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Sustainable Graphic Design

What is Sustainable Graphic Design?

Sustainable graphic design is the application of sustainability principles to graphic design.


It considers the environmental impacts of graphic design products (such as packaging, printed materials, publications, etc.) throughout a life cycle that includes: raw material; transformation; manufacturing; transportation; use; and disposal. (


Why use a Sustainable Graphic Designer?

Graphic designers engaged in sustainable practice use techniques, processes, and materials that will help reduce the detrimental environmental, social, and economic impact of their designs, also known as the Triple Bottom Line. (


Less is more

Subgreen specialisesin creating positively lovely sustainable communications solutions. Whilst maximising the impact of your brand, we minimise the environmental impact of the project, over the life cycle of your materials. By increasing the efficiency of the production process, we reduce your costs and at the same time reduce the costs to the environment.


Thriving on the creative challenge, our mission is to reduce the 'negative' environmental, social and economic impact of the products we produce (such as printed materials) through creative, minimal, handmade and sustainable visual solutions.


Less Resources

Here are some of the ways Subgreen takes the whole life cycle (from design to production) of each design job into account to consciously minimise resources used.

Less ink: By carefully choosing colours used (avoiding dark blues, dark purples and reds), as well as minimising areas of solid in and number of inks used, each design job produces less toxic waste in the de-inking process (removing ink from paper).

Less energy: Our studio and printing presses run on energy from green suppliers. We use 100% post-consumer recycled paper as cutting down virgin forests accounts for 30% of global carbon emissions. We print collectively to reduce the need for energy-intensive aluminium plates.

Less water: Our collective printing process makes the most efficient use of the press so that it needs to be cleaned less often. New paper production uses huge quantities of water, so we use 100% post-consumer recycled paper, which reduces this water use by half.

Less pollution: We use only vegetable based inks to avoid the toxic chemicals used to clean the printing press, and the toxic sludge caused by petroleum inks during the recycling process. Our low energy use minimises greenhouse pollution. We use 100% post-consumer recycled paper, as it produces 90% fewer greenhouse emissions than paper from virgin fibre.

Less waste: We produce as little waste as possible, both in our studio and at the printing press. Recycled papers make use of milk cartons and other products that would otherwise go to landfill. We ensure that our products can be recycled in turn, by avoiding the use of metallic inks, foil stamping and laminates. Waste management systems are in place, ensuring that items resulting from the print process - such as paper off-cuts, pallets, plastics, ink containers, cartridges, wipes etc - are either recycled or re-used.



TED Talk - Eric Benson - Sustainable Graphic Design

More Solutions

More creative solutions = less printing! If online publishing can have the same impact, why use paper? We minimise use of materials to keep the environmental footprint of your publications small. Sometimes changing the format, shape or size of printed materials can make a big difference on press, either reducing the amount of plates required or avoiding wastage of unused paper. We also look for opportunities to make materials have more than one use, for example a business card that doubles as a swing tag or a self mailing brochure, which means less production, less money, less of your time spent stuffing envelopes... less cost to you!


Case Study 1

The challenge: The Alternative Technology Assocation (ATA) a leading body offering advice on sustainable living through publications such as Renew and Sanctuary, engaged Subgreen to devision a solution for its e-communications. ATA needed a robust, easy-to-use, cost effective e-newsletter program that staff could operate in-house to design, host and distribute e-newsletters twice a month to over 5000 online subscribers. The solution: Subgreen provided the option of a one-off user licence for e-newsletter software with monthly hosting and distribution to an unlimited number of subscribers.

The benefit: In addition to saving on traditional printing and mail costs, there is the added bonus of gaining valuable marketing information, how many subscribers opend the newsletter and how many forward it to friends.


Case Study 2

The challenge: The National Australia Bank (NAB) engaged Subgreen to develop an organisational story booklet package that demonstrated and illustrated everyday stores from staff who work at NAB, which would be given to interantional clients.

The solution: Subgreen provided conceptual development, creative design, image management, green printing advice and print management.

The benefit: Using collective printing, 100% post-consumer recycled paper and vegetable based inks saved an estimated 2.16 trees, 3676.32 litres of water, 96.12 kg net greenhouse gases, 161952 BTUs(thermal energy) and 48.6 kg solid waste.


"Subgreen pulled out all the stops to make our organisational story booklet concept become a beautifully crafted reality." Wendy Kennedy, National Australia Bank.


Other Tips for sustainable web and graphic design 

There are a number of ways you can design graphics in a way that considers the environment.



  • do more with less: be innovative in downsizing - go for originality rather than size, whether it is a retro self-folding envelope or itty-bitty business cards

  • rightsize it: by optimising rather than oversizing the job you reduce the demand for paper to be produced

  • fill the white up: by reducing the amount of white space in a document you can reduce the amount of paper needed to produce it

  • give it a second life: give your product a second chance at life so that it reduces the possibility of ending up in landfill

  • don't bleed to the edges: by simply leaving a white border around your design you can reduce ink waste and allow for more paper to be recycled.

Paper and printing:

  • make it chlorine free: request paper that has been bleached using either Totally Chlorine Free bleaching (TCF) or Process Chlorine Free bleaching (PCF)

  • look for certification: There are several certifying bodies that provide a tick of approval for paper stock from environmentally friendly sources

  • go for 'Post-Consumer' recycled: use recycled paper to try to pick paper with highest percentage of recycled content available that suits your business needs

  • make it thinner: does it have to be on thick heavy-duty card, or can you get away with a lower GSM and still deliver a quality product?

  • request VOC-free inks: reducing the demand and choosing VOC-free alternatives can really make a difference to the amount of VOCs emitted.

  • don't print at all: go digital and use an alternative to printing where possible as this will drastically reduce the environmental impacts of your product

  • ask your printer: ask your printer what they are doing to reduce their environmental impacts. A good printer should be reducing waste.


Note: Not all designs shown on this website are examples of sustainable graphic design, due to clients requests.

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