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Introduction to Sustainable Design

What is sustainability? Never before has the word sustainability appeared so frequently in daily conversation. Yet many of us still aren't entirely sure what it means, or why it really matters. Re-nourish is here to help designers sort it all out. Sustainability, at its heart, is a framework for developing economic, social, and environmental systems that meet the needs of both current and future generations.

Sustainability, in other words, is a method of survival—the survival of people, and the planet that sustains us all. We see this inseparability of people and planet at the broadest level when tsunamis and hurricanes swallow entire cities. We see it when economies struggle to support their workers. And we see sustainability in action when we purchase our morning cup of fair trade coffee from the corner café. Sustainability acknowledges the huge spectrum of human experience, and uses it to strengthen the whole system. The basic tenets of sustainability may seem like common sense:
Use technological innovation to restore and regenerate natural resources.
Reduce the depletion of our natural, non-renewable resources.
Improve the quality of human life and develop stronger communities.
Respect the planet's carrying capacity by adapting our own practices as individuals and as groups.

Sustainability and graphic design
We know the world's problems aren't ours to solve alone. But the graphic design industry is experiencing its own dramatic changes, and designers are quickly discovering that each decision we make is a stepping stone, moving our entire industry toward more sustainable solutions.

Prior to the 1990s, for example, it was difficult to imagine the graphic designer moving beyond print. But then came the internet. What lies ahead as we're faced with a dwindling pool of resources to work with? Should we sit back and hope others solve these problems so our industry can survive? Or is it possible that designers might have a few of the answers ourselves? It's a challenging yet potentially thrilling design problem.

In the course of our work, graphic designers use valuable natural resources, and we recommend processes that significantly impact our environment. But more importantly, we help develop the messages the world hears. With the right information at our disposal, we can take control of what we're saying and doing, and help move the whole industry forward.

The Re-nourish definition of sustainable graphic design
Like sustainability itself, sustainable design is an ongoing process. Rather than demand some unattainable standard, we believe it's entirely possible to create a definition of sustainable design that addresses the environmental, economic, and human realities that we all face as professional designers and design students.

According to Re-nourish, sustainable graphic design:
Is safe for humans.
Is safe for the environment.
Reduces or eliminates the use of non-renewable resources.
Conforms to fair trade, labor, and human rights standards.
Provides measurable economic value to the marketplace.
Addresses environmental, economic, and human impact throughout the entire life cycle of the project.

Visit the Re-nourish sustainable design roadmap for a more thorough explanation of the processes involved in creating sustainable graphic design projects.

What is green design?
You won't ever read about "green design" on Re-nourish. Instead, we use the description greener to refer to materials and processes that are, in one way or another, more sustainable alternatives to their conventional counterparts. That might mean they use less energy or less water, or produce less waste. They might contain fewer (or even no) toxic ingredients. They might better support fair trade or human rights. But very few things in life are perfectly green, so why pretend otherwise? Our goal is to educate, not obfuscate.

Greener Paper
What does it mean for paper to be sustainable?
Greener Printing
How can you limit printing waste? How should you select a greener printer?
Greener Ink
What makes a better more environmentally responsible ink choice?
Greener Materials
What constitutes a sustainable material? Where can you find them?

Re-nourish is dedicated to helping the graphic design community grow into a more sustainable industry. Whatever your experience level, you can use our tools and information to expand your knowledge and build a more sustainable practice.

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