All part of the process

Persuading clients to value Greenness is something designers should build into their everyday practice, just as they do creativity, says Adrian Shaughnessy

Graphic designers may not rank alongside oil companies or mining conglomerates as planet despoilers, but we are up to our black polo necks in culpability and we have to accept our share of responsibility for helping to ramp up the consumption that is causing global climate change. Yet as designers we rarely have full control over the work we do. Our clients call the shots. It’s they who decide if sustainability issues are to be taken into account.

So is it possible to be a Green designer? Yes, but it’s not easy. For a start, the economics of professional design are against us. We are overwhelmingly dependent on clients constantly providing new products and services, and it is in our economic interest to persuade clients to be lavish rather than frugal. If we want to boost profits, last year’s brochure isn’t a sensible option. It’s no longer enough to encourage the avoidance of print and go electronic: according to a recent report, information technology’s share of total US electricity consumption has doubled to 6 per cent since 2000.

For many of us, this all adds up to an excuse to do nothing. Even with strong Green convictions, how many of us are going to demand that our clients conduct themselves in an eco-friendly way?

Prompted by a meeting with the partners behind the Three Trees Don’t Make a Forest website, I’ve come to realise that if we adopt the right approach, it is possible to persuade clients to act sustainably, and furthermore, I realise that it is fast becoming commercially beneficial for designers to adopt Green strategies.

Let’s deal with the benefits first. There are lots of clients who want to behave responsibly, so being Green needn’t mean a drop in business. In fact, it is coming to mean the opposite, and anyone starting a design consultancy today would be well advised to be Green. Many public sector tenders are insisting on suppliers having Green credentials. According to Caroline Clark of Three Trees, some public tenders are insisting on printers having ISO14001, which provides a framework for environmental monitoring. And you know something is stirring in the undergrowth when even Wall Street banks are demanding that the energy companies they invest in adopt strict sustainability polices. The fact is that design groups without Green policies run the risk of missing out on lucrative projects, while groups with eco credentials will be increasingly attractive to the growing band of Green clients.

But what about those reluctant clients who are unsympathetic to Green issues? What is the likelihood of persuading them to adopt Green tactics? We no longer have the option to say we can’t do anything because our clients won’t buy Green design. Clients have to be convinced in the same way that we often have to convince them to buy creativity. I never met a designer who didn’t fight for his or her ideas. To battle for creative ideas is instinctual among creative people, and we do it because we believe in creativity. It follows, therefore, that if we feel the same commitment towards sustainability that we feel towards creativity, persuading clients will become a natural part of our everyday practice.

One thing’s guaranteed: going Green might be tough, but doing nothing is going to get even tougher.

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