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The Environment and Design, Part 2: Print

Now that we’ve covered the pros and cons of web design and the environment, let’s take a look at the flip side: print.




  • Most papers are either biodegradable or recyclable, and some earth-friendly inks are available.
  • The decomposition time for paper is somewhere between 2 weeks and 40 years, vs. the metals, plastics and glass materials found in electronics, which take much longer.
  • Unlike digital, print products have different eco-friendly options that you can control before the piece gets to its destination, like coatings, inks, paper options and even delivery methods, whereas with digital work, the main detriment to the environment usually has to do with the device that the end-user already chose themselves.
  • Many paper companies offer options that use sustainable or environmentally-friendly practices. There has been a big push on paper companies; they are aware of the impact of their industry and have found ways to use recycled paper and to source new paper from places that have sustainable foresting practices. These options are usually specifically marked as such in paper sample books.
  • Ink companies have been experimenting with different sustainable and earth-friendly products for awhile now—water-soluble or plant- based inks included.


  • It’s a physical, tactile product to reach your consumer, which a number of people prefer.
  • This product is healthier for eyes than digital products.



  • We usually have to destroy trees to create paper. With prevalent deforestation issues (which also are related to other industries), this can be a big issue for the environment.
  • It takes energy, water and chemicals (like chlorine) to create paper. Some types of paper require 13 oz of water per sheet during production.
  • Many printer inks are traditionally petroleum-based and may or may not include heavy metals—both of which are no good in the environment.
  • It takes energy to print, cut and fold paper, and to dispose of it, even if your end-user chooses to recycle.
  • Some papers aren’t easily biodegradable, or biodegradable at all, like coated paper plates, and some glossy items like wrapping paper. And even though paper technically should only take months, evidence shows that this isn’t always the case. Legible 15-year-old newspapers have been found in landfills, likely because of the sheer amount of trash and how hard it is for microbial decomposition to occur in that environment. But keep in mind—this would apply to everything found in the landfill, including e-waste.
  • Nearly all print work nowadays is actually designed on a computer, though a particular project doesn’t necessarily have to be sustained or stored on a device after it’s been printed.


  • Most print projects generate something physical to hang on to (a.k.a. something that the end user needs to spend energy on organizing into their life). Exceptions would be things like signs or billboards.
  • You have almost no control over knowing who opened your piece and can’t as easily track demographics on your viewers to help you refine and narrow your marketing efforts.



  • Talk to us about environmentally friendly papers and inks for your next project. They may not be as economically-priced, but it’s more environmentally mindful.
  • Double/triple/quadruple-check your proofs to help us make sure we can avoid reprints. We’ll do our best to be good about this, too.
  • Make sure to also practice recycling and reuse with paper products when possible.
  • Support reforestation. There are many, many options and ways to do this—Google it!
  • Plant your own tree.


It’s easy to assume that print pieces, because the whole paper-is-made-from-trees thing, are the lesser of the two options between web and print. Or perhaps you’re thinking web and digital work is the least environmentally friendly option after reading my last post. But the answer isn’t all that clear.

What IS clear is that, unless we hand-paint our designs on rocks, we likely aren’t going to be totally environmentally friendly in any of our marketing efforts. And even then: What’s in the mud? What ecosystem did we disturb to harvest the mud and the rock? Did we burn any fossil fuels to get both to its location?

We should—no, need to—be conscious of our environmental footprints, but we also need to work and promote our businesses, so let’s work together to find a balance that is both earth and people friendly whenever possible.