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A Design and Sustainability Working Handbook for Publishers and Publications

Nicholas M. Stevenson

A Design and Sustainability Working Manifesto for Publishers and Publications This handbook is aimed at raising awareness and providing advice and possible solutions for publishers and/or publications looking to become more sustainable in their practice and improve their public image by becoming more ecologically-minded and respectful towards the environment. We will look at the publication process as a whole, from concept and content-sourcing right through to distribution, usage and disposal. As well as providing information on existing practices, we intend to offer examples of working systems and discuss the ways in which they have been successful in the hope of inspiring current and future publishers to adapt a likeminded approach. Rather than tackle the subject from a purely top-down approach, the information engages every level of involvement, to allow for anyone within the company to offer their own contribution and improve the process as a whole.


Part 1:

What is ecological/sustainable design? “Ecodesign means environmentally conscious product development and design.�1 Everybody is aware of the concerns facing the planet. Natural resources are running out and we need a way to control this wastage before it becomes too late. Through design, we can find ways to reduce the impact we have on the environment and discover new systems to reduce, re-use and recycle the energy we use on a daily basis that is otherwise being lost or wasted. We are in need of a system of technical nutrition, which means putting manufactured materials into closed cycles2. This is essentially what ecological/sustainable design is. Through a process of systematically-conscious ecodesign we can develop towards a future in which energy/material usage and waste products are kept to an absolute minimum.


To the left is a diagram showing environmental influences by companies and their products3. An ecodesign system is one in which both input and output are reduced as much as possible, with minimal compromise on product quality. It looks like an awful lot, but through careful consideration it can be achieved remarkably easily. Reducing an input cost in turn will reduce waste and other products, and vice versa. In a broader sense, ecodesign is the process by which change is brought about that subsequently has a positive affect on the state of an ecological system. Ecodesign is efficient. Ecodesign is protective (of not just the planet but those who live on it). Ecodesign is a way to generate sustainable methods, processes and products in a way that improves the wellbeing of everyone without damaging the world around us. 3

Part 2:

Why do we have to be more ecological? “If we come here and say “Well, I didn’t intend to cause global warming on the way here.” and we say “That’s not part of my plan.” then we realize it’s part of our de facto plan. Because it’s the thing that’s happening because we have no other plan.”4 To put it simply, the Earth is in danger. We are currently using far more energy and resources than the planet has available to sustain itself. The only way we can restore things and provide a less-bleak future is to adapt a more sustainable and therefore ecological way of life. Ecodesign is one way of doing this. It makes more sense to adapt an ecological practice. Reduction of input values means a reduction in costs and subsequently, an increase in profit margins. Similarly, if ways are discovered and then implemented regarding the re-use and recycle of waste material, even less input material is required, whether for use by ourselves or by somebody else. This idea can be applied to most aspects of the publishing and printing process. In the next section we will explore how a publication can review its current eco-footprint and explore ways to reduce and improve this, using examples of previous/existing projects and suggestions for the future.

Ecological footprints An ecological footprint is a comparison of human demand with the Earth’s ability to ecologically regenerate. Currently the demand is far greater than the available resources. If everybody lived the way consumers in nations with the largest demand do, we would require several planets to support us. Unless the global ecological footprint is reduced, resources will rapidly expire. 4

Part 3: How can we be more ecological?

“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, water and soil and power – economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.”5 This may seem like an idealistic belief, but only because enough is not yet being done to push us along the road to sustainability. The development of any publication can be broken down into four key elements: • • • •

Content generation Design and development Printing Distribution and use

To apply an ecological formula and practice, one must assess each step of each element, from initial concept through to disposal and hopefully re-use (see appendix for a list of questions used for this assessment). It is worth mentioning that this is essentially only an example of how the process can be improved. Every publication will be unique and will likely have far more potential for positive ecological development.

The self-sustainable structure This building has been developed to be completely self-powered. This massively reduces the ecological footprint of the site and also means that electricity bills are virtually non-existant. In an industry like publishing where use of high engery consumption electrical equipment is almost essential, an ecological improvement like this could dramatically cut costs.


