Episode 4 What is paper?

This is the full transcript of episode 4 of my podcast Conscious Communication Design:

What is paper?

Paper is a material manufactured in thin sheets from the pulp of wood or other fibres, and used for writing, drawing, or printing on, or as wrapping material.


Although many of you will have designed packagings also, paper used for packaging has other requirements than Graphic paper, especially if used for packaging foods, there usually needs to be a barrier, which is created as a bond or coating on the paper. This is to protect both the food and the paper from one another, especially when grease or liquids are involved. 

The categorisation of paper products is diverse, depending on who you ask. We can differentiate between Graphic Papers, which includes Newsprint, printing and writing paper, Packaging paper and board, which also includes corrugated paper like for boxes, hygienic paper, which are mainly tissue paper, and Industrial and special papers, for example for money, cigarette paper, tickets, etc.


Paper accounts for 2.5% of industrial production 2.0% of world trade.

Paper consumption is related to population and to wealth, so the richer a nation gets, the more paper they consume.

The production of one kilogram of paper emits about 1.15 kg of CO2.

Around 80% of all products sold in the United States and the European Union are packaged in cardboard.

Paper use increases year on year and has quadrupled over the past 50 years. In 2014, global paper production hit 400 million tonnes per year for the first time2 (ironically the same year that atmospheric CO2 levels exceeded 400 parts per million). More than half of this paper is consumed in China (106 million tonnes), the USA (71 million tonnes), and Japan (27 million tonnes), with a further quarter in Europe (92 million tonnes). The entire continent of Africa accounts for just 2% of global paper use, consuming a mere 8 million tonnes per year. Oceania and Latin America between them account for around 8%. 

Let’s have a look at the per capita consumption: The global average is 55 kg per person per year. North American consumption is four times that (215 kg) while the African average is just 7 kg. China’s average per capita consumption is just higher than the global average at 76 kg. Eastern European levels are similar to China’s (77 kg) with the Western European average being almost double that (147 kg). Seven of the ten countries with the largest per capita consumption are in Europe.


1 ton of uncoated virgin (non-recycled) printing and office paper uses 24 trees. A “pallet” of copier paper (20-lb. sheet weight) contains 40 cartons and weighs 1 ton. 

Paper waste accounts for up to 40% of total waste produced in the United States each year, which adds up to 71.6 million tons of paper waste per year in the United States alone. The average office worker in the US prints 31 pages every day. Americans also use an average of 16 billion paper cups per year.

Conventional bleaching of wood pulp produces and releases large amounts of chlorinated organic compounds into the environment.

This includes chlorinated dioxins, which are a persistent environmental pollutant, regulated internationally by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Dioxins are highly toxic and can lead to reproductive, developmental, immune and hormonal problems in humans. And they are carcinogenic. We are exposed to these dioxins mostly through the consumption of meat, dairy and fish because dioxins accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals and that’s how they enter the food chain. If you didn’t have enough reasons yet to reduce your meat&dairy consumption – there ya go! 

But that is conventional bleaching, there are other methods, we’ll talk about those in a bit. 

The paper pulp and print industries together make up about 1% of the world’s Greenhouse-gas emissions. The industry has substantial climate change and environmental impacts, from its raw material sourcing in forests, through production, to the end of life of its products. So there are great opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through better land management and fibre choices. Wood fibres aren’t the most economical when we consider the time trees need to grow and the space they need. But while new technologies and developments in utilising speciality fibres are always hyped, I think we should always, always consider what grows best locally, and also the environmental impact of growing that crop, apart from just GHG emissions and land use, we need to consider biodiversity as well. 

Looking at the recycled content in paper, that is relatively high and estimated at about 50% newsprint and packaging, but printing and writing paper has a global average of only 8% recycled content. So there is still much room for improvement. By more effectively controlling contamination and implementing more robust recycling systems in developing countries, the amount of recycled fibre that could be used could still be nearly doubled before it reaches the upper limit of technical potential.


Because one thing we need to keep in mind is that fibres always shorten when they are being recycled. So in order to use fibres from Post Consumer Waste, they need to be mixed with virgin fibres. The longer the fibres, the stronger the paper. Recycling shortens the average length of fibres. At some stage they’ve reached their end of life, at the last stage, they can become toilet rolls, as in the carton bit in the middle on which the tissue paper is rolled around. That’s why these shouldn’t normally go into the recycling bin, as these can’t be recycled anymore. But you’re best to check with your local recycling company to confirm this.

