Climate Activism for the Graphic Designer 101
After The Climate Strike, how can designers keep the momentum moving and growing?
Beyond your professional design life, there is a lot you can do in your public and personal life to improve the world. If you live in a democracy, vote. Vote specifically to uplift your value system in combination with improving the greater good for the rest of us. (If you’re not registered to vote in the US, vote.org is the place to go before you read anymore of the article!)
Vote with your pocketbook as well. What you decide to purchase (or not to purchase) has an impact. Support groups and companies that align with your values and together help design the world you want to live in. (This is called the ecocene.)
You can also vote with your pocket book by donating to a non-profit that promotes and/or is active in helping a cause, the planet, or group of people that you also support personally. You should also be active using your creative skill sets by starting your own personal projects for a cause or tithing your design skills to a non-profit that is need of help. A great example of the latter is the Grant for Good program.
Activism for Climate Action
If you aim to be involved in designing to help combat the worst case scenarios of climate change, I put together a little guide for you with some valuable links and resources as well. Your personal climate decisions matter. One person can change the world. Just look at Greta Thunberg. She’s only a teenager who decided to strike for the climate instead of going to school (on Fridays). Now she’s a leader in the climate change movement.
The key for bigger or faster action, however, is to turn your personal activism into a movement (just like Greta did). Graphic designers are perfectly suited for this as we possess finely tuned visual communication skills. Use them to bring people together over a cause and make a difference. (Join the Climate Designers who are turning individual design actions into a collective.)
Collectively we need to reduce our global GHG emissions by around 50% by 2030. The biggest contributors to our emissions are industry and agriculture, so it’s best to start there. Your creative advocacy and choice of vendors/materials should reflect knowledge sharing of this fact and consequent ways to find alternatives to the worst offenders of GHG emissions. At Project Drawdown, you can find ranked solutions that you could apply your skills to promote or help collaboratively solve.
It has also been proven that working less (like a 4-day week) has a positive impact on reducing GHG emissions. This is something we all can get behind!
Here are some tips to consider when using design to unite and uplift people to make a difference on climate change:
- Make the story of a greener future accessible and inspiring. People will not be frightened into caring. Be careful with data and scary facts. These can be powerful and visually stunning when designed well, but aren’t as inspiring as a tips for hopeful action.
- Make the story about local. Focus on where you live and unite your community around access to clean, air, water and clean energy. The idea of protecting our families is always one everyone supports. You can see and create change more easily in your community.
- Make the story about possibilities. Show how beautiful a carbonless future will look like. It will be full of greener landscapes, new job opportunities, increased access to education and healthcare, and have cleaner water/air, etc.
- Focus the story to empower an audience who is “informed but idle” and like-minded. This group is large and wants to act on climate, but may not know how. Help educate them on what to do to grow the movement.
However, most of the time you probably spend your days (and nights) working your day job. So…
Here are some tips to consider when using design at work to be a more subtle activist on climate:
- Share your studio’s personal social and environmental values on your website and in face-to-face meetings. Use these to connect to any successful client case studies to help pitch work
- Help your design clients set goals to reduce carbon footprint through what you create for them and in their office space (think a paper purchasing policy). You could start small as small habit changes lead to bigger ones. Introduce them to greener ideas and then incrementally move them toward bigger solutions project-by-project to “Design to Renourish”
- Connect your design clients to certified vendors that use renewable energy and feature only environmentally certified products. Share the benefits of using these vendors and how they benefit the community, air, water, and land. They also are great for your client to showcase as PR as how they are helping to improve the world as a business.
- Make reducing greenhouse gases a competition or game. Make your progress with clients public and challenge other studios to compete. Of course, the competition could also be had between your clients as well.
What about the nitty gritty greener details?
Great question! As a graphic designer, you mainly work with paper and pixels, so here are some pragmatic, effective, and tested strategies for design and material choice you can apply to the ideas above.
Practical Strategies to Create a Positive Impact (Design to Renourish)
- Replace wood fiber papers with agri-fiber papers (wheat straw or hemp for example) when doing so is regionally and environmentally preferable.
- Employ Cradle-Cradle thinking. Create to compost and improve our soil.
- Select a local certified greener printer, (use the SGP database) for production.
- Manufacture and transport using renewable energy.
Strategies to Lower Your Impact (Green Design)
- Reduce the amount of paper and other materials used overall by designing smaller and more efficient pieces.
- Avoid additives or excess finishing like foil stamps, varnishes, and laminates.
- Create pieces to be as light as possible without sacrificing durability (also known as lightweighting).
- Avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plastic in general
- Stick to digital printing for shorter runs.
Reuse & Design for Durability
- Design the piece for extended use, or intentional reuse.
- Know the user and co-design whenever possible. This ensures they are truly invested and will use it for a long time
- Aim for 100% post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled content.
- Be easily disassembled for appropriate disposal channels.
If you have further insights into how design can help advance the climate activism movement, definitely leave them in the comments below!