Take stock

Printing on recycled paper alone is no longer the absolute benchmark of a sustainable process, says Anna Richardson, with paper wastage, transportation miles and intelligent use of ink among a host of issues to be considered

Every year, a plethora of sustainable or recycled paper products is launched. At the Paperworld trade fair in Frankfurt last month, French paper company Lana, for example, launched a new ecological paper in its Distinction range, made from bamboo fibres, and Arjowiggins Graphic recently added the 75 per cent recycled Satimat Green to its range.

In some cases, a paper’s sustainability and environmental performance are becoming part of companies’ USPs. In its new range of notebooks, Whitelines highlights its environmental transparency, labelling its carbon footprint on its product, while using other measures to keep emissions low, such as local production, intelligent use of ink and large batch shipping.

However, there is still a question mark in many designers’ minds as to what is the most sustainable solution. ’All the clients care about is the level of recycled material, and that’s a key consideration, but there are so many more, such as how far the paper has to travel, whether it’s from a sustainable forest, the environmental impact of bleach and acid bathing, for example,’ says Richard McGillan, design director at Steers McGillan. ’It’s tricky to know what’s good and what’s bad, so we tend to go with the main accreditations.’

But increasingly designers tackle the paper issue through clever use and processes, in addition to considering official seals of approval. ’Key issues include wastage, so we’ll often spend a lot of time addressing that, adjusting pagination to make sure there’s no waste,’ says McGillan. Producing smaller items, complemented by more detail online or smaller print runs, are other ways of addressing this.

In addition, Steers McGillan often uses ’aerated’ papers, such as Arctic Paper’s Munken Print Extra, which make projects considerably lighter, affecting the whole process, from amount of materials used to transportation.

Graphic designer Fraser Muggeridge looks to use certified paper where possible, such as Fedrigoni’s Sirio Colour for his recent The Form of the Book Book. But he also spends time considering paper engineering to minimise cost – environmentally as well as economically. Merely using recycled or Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper is ’almost a lazy option’, he says. Using the same plates and ink, but printing on differently coloured paper, saving a plate by printing in three colours, not four, or printing a series of four cards at the same time all help in reducing waste and environmental impact.

Muggeridge is currently working on Material Actions, an exhibition for the Plymouth College of Art’s Viewpoint Gallery, which focuses on up-cycling materials by creating something new out of used or discarded materials. The idea is to echo that in the print process, using paper left over from previous jobs at printers. ’Doing a project where we’re using up paper is as close as you can get to sustainable graphic design,’ Muggeridge points out.

Clever targeting of printed material should also be integral to projects. Marque Creative’s work for fashion designer Oliver Spencer includes the recent spring/summer lookbook. Not only was it printed on Arjowiggins’ sustainable Cyclus paper, with the outside cover in recycled greyboard used in reverse, it is also very targeted, available in stores, hand-delivered to key buyers or sent via the website. Combined with considered design, that approach increases the book’s desirability as an object – something worth keeping, rather than tossing aside.

In fact, the aesthetic associated with the use of environmentally friendly papers is changing, says McGillan, who has many clients within the environmental sector. He has just completed a job for the city of Bath on GF Smith Mohawk Options, and is rebranding the Create Centre, Bristol’s centre for sustainability. ’We are no longer going down the route of muted greens. I hope we’re getting beyond that aesthetic,’ he says. ’We certainly don’t try to make something look Green, we try to make something Green, and that shouldn’t look any different.’

The sustainability issue is much more about building it into realistic processes, he adds. And to that end, maybe design consultancies should also go through a process of accreditation in the future. ’There should no longer be that earthy element,’ says McGillan, ’just good company efficiency.’

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