We recently received a promotional package in the mail from a local printer. It contained a custom folder which held a brochure on sustainability, a shopping list-sized note pad, a page of 10 “Be Green” stickers and a unique bamboo pen. It was quite a good-looking presentation. Obviously, they wanted to both promote that they are an FSC certified printer and to educate their clients about sustainability, including tree-free paper alternatives, recycled content, Green Seal certification, clean wind power, and the impacts of air polution, de-forestation and waste.
But here’s the question: Did they do a good job? I’m not just talking about the graphic design itself, but the whole package. I mean, does the piece put into practice what is being preached about sustainability?
I’ll agree that the design and presentation scored points with me, besides, who doesn’t like the occasional freebie in the mail? I certainly do. However, I’ll probably use the pen and the pad, but likely not the stickers, and the brochure, folder and mailing envelope have already found their way into the recycling bin. I wonder though, how many other people will simply throw everything away? What a waste of money and resources that would be.
When we, as designers, are asked to work on a piece touting sustainability, how far is too far and how little is not enough? Gone are the days when a “sustainable” look included a muddy duotone of green and brown on grey unbleached paper. That just isn’t (or rarely) cool. Now companies want to look “environmentally friendly,” but often that is all it is, a “look” using leafy textures and nature photographs. In practice, they want no less than full color, full bleeds (regardless of the waste from trim), and fancy varnishes, even if it would be more environmentally friendly to go without. So I ask myself, was it necessary to varnish the stickers? Were all the bleeds and die-cuts necessary, considering the wasted paper that would produce? How about the mailing envelope? Did it have to be a bubble mailer? These are just a few questions that I think responsible designers and companies can ask themselves, to see if they are walking the walk and not just talking the talk. Maybe the best we can ask for right now is a balance – FSC Certified/100% clean wind power credits balanced with full color, bleeds, and varnishes.
Lastly, I think part of the responsibility also falls on the consumer to make the effort as well. It takes only minutes to cancel old catalog subscriptions and opt out of “junk” mailing lists (not saying this was junk mail) whenever possible. Case in point, we received two of the promotional packages, one addressed to our company and the other specifically to my husband, so it would be our responsibility to contact the printer and let them know to drop one, so duplicates will not happen again.