Over at Dr. Joe’s economic blog, he talks about the latest data on creative employment (“creative employment” being the employment of professional creative workers like designers, and not finding weird or unusual jobs for people, although it can be a fine line). He says, in part:
One factor that cannot be accounted for with these data are freelance employment. Yet that may be a good sign as well. Recessions tend to create “unintended entrepreneurs” in the creative services business, and increases in payroll employment there is usually encouraging.
The Unintended Entrepreneur....there could be a book in that. Anyway, he closes by saying, “Because full time employment is not likely to pick up in the traditional markets for these workers, now is a good time to be auditioning new talent at low risk for the transformed print enterprise.” Dr. Joe’s post got me thinking about the designer’s role in the environmental sustainability food chain (how’s that for a segue?), and that this could be a propitious moment for industry groups to make a concerted effort to educate those on the media-buying side of things about sustainable design. (After all, the print buyer is the one who decides how—or how not—to print something, or even whether to print it at all.) Most of the anecdotal and quantitative evidence I have seen on “green” attitudes in the creative community, even going back to some of the mid-2000s TrendWatch surveys, have tended to show that the design community is big on intent if small on actual process since, at the end of the day—or at the end of the job—cost tends matter more. And ever was it thus. Which is why I was interested to come across a new initiative out of Canada called the Sustainable Design Auditing Project (SDAP), a partnership between Re-nourish (providers of an online toolkit for creating sustainable design), the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (SDC), and several groups and organizations. In a nutshell, the SDAP is “a multi-stakeholder working group tasked with developing open-source metrics for measuring the environmental, social and economic impacts of the graphic design supply chain.” Happily, if you think about it, design has become more sustainable over time thanks largely to technology. Remember phototypesetting and those vile-smelling, no-doubt hazardous and probably environmentally harmful chemicals involved in it? At least the Creative Suite is non-toxic (yeah, yeah, yeah, insert your own joke in Comments). But there is still a long way to go. Basically, the goal of the SDAP is to develop a set of metrics that calculate the impacts and outcomes of a design project. They mean:
the true cost to individuals and communities, to waterways and land and air, and to economies. Outcomes and incomes are the what: the degree of toxic contamination swimming through a particular lake, or the number of jobs lost or healthcare plans cut, or perhaps the number of species disappearing from a particular monocultural tree farm. Outcomes and impacts are not the same as standards, which is where Re-nourish started our journey and have since moved on from. Other industries already recognize the danger of proscribing one-size-fits-all solutions rather than measuring real-world impacts, and are furiously at work developing metrics and measures that serve as the building blocks for any honest, accurate discussion of social and environmental impact. The design industry needs to lead this charge, not play catch-up.
The SDAP is still in its formative period, but the three types of metrics they are investigating fall into the categories of:
  • environmental impacts
  • social impacts
  • economic impacts
You can sign up for free updates to keep ahead, afoot, and abreast of what the steering committee is working on. You can also volunteer to be part of the steering committee. Closer to home, the American Institute for the Graphic Arts (AIGA) has an online “Center for Sustainable Design” called The Living Principles, which is defined as:
a catalyst for driving positive cultural change. It distills the four streams of sustainability – environment, people, economy, and culture – into a roadmap that is understandable, integrated, and most importantly, actionable. Designers, business leaders, and educators can use The Living Principles to guide every decision, every day.
“Sustainable design” doesn’t only refer to the actual design, production, and printing process, but also to one’s own workplace/workspace, among many other factors. Do you use LED lightbulbs vs. incandescents or even fluorescents, for example? In other words, are you making the “green” choices that any small business has to make? We may not even think about a lot of these things. (One thing I do think about is that I sometimes see folks refer to “florescent” lighting—that spelling, however, means “bursting into flower; blossoming,” which conjures up some strange images.) Ultimately, sustainability isn’t just for large, industrial companies. Those of us who are small firms or even freelancers have time and money challenges, sure—but even starting with one or two small things, and building bit by little bit can help us move on our way toward close to 100% sustainability. As they say, every little bit helps. And the better-versed we as designers or small businesses are with sustainability issues, the better we can serve as an educational resource for our own clients or colleagues—which improves our value proposition as a service provider. It’s worth poking around some of the above links; even if we’re not wont to invest in a massive sustainable design audit, we can at least understand the impacts and outcomes of our businesses. I would also be interested in hearing from any designers out there. Your thoughts?