograph’s turbine jet engine that runs their CoGeneration on-site power plant. Fondly known as “Elizabeth” and costing about $750,000 in 1995, she has enough horsepower to suck the air out of a 32’ x 32’ x 32’ room in 60 seconds flat.

Each year, Cenveo Anderson Lithograph eliminates approximately 140,000 pounds of smog-creating pollutants from being emitted into the atmosphere, an accomplishment made possible by their 100% totally enclosed printing facility with near zero emissions as certified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District of California (SCAQMD). Their $10 million CoGeneration system captures all VOCs (volatile organic compounds) fugitive emissions generated by the plant’s printing operations and destroys them as part of the electrical power generation process. CoGen also controls the temperature & humidity in their City of Commerce facility and provides cleaner and more healthful air than what’s found in the average office environment. Cenveo Anderson Lithograph is the only printer to have received the state’s highest environmental honor, the California Governor’s Environmental & Economic Leadership Award in 2003.

Packaging is about to undergo a major industry overhaul. “Paper or Plastic” just started the consciousness movement. Next comes the amount of unnecessary packaging. And the amount of fossil fuels used for packing and packaging. And the end of life lack of planning that is dumping plastic in our critical ocean ecosystems. Values are shifting and technologies are shifting. The move is to “go benign”. That’s more than going green…it is also restoring natural systems to their natural functions that balance climate, soil systems, and basic air, water and food systems. Sustainability threads through everything. The Center for EcoLiteracy has put out “The Hidden Connections,” to show how everything connects.

Sustainability is a dense subject that touches everything and has engineering aspects, design, procedures, supplier choices and even client communications. Clients are benchmarking their current practices so they can track improvements. And design is part of that benchmarking process.

“I’m a parent now, so it has suddenly become imperative that we take care of this global climate change problem immediately – my son is depending on it!” Phil Hamlett, professor, designer and father concluded!

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| design | sustainability |


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