Content generation: Sourcing content for a publication requires a high level of correspondence between the publisher and their contributors. Most of this is now done by e-mail, which has an ecological benefit in that it removes the need for paper/ink and the environmental impact caused by the chosen postal courier. However, computers need electrical energy to run and if the energy consumption of a computer is quite high, it can actually have a worse effect. A good way to save energy would be to conduct these correspondences in person. Obviously if the contributor is a long distance away this is unrealistic, but in-person meetings save on resources and show a more positive image for the company.

How the contributors themselves source their information for their writing/images/advertisements should also be considered. How environmentally aware is the person or company involved? It would paint an extremely negative picture if an ecologically operating publication were to use works generated in unethical ways by people or businesses with unsustainable views. Both contributors and the publication staff should be constantly aware (as with all aspects of the process) of their energy and material usage to minimise waste and maximise efficiency. 6

Design and development: Consideration should be taken regarding how many people are employed to work on this part of the process. Ideally the design team should be as few people as possible but without ridiculous workloads that would compromise results. This reduces the need for large rooms and office spaces and keeps things like heating bills low, but also means less devices such as computers are required, and therefore reduces the overall energy requirement. As for the publication itself, designers should be conscious to try and adapt a system that represents the best and most ecologically-considered use of the available space on the page. This not only relates to grid, layout and positioning, but also to colour/ink usage. The publication needs to be eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing, but this should not be an excuse for designers to un-necessarily waste resources. Similar to the generative phase, transportation and correspondence should be approached in the most sustainable way possible. Meetings between the design/production team, the editors, the art directors and everyone all the way up to the printers should be held in locations that are easily accessible by all those attending and efforts should be made to arrive at these meetings in the least environmentally damaging way they can.

Printing: Publishers should source a print company which is well-versed in ecological practice and keep in close contact with them. Recycled paper is a virtually essential upgrade to make, as it requires much less energy and fewer chemicals to produce6. More often than not it is also cheaper. On a bigger scale, the use of recycled stock can reduce the overall demand for trees to be felled for pulp, which can help reduce intensive deforestation in inappropriate areas. In a similar sense, a vegetable-based ink could be used, which contains far fewer harmful chemicals and thus is far less damaging to the environment and the people interacting with them. The need to be in close communication with the printing company means that designers can be aware of the exact accuracy of the print. This means that bleed areas can be accurately calculated, which in turn leads to a reduction in wasted paper and ink. When the finished prints are bound, research could be made to adapt a more environmentally-friendly binging process. Glues etc. that avoid using toxic substances and pose a substantially smaller environmental impact have been developed and are readily available.


Distribution and use: The transportation process can be quite varied in terms of magnitude, but regardless should be considered important. The publisher should find a courier service that is conscious of its energy input and the carbon footprint of whatever vehicle/s they use. Perhaps a courier service isn’t really necessary. The publisher could deliver in person, thereby saving money and allowing control over distribution. If a courier is required, they could make use of ecologically-sound products (see example below7), which would hopefully reduce costs. If the publisher has control over the stockists, they should choose retailers who are equally environmentally minded, or suggest ways to become so. In terms of the use of the product itself, it should have been designed in such a way that it is easily and completely recyclable, or a collection system could be introduced to avoid the risk of it ending up in a landfill site. Space for such sites is running out quickly, so encouragement of this step is strongly recommended, if not essential.

The Presswood Pallet –

‘Inka’ pallets, developed by Werzalit in Germany, are made of recycled timber waste bonded with water-resistant resins. This means they don’t have to be fixed or stapled together, unlike traditional wood pallets. It also allows them to have a more moulded form, so they can be stacked in a more compact manner and carry a lower tare weight. As EU regulation states that pallets must be recycled (the Packaging Waste Recovery and Recycling regulation), using the presswood pallets dramatically reduces the costs associated with this.


