Graphic Design – Designing for a better future
As a young boy, growing up on a small organic farm at the base of the Dandenong Ranges, I grew up knowing how important it was to design in accordance with our natural environment. Our kitchen scraps, newspaper and cardboard boxes would all be returned back to earth thanks to a productive compost heap teeming with biological activity.
As I grew older my Dad would get more and more infuriated with the increase of full-colour ads within the newspapers and the cardboard boxes that were now being coated in a thin film of plastic. My Dad, being an agricultural scientist, taught me that the colour pigments within the newspapers would leach toxic chemicals back into the ground, fatal to our earthworms and showed me how the plastic coating on the boxes would fail to decompose.
It was years later, during my studies at university that I learnt the important role that a Communication (Graphic) Designer could play within the natural world around me. I honed my creative skills with an underlying passion for bettering the world. As a designer, I am imparted with the responsibility of designing an end-product that is environmentally responsible, enriches the community and provides equality amongst the chain of buyers and suppliers we deal with. This responsibility shouldn’t just fall onto the shoulders of the designer or those producing the final product. If we’re to make a change and truly design for good then we need everyone to come on the journey with us. Ultimately, we need to be thinking about the end-product before it even reaches the design stage.
The archaic thinking of the linear consumption model (‘take-make-use-waste’) that we’ve been using since the Industrial Revolution has come at a great cost to our planet. German chemist Michael Braungart and U.S. architect William McDonough call for drastic changes to be made in their book ‘Cradle-Cradle’. They argue that human industry does not have to damage the natural world at the cost of future generations if we are able to close the loop and design more thoughtfully. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation champion a similar framework based around the circular economy where we design out waste, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems.[i]
Many companies are adopting this philosophy into their business. Timberland has partnered with Omni United to upcycle their discarded tires and turn them into rubber soles for their popular footwear brand. The Finish company Aquazone have developed a method of upcycling wastewater into organic fertiliser. And Pharrell Williams has partnered with RAW for the oceans, which recovers plastic found in the oceans and turns them into wearable fashion.[ii]
We don’t have to be award-winning architects, chemists or high-profile celebrities to enact upon this change. We can all adapt to implement a circular economy within our workplace by considering alternative solutions and the life-cycle of the final product. A simple solution may be to host your website with a company that is committed to curbing their carbon footprint, printing with plant-based inks using recycled paper stock and preferencing local suppliers with a focus of giving back to the community.
Businesses that close the loop and incorporate circular economies into their philosophy have the potential for huge economic opportunities, growth and long-term sustainability. With a projection of 9.8 billion people on this planet by 2050,[iii] we cannot keep consuming our finite resources in the same manner that we have been doing so. As a sustainability expert, Leyla Acaroglu, says, ‘everything we take out of nature, “is at a cost — it’s just a cost to the future”.[iv]
I recently fed a 100% compostable plastic bag to my worm farm and I’m pleased to see that plant-based pigments are quickly replacing the toxic chemicals once used by printers. The technology, know-how and demand for change are here, all we need is for everyone to come to the party. With a little boy of my own, I look forward to designing a world where future generations can thrive and where waste can be either upcycled to manufacture a new product or turned back into food for happy earthworms and healthy soils.
Creative Director, Communications & Creative Agency; Little Rocket.
Photo credit: These Wild Eyes