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Jeremy Lehrer has an interesting article in the July/August edition of Print about sustainability in graphic design. In it, he suggests a certification system for graphic designers similar to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system used by architects, contractors and interior designers. Were toxic inks and varnishes used? Did the designer choose local suppliers to minimize fuels burned in shipping? To what degree are materials used recyclable or renewable? Certainly, such a system would be complicated, but perhaps worth exploring.

Lehrer states that he began thinking about the need for more conscious design choices as he was breaking down a box for recycling. The brand, a line of Adidas designed by Stella McCartney, was intended for an environmentally conscious consumer. The whole design embodied that vision, but no care had gone into selecting materials, such as recycled cardboard, that were also representative of the brand. This problem, I am sure, is not limited to that particular line of shoe. Are ads for green vehicles or sustainable products produced with the same care as the product they are advertising? Can we design things from more sustainable materials, or perhaps design packagin so that it can have other uses than simply being thrown in the trash?

Consumers are ready to be given such choices. And designers, who should be leaders, are up to the challenge. Some firms like The Moderns and organizations like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition are working on issues of sustainability in packaging and design. The Moderns has built a database that assesses the toxicity of certain production methods, materials and inks.

Such a system could encourage innovation and push designers to think about how things can be created not to be thrown away. Lehrer suggests that the objects that are designed would be able to both define a new design philosophy and communicate a message about it. I think that is a noble idea; graphic design as medium for a new way of looking at environmental sustainability.