Take the Living Communications Challenge

Green Design Should Be as Innate as Good Kerning

By Published on .

Zack Shubkagel
Zack Shubkagel
When it comes to going green, designers can take on a much bigger role than many might think. Zack Shubkagel of Willoughby Design challenges designers to create Living Communications – here's how.

We designers struggle with sustainability. Creating desire for product is inherently a wasteful venture. Whether the end product is paper, plastic, metal -- anything you can touch with your hand -- it is likely to eventually make its way to a landfill.

Our desire is to produce a six-color UV printed book with French-folds, foil-stamped covers, spot aqueous coated images and perfect binding. We'd like to think that the recycled paper we throw into the piece, along with the recycled, Forest Stewardship Council and wind-powered icons will give us credit for doing our part in saving the planet. But we all know better.

We need to design beyond the edges of the page and consider our choices throughout the process.

As consumers are considering "How many calories does this have?" you should be asking, "How much pollution will this promotion create?" ROI is no longer only measured by increase in sales but also by the positive return your creative solution can have socially and environmentally.

Analyze what your competition is not only preaching but also what they are practicing. Can your brand walk the walk? Perhaps there is a white space for "greening" your market. You just need to find it:

Explore environmental strategies as part of the discovery process

Start by adding sustainability to your creative brief. Considering how that "big idea" will most effectively reach its target audience is first and foremost, but directing your team to think about environmental implications in tandem as an integral part of the process should eventually let that become second nature, similar to good kerning.

Consider the life cycle of the product

Ask the obvious (but sometimes hard) questions: Is this necessary? Where are the materials coming from? What is involved in production? How long will this product be in use? Where will it go after it is consumed? Considering and planning for the beginning, middle and end makes our profession more responsible.

Learn from other industries

The architecture and engineering industries made the change decades ago when they realized their buildings were creating a devastating impact on the environment. Now the idea of sustainable design is synonymous with building and is inherent in many materials and design decisions. Architects, engineers and builders consider everything—from the dismantling and reuse of old building materials to the reuse of the water runoff from parking lots. While these considerations may not at first seem obvious, their benefits go beyond warm fuzzy lines in marketing brochures to cost savings for companies and communities.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System has rungs of success, from Certified to Platinum -- the highest honor built to date. But beyond that is the ultimate goal, the Living Building -- one that puts back more into the environment than it takes away. While architecture and engineering have come close to this pinnacle of success, they haven't yet reached that summit. So why don't we beat them to it?

Take the Living Communications Challenge

As communications designers, we're dealing with materials far less complicated than concrete, wood and steel. I challenge designers to create Living Communications: something that not merely sustains rather than draining our resources, but that gives back to our environment and society -- not to mention your clients' pockets.

Zack Shubkagel is VP-brand experience at Willoughby Design, a Kansas City, Mo.-based strategic brand design and innovation firm. He has worked with clients such as New Leaf Paper, Spin! Neapolitan Pizza and the Kauffman Foundation. Mr. Shubkagel is president of AIGA Kansas City and a founding member of the Kansas City Design Alliance.
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