Part 4:

What’s in it for us as a company? Ecological improvements directly benefit literally almost every aspect of a company. For example8: •

Reduction of material consumption, input energy, wastes and contaminants reduces overall production costs. To put it simply, if you require less, you pay for less

Avoiding such contaminants and waste products means reduced liability

Being at the cutting edge of ecological innovation gives a superior market positioning

With regulations against unsustainability becoming ever more strict, a sustainable company need not worry about these regulatory pressures as much

Consumers are becoming ever more keen to purchase more sustainable goods, making them easier to sell.

More sustainable ecodesign generates media attention and good PR – free advertising.

On top of this, statistics prove that companies acting in a transparent and ecological way are outperforming those who aren’t9. It is not feasible to accept the ‘this is the way it has always been’ approach any more, when the world is changing so rapidly and problems such as climate change are very real. The theory that eco-friendly practice costs more is outdated and incorrect.


Review: To summarise and conclude, the need for ecological improvement is continually rising. Ethical and sustainable practices make much more sense and statistics to back up this theory are readily available. The publishing process is probably one of the biggest candidates with a huge scope for change, all for the better. On top of which, it is prime space for the sharing of knowledge relating to these improvements and an ideal place to spread the world and inspire others. Each step towards sustainability brings us a step closer to securing the future of the world we live in.


Bibliography and references: 1, 3, 8

- U. Tischner, E. Schminke, F. Rubik, M. Prosler (authors), German Federal Environmental Agency (editor) – How to Do EcoDesign? (Art Books Intl Ltd 2000) – from the lecture “William McDonough on cradle to cradle design” and the accompanying transcription slides (W. McDonough, February 2005)

2, 4, 5, 9 (and image)

– D. Mackenzie – Green Design: Design for the Environment (Lawrence King; 2nd Revised edition 1997)


– A. Fuad-Luke – The Eco-Design Handbook: A Complete Sourcebook for the Home and Office (Thames & Hudson, 2nd Revised edition 2005)




Appendix An example set of questions used to dissect and assess the publishing process, from concept through to use and disposal: Content generation phase: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Is content generated in-house or sourced externally? If external, how are people commissioned? How do contributors obtain their content? How do they develop the generated content into what they finally submit to the publication? How is the submission then made? Is the content paid for? If so, how? How is it then edited ready for the design stage? Are there advertisements and how are these attained?

Design and developmental phase: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

How many people are involved in the design phase? How much of the copy/content does each designer work with? Do their grids and/or layouts represent the best use of the available space on the page? How do they actually design the pages? Do designers consider colour vs. ink usage on the page? How is the final design decided upon and who makes the decision? How does the production manager contact the printer and how are printing arrangements made?


Printing phase: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

How do the printers receive the finished designs ready for printing? Assuming they produce a pre-press, how do they do this? If the printer wishes to produce a test-copy before beginning the main print run, how do they do this? How is the main print run produced? How many copies? What stock is the final run printed on? What ink is used? Have designers specified a bleed value on pages and if so, how much? How is the cover made? How are the finished copies bound? How are the finished copies kept together/tidy? Where are they stored pre-distribution? For how long? How many people are involved in the printing phase?

Distribution and use phase: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

How do consumers get hold of the publication? If it is sent directly to the consumer, how is it delivered? If it is sent to a retailer, how does it get to them? How does the retailer then get it to the consumer? Is there a wholesaler involved? Is the distributor external to the publisher and if so, how do they contact each other and how are arrangements made between them? Is the publication packaged somehow and using what materials? Is the publication fully recyclable and are consumers made completely aware of how and where it is appropriate to recycle it?

Misc: 1. 2. 3. 4.

What is done with discarded tests etc? What is done with unsold finished copies? Can finished copies be recycled? How ecologically sustainable are the buildings in which the entire process takes place? 13





A Design and Sustainability Working Manifesto  
A Design and Sustainability Working Manifesto  

Essay for BA Design Year 1 at Goldsmiths, University of London