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“Sustainability – Hands-On” Recap

Highlights from a PaperSpecs webinar.

Sus HandsOn

Yesterday, Susan and I participating in the latest PaperSpecs webinar called “Sustainability – Hands On”. It was an incredibly informative session especially for someone like me who’s new to the world of green design, and who better to lead the session than the guy who wrote the book (literally) on Green Design Brian Dougherty of Celery Design Collaborative and Sabine Lenz, founder of Paper Specs. I’ve written up a few of the main points brought up during the session.

The Value : Cost Relationship


When trying to convince clients of more sustainable options for their print projects the usual hurdle we as designers face is the higher cost perception. The premise of the Value : Cost equation is that if the Cost of a project outweighs its perceived Value to the client then the client won’t go for it. My first approach to this would then be to lower the Cost side (pick cheaper paper, no fancy metallics etc.) But the other approach would be to raise the Value of the project so that ,even with a slightly higher price tag, there’s still a positive net effect for the client.

Design Backwards


To come up with higher value solutions for their clients, Celery Design came up with what they call their “Design Backwards” system:

  1. Start with the end in mind:”What will happen once the user’s finished with the product?”.
  2. Use: “What will add value to the end user’s experience?”
  3. Distribution: “How will this get to the end user?”
  4. Warehousing: “How will this be stored?”
  5. Bindery: “How will this be put together?”
  6. Printing: “How will this be printed?”
  7. Designer: With all these considerations now you can start playing with type, color, photos, etc.

Diagram showing Celery Design’s Design Backwards thinking process

At first glance this system might seem somewhat restrictive and unrealistic for every project, but as designers we’re trained to see restrictions as parameters within which to play and therefore shouldn’t see them as limitations so much as opportunities for innovation. So, once I got over the idea that it’d be too much work to design backwards, I was excited by the prospect of being able to take on the challenge and see what creative solutions came from it. Besides, even if it’s not possible to pass with flying colors on every stage of the system at least thinking about it will lead your brain to alternative options for future projects.

Brian used their recent project for the Lemnis Lighting packaging to illustrate the possibilities of using design backwards thinking.

The key features of the product are:
1) after the user opens the package it doubles as a lamp shade


2) The pyramid shape makes the packaging easier to stack and transport more units per trip


3) the packaging was designed to use folds and tabs rather than adhesives


4) The design of the unfolded package was engineered to be printed 6 up on 1 press sheet


5) the paper used was recyclable

Incremental Change
if you’re like me, most of your clients won’t be able to, or afford to, make a huge jump into the sustainability pond. We’re going to need to make small incremental changes towards that goal. Brian showed his hp Global Citizenship report as an example. This project started off as an 80 page behemoth and over years, evolved into a hybrid web, CD-ROM & 20 page booklet product.


Sustainability Score card
The part of the session that got the most reaction from the participants was the more technical part. Celery Design came up with a system with which to rate paper & printing choices called the sustainability score card, based on 3 variables:
1) Source & Toxicity – where does it come from?
2) Energy & Water – how much energy & water does it take to make and what is it’s affect on the water table
3) Destiny – where does it go when it’s done?

They used 3 degrees of usability to rate their choices based on the stoplight metaphor:
red – avoid
green – use
yellow- not as good as green but not as bad as red

The next table was the real eye-opener for me as it showed a list of paper choices ranging from Post-Consumer recycled fiber to Green-E powered paper. I was vaguely familiar with some of the terms thrown around but was glad I wasn’t alone so Brian and Sabine helped with definitions of acronyms like FSC and SFI, TCF,PCF the difference between varnishes and laminates and advances in the print quality of Post-Consumer paper.


Another topic that was brought up was inks. Soy-based and veggie-based vs. their petroleum counterparts, their VOC levels (Volatile Organic Compounds for those who are like me and didn’t know what that meant). Sabine mentioned a new Liberty ink that has a 1 VOC rating rather than the 5 – 20 for soy-based or 30 for petroleum-based inks.

The table brought up a lot of good questions, and helped to give a broad framework with which to make some choices for upcoming projects. Overall, the webinar gave me as much raw information as it did food for thought and motivation to research, create and innovate for my own clients.

Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.


One thought on ““Sustainability – Hands-On” Recap

  1. organic food says:

    hi, i like what you wrote but may i ask you – what is your opinion on the saying that organic food can extend life ?.

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