I’ve been on a journey for the past few years. I’m working towards living as sustainably and environmentally-neutral as possible, making daily tweaks to my lifestyle (some pretty major, and other relatively tiny), and it hasn’t always been easy and I’ve messed up quite a few times.
But along this journey I have come to the conclusion that the best way to be most effective is to not shrink away, and to reduce yourself to nothing in the hopes that your footprint will vanish with you, but to be active, excited, and see it as an opportunity to have conversations with people who want to make positive changes too. I have realised that the best way to do this is in the workplace, because if you can get your colleagues on board and put in place some simple, actionable policies and best practices, you’ll be able to reach more people and have a greater impact by going it alone.
I’m a graphic designer and I’ve been freelance for about 5 years, this means that I’ve worked from home, from my own design studio, from plenty of co-working spaces, and in-house contracting at other design agencies, and I’ve spotted good opportunities for sustainability improvements within them all. So whether you work from your office at home, or are part of a large creative agency, I guarantee there will be at least a couple of things on this list (and other things I haven’t mentioned) that you can implement to make your design studio greener. Here’s 10 things…
Switch to renewable energy suppliers.
There’s nothing better than sketching out ideas in your notebook, but when it comes to bringing them to life digitally we need to fire up the Mac… and the coffee machine. And for that we need energy!
We can’t get away from using energy and having a carbon footprint, but we can try to mitigate that by choosing energy suppliers that provide renewable energy.
If you work in an agency that has control over the energy provider, and is in a position to switch suppliers (or if you have a home office) you can choose a provider that sources its electricity and gas from 100% renewable sources and make a huge difference over night.
Whilst the energy coming out of your plug socket will likely be a mix of renewable and nonrenewable sources of electricity, energy providers such as Bulb provide 100% renewable energy and by purchasing energy from them you are contributing to more renewable energy being added to the energy mix. Certain renewable energy companies also provide carbon-neutral gas and offset their footprint by funding renewable and sustainable projects across the globe.
Ditch single use plastics.
Encourage your team to cut down on their plastic consumption, why not invest in some reusable coffee cups and flasks for water to give to your staff (you could even get some branded ones), this empowers them to make positive changes. If you find yourself occasionally getting a takeout coffee when you don’t have your reusable cup to hand, innovative organisations such as Hubbub are leading the way with special coffee cup recycling bins in my city of Leeds.
If you find it hard to get away from using single-use plastics, why not hang on to your bottles and crisp packets to create eco bricks with this plastic waste and donate them to good causes.
Record and reduce your waste.
As the saying goes: you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Why not keep track of the amount of waste your studio produces and try and reduce it month-on-month. Be mindful of the amount of recycled vs landfill waste your team produces; you may discover some trends and highlight areas that could be quite quickly and easily remedied.
Did you know: if people have a waste bin at their desks, they are far more likely to use it and be more wasteful than if they have to talk across the room to use a shared bin. So it’s a good idea to make some small tweaks like this to the office layout to encourage positive actions.
Add sustainability to your board review.
Encourage a review of your agency’s social corporate responsibility during your annual board review to set some goals and make sure it’s taken seriously at this level.
As part of efficiency and financial forecasts, why not include an energy and cost savings figure as part of your review? You can publish your progress and show your green credentials.
Upgrade your windows.
I’m not talking about the operating system! As part of your journey to reducing your energy consumption, you should look into whether it’s possible to upgrade your windows. Speak with the office management to discern if your agency is able to invest in better insulation, as this will not only reduce your carbon emissions as a business but will also drastically reduce your energy bills due to energy savings.
Implement a thermostat.
Again, if you are able to make changes to your agency building, installing a thermostat can be a good way to monitor and control your gas usage. Keeping track of your usage is the first step in reducing it.
Encourage plant-based eating.
Your staff and workmates are your greatest resource, and they can also help make huge positive environmental changes.
Did you know: if every UK family chose to eat a vegan meal just once a week, it would save as much carbon equivalent as taking 16 millions cars off the road — so just think how much a difference your team could make by switching to plant-based lunches every now and again.
Services such as Lean Lunch deliver healthy plant-based foods to your office by bicycle and use recyclable and compostable packaging.
Switch off at weekends.
Do you leave your monitors and display screens on overnight or at the weekend? Do you have a fancy office that you like to show off with the lights on at all hours? By switching off in the evening and weekends your agency can massively cut down on your energy usage and save on your electricity bills.
Use plant-based inks.
As designers and creatives, we tend to print a lot. Whether that’s proofs, moodboards and concepts, or final prints if Your studio has a high end printer. So, as part of your journey to becoming a low carbon agency it’s a good idea to look into switching to low VOC, or soy-based inks to reduce your ecological impact, as these are much better for the environment than their petroleum-based counterparts.
It’s common office practice, but you should try to adhere to only printing when needed to cut down on paper use too, and this can be extended to when printing leaflets and flyers for your clients. Could you be as effective by choosing not to print a load of brochures for that upcoming expo, and instead offer digital download packs instead?
Potential customers might be impressed by your principled choice to avoid printing paper packs, and you will save money on print runs too.
If you need to print externally for client design projects, most print houses these days are quite environmentally conscious, but look out for those with the best green credentials that use only sustainable paper sources, plant-based inks, and have green certifications.
Switch to LED lighting.
Those cool filament lights that are common place in hip bars and design studios do look really awesome, but sadly they’re incredibly energy-inefficient. LEDs use about 15% as much energy as traditional halogen bulbs, and they typically have a much longer lifespan that other bulbs, so you’ll save a lot of money in the long run.
If you can, install sensor lights that only activate upon detecting movement instead of having lights constantly on with nobody around. Your office energy bills will plummet.
Encourage remote working.
Transportation is another huge cause of carbon emissions, and having everyone drive into the office every single day is incredibly damaging to the environment and air pollution is literally killing us!
So, if you’re part of a progressive and forward-thinking design agency, a flexible work-from-home policy shouldn’t be too hard to push for. And if your boss isn’t sold on the environmental benefits, tell her about the amazing productivity boost that working from home has been proven to give.
We will always have an impact and produce a carbon footprint, there’s no getting away from it. But by being mindful of our consumption, considering products and services we choose to buy or not buy, and by making a few tweaks to our daily lives, it is proven that we can collectively reduce our emissions and the negative environmental impacts we have as creatives. I believe that by creating a culture of sustainability in the workplace, the place where we spend the majority of our days, we can have the biggest impact and reach more people than simply doing it alone.
And wouldn’t you be proud to work in a design studio that’s good for the planet?
If you enjoyed this article, or have some tips and advice that I’ve missed, follow me on twitter and let me know!