15 Paths to More Sustainable & Green Graphic Design

Graphic designers can help apply the principles of efficiency and waste reduction in our industry. This can save us money and time if we’re creative about implementing our work.

After watching The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard, I’m just beginning to understand the meaning of sustainability. Recycling works and buying recycled goods helps because there is only so much space on the earth to put all the trashed plastic so we might as well put it back in our stores. That principle might be applied to all kinds of things and on this page I’ve looked for an answer to how the graphic arts fits in. While I’m still not totally convinced that all of these methods are viable for everyone, but it’s still an interesting discussion.

If there is something you’re doing to be more efficient and less wasteful with your design, share a comment.


Green Graphic Design by Brian Dougherty and Celery Design Collaborative is a book explaining how to make every step of the design and production process a little greener: paper, printing, binding, shipping, packaging.

SustainAble by Aaris Sherin aims to educate on sustainable applications and tackle sustainability in paper, printing, formats, materials, inks, and practice.

Packaging Sustainability by Wendy Jedlicka talks about making effective packaging that is minimal eco-impact.

Design for Sustainability: A Sourcebook of Integrated, Eco-logical Solutions by Janis Birkeland takes design to every level covering specifics in industrial design, materials, housing design, urban planning and transport, landscape and agriculture, and energy and resource use.


Kirsti Scott talks about Sustainable Graphic Design on the Hot Design Blog. She argues for more efficient practices, working from home to reduce travel, using only recycled or bamboo papers and even using fonts that use less ink.

The Green Resource Guide tells us the story behind Green Signage in Produce. There are great photos showing how the reclaimed items factor into the farmer’s market look of a grocery store.

In “Making Sense Of It All: How to Promote Your Brand While Staying Sustainable“, Delia Bonfilio of Fast Company talks about the challenge of balancing environmental ideals with business realities.

Paragon Muse talks about implementing some green practices in their post Joining the BandWagon: Sustainable Design. They are promoting recycled papers to their clients. They have redesigned their business cards with tree free paper and use only soy-based inks. They make some great points: the need for actionable ideas, more education and spreading the word.

Tips: Sustainable Graphic Design” by Metropolitan Group gives us a number of ways to ease our impact by requesting biodegradable elements from others in the chain, creating multi-use products, using designs that require less white space (less paper), targeted mailing (instead of blind mass market mailing) and other ideas.

In “Sustainable Graphic Design in Malawi” by Jesse Rankin, we’re asked “how can graphic design actually help Malawi in the development process to becoming a self sustaining country?” and given some very powerful answers.

Sustainable Design” from Drawing on Experience gives us 10 Best Practices for Sustainable Design.

More Resources

Renourish is a sustainability toolkit. Great way to start getting things in motion in your production process.

Lovely as a Tree wants to tell you everything about environmentally aware graphic design with tips about paper choice, printing considerations, case studies and a database of printers and paper sources in the UK.

Design Can Change is a pretty website with a message: you as a designer can help.

AIGA Center for Sustainable Design has more case studies, interviews, and resources.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.


  1. I very much look forward to your review of our book: Packaging Sustainability. I’d love also to hear what you have to say about the companion book coming out in October as well: “Sustainable Graphic Design:
    Tools, Systems and Strategies for Innovative Print Design” (http://SustainableGraphicDesign.info)

    Like “Packaging Sustainability,” though it is illustrated with beautiful pictures, “Sustainable Graphic Design” is not just another pretty picture book as so many design books end-up being — but dives deeply into the heart of what makes great design on a variety of key input levels, and how to use that as an instrument for positive change.

    BTW: Personal tip — when Amazon asks if you want to buy “Green Graphic Design” and “Sustainable Graphic Design,” together (and “Packaging Sustainability” too if you’re a PKG-pro), go for it. “Green Graphic Design” is a wonderful hands-on look at what eco-design pioneers Celery Design Collaborative have been doing all these years. We then pick-up and go deeper on topics “Green Graphic Design” touches on (you can only jam so much action into 212 pages after all). A great combo for graphic arts pros. Plus, I’m a big fan of Celery’s work (they are represented in both of our books).

  2. It’s always great to keep thinking about how we can all do our part for sustainability. Thanks for linking to my post on sustainable graphic design in your article!

    For designers interested in sustainability, check out The Designers Accord (http://www.designersaccord.org/) and Design Can Change (http://designcanchange.org/#home), both dedicated to helping designers promote sustainability practices.

    And, check if any local organizations provide recognition and/or assistance to businesses that operate in an environmentally friendly manner. We were certified as a Monterey Bay Area Green Business and going through the process showed us tons of small ways we can make a difference every day in our office.

    Thanks for the list!

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