Might I Suggest Something Green With That?
Design firms used to be like the ultimate restaurant; our clients walked in and ordered whatever they wished and we as art directors/chefs would apply all our creative energies to make a spectacular result. Today, it’s our responsibility to question our patrons closely and guide them to the most appropriate meals. No trans-fat in the cooking — no volatile inks in the printing. No oversized servings — no print runs beyond what could reasonably be used. No protected species on the menu — no non-FSC paper on the presses. To our long list of other responsibilities, art directors can now add environmental steward as well. Stewardship of course is not mere ownership; it entails a high level of responsibility, and possibly no ownership at all. And so it is for the environmentally-responsible design firm today. We don’t own the environment but we are among the millions of stewards who are nonetheless responsible for it.
At Crabtree + Company (C+C), my head chef and creative director, Susan Angrisani, and my sous chef and production manager, Lisa Suchy, have taken the lead in moving us to an ever-greener commitment. We’ve been fortunate to have a number of clients who are themselves environmental leaders, but Susan and Lisa have been pursuing a long-run campaign to get others to follow. At its heart, their efforts have centered on education. My secret weapon in educating my staff and our clients is my husband, Stuart McMichael, who is a veteran of 40 years in the printing business, most recently as owner of Custom Print, the first fully environmentally-responsible printer. Just as designers are often surprised at how little our clients know about the creative process, printers, I’m afraid, generally find designers equally naive about the printing process. So my advice would be to find that expertise about printing (either by marriage or some other means) and begin to educate your staff and clients. Creating a demand for environmental design is really as easy as providing the background knowledge to clients. Once they know that there are options, once they know the quantifiable advantages, they will begin to drive the process.
The other side of the equation is the supply side, the printers themselves. Last spring C+C co-sponsored a series of informal talks between local printers and FSC advocates Derek Smith and RIS paper. We followed that in December with a polite but unambiguous notice to all of our print suppliers that unless they could prove that they were FSC-certified, they were unlikely to receive future bid opportunities or business from us. To our surprise and delight, the response was positive across the board. Those already FSC-certified applauded the move. Those who were not asked how they could become so. What seemed like a bold move at the time, turned out to be right in line with our printing community’s thinking.
None of these efforts would have gone very far if they hadn’t been fully supported by my staff. To get that level of buy-in we held a series of meetings where we collectively crafted the company’s environmental commitment, now displayed on our website.
Of course, you can’t just talk the environmental talk; you’ve got to do the walk as well. We’ve implemented an aggressive recycling program, including not just paper and printer cartridges but batteries as well. For lighting we've switched over from standard fluorescent bulbs to the more efficient T1 type, and we’re in the process of replacing our halogen bulbs with ultra-efficient LCD bulbs. Even the furniture plays a part; when we replaced all the office chairs we chose a model in which more than 50% of the material is recycled and more than 95% is recyclable.
What’s next? There really are so many options. For example, digital proofing finally seems a practical alternative to paper. Up to now design firms have always had higher quality and better calibrated displays than our clients. The proliferation of lower-cost, high-quality flat-panel displays is rapidly erasing that gap. It’s now increasingly likely that what we see is what our clients see. Save paper. Save gas. Shorten the approval cycle. Save time and money all-around. What you choose to do clearly depends on your mix of clients, the environmental commitment of your vendors, and your own calculations on what makes the best sense for you as a business, but if I may suggest something green:
- Find an advocate within your firm to lead the environmental cause.
- Know what you’re talking about and then spread that education to others.
- Step out and take a stand; you'll be surprised how many are willing to follow.
- Get full buy-in from the whole company.
- Walk the walk and set an example.
- Keep looking for ways to improve your environmental profile.