What is pulp and what is paper?

Tree trunks = wood 

Wood = Fibers + Lignin (glue) 

Pulp = Loose fibers in water 

Paper = dried pulp in sheet form

A tree consists of about 25% branches and bark 75% trunk wood → logs 

On an acre, you can grow approximately 16-20 mature trees. 

A wood log contains about 27% lignin (glue) 73% fiber (what goes into paper) 

Every tree requires 130 gallons (490 L) of water for growth 

50 gallons (189 L) of water for processing into paper

The first step in paper making is pulping. It can be done chemically or mechanically. In chemical pulping, the so called “kraft pulping” process is mostly used. It has the advantage that there’s a chemical reaction happening with the chemicals added and the lignin, and that produces heat. So this heat can be used to run generators, and is often used to power the other machines involved, like the paper machine. The process also recovers and reuses all inorganic chemical reagents. But what happens here is basically that they add a cooking liquor into the pulp, that dissolves the lignin and than all that is washed out. 

Chemically pulped paper is also called wood-free, which I find particularly confusing. But it really just means that the lignin is removed.

Because in mechanical pulping, the lignin stays in the paper. There is two different processes in mechanical pulping, the logs are is either chipped and then refined, or they go directly into a massive grinder. Mechanical pulping has a much higher yield, over 95% actually, but the downside is that the fibres are much shorter, which means the paper isn’t going to be as strong, and the lignin in it means that the paper is going to go brown, so it doesn’t age well. 

Now that we have the pulp, we can add stuff. There’s a long history of adding stuff to pulp. Traditionally those are starches, chalks or china clay, but also chemicals. These additives are either put directly into the pulp, so before the sheets are formed, or are added later, as surface sizing or coatings. 

The pulp goes on a mesh and the water is squeezed out. And then the whole thing is dried with a steam dryer. This all happens in the so-called paper machine, which produces very, very large rolls of continuous paper which can later be cut into sheets. 

Once we have that dried paper, there may be a layer of sizing added, or the paper is coated. Both has the intention to make the paper useable for printing and drawing on. So it changes the way the ink reacts with the surface of the paper. 

In my research that I briefly mentioned in the first episode where I introduced myself, I did a comparison study between two different sizing ingredients. I obviously didn’t know much about paper, or science for that matter. But I wanted to get a better understanding for both. And I was very interested in paper finishings, so the sizing and coating, what kinds of chemicals go into it and how that affects the recyclability of the paper as well. 

So I’m going to explain the study I did to give you an idea of the complexity of analysing print paper products for their environmental impact.

I’ll explain this in layman terms though, as there’s no need for fancy academic jargon at this stage. 

I did an Environmental Sciences Masters, a one year programme in Trinity College Dublin. Why would they let someone like me into a science programme, you may ask? It was designed in a way that they would allow for a percentage of students from a non-natural sciences background, so there were a few other blow-ins like myself. It was obviously tough, as I literally suck so bad at chemistry and physics that I don’t even know the basics. But I somehow managed. And after countless jampacked weeks of learning how to measure the health of soil and water and climate changes and things like that, we got to write a thesis. In a kind of last-minute thing I applied to do a project with the Papiertechnische Stiftung in Dresden. 

That translates as Foundation for Paper Technology. They are an institute that does research on paper! It’s partially state-funded and partially funded by industry. So they can do lab tests on the specific properties of papers, or analyse their printability or recyclability, and loads more. 

For me, this was heaven! Obviously, the people there are academics or lab technicians with an advanced background in chemistry, so it certainly wasn’t easy for them to deal with someone like me! 

But they helped me set up this comparison study, where we came up with a conventional sizing recipe, which includes polyDADMAC, which is a high charge cationic polymer. But that stuff is derived from non-renewable resources and we also suspected that it would negatively impact the deinking process. That’s the stage within paper recycling where they put in other chemicals with the pulp which separates the ink from the printed pulp in order to wash it out. 

My study couldn’t prove that the latter was the case, the deinking worked fine. But anywho, this bad bad polyDADMