“Sustainability means living on nature’s income rather than its capital.”
—Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel Prize Winner
Sustainability is ancient civilizations (the ones that made it of course). They utilized natural resources for food, shelter, medication and transportation. These “primitive groups” relied on nature’s income, rather than its capital.
The architectural industry helped define and apply sustainability theory to their marketing and trade. “Green” structures and environments are built efficiently and resourcefully. It seems to work for this industry and at this scale… maybe because they were the first to use the term?
Lately “sustainability” has been added to the graphic design vocabulary. But, does sustainability extend to traditional graphic design? This question has been top of mind because of Kansas City’s local AIGA A4 awards – in a very skeptical way.
Any entry in the A4 awards can now be considered for two additional awards of interest, the Sustainability Award and the Diversity Award. Please check the appropriate box on the entry form and submit a written statement if you would like a particular piece to be considered for one of these two awards. To be eligible for the Sustainability award, you must submit a statement describing the sustainable thinking, messaging, resourcing, production, etc. behind the piece.
Sustainability is not defined on the entry form. Willoughby Design Group has a leg up on this additional award as they are on the board for AIGA’s Center For Sustainable Design. We can never judge intentions. But this sustainability merit smells really fishy… it seems set up, it seems more for PR value and capital. Anyway, Willoughby is probably going to win this additional award in January. So what.
1. You’ve got to be authentic. Organizations can hit two birds with one stone on this – to be ecologically responsible and get a PR boost with a hot topic. But to be true to sustainability theory you’ve got to be real on this, capital and press aside.
2. Traditional graphic design is far from sustainable – even with specialty inks and papers and techniques. There are mock-ups, bluelines, press checks, energy and waste. And ultimately printed materials end up in the landfill or back in the recycling bin.
3. Digital solutions aren’t really sustainable either – servers, cooling units, routers and ISPs. But, with advancements in alternative energy and resources hosting is getting very efficient. So overall, the digital route is moving towards sustainability a lot more than traditional.
Bottom-line. sustainability is great in theory. A noble cause, something that is being blogged about all over the internet today (blogactionday.org). But, lets be honest, as sustainability applies to traditional graphic design it is more theory than anything. More PR than altruistic intentions (this is jaded because of the fishy A4 sustainability award). And the irony of it all is how the most sustainable solutions are either a cave drawing or a completely digital solution. Nothing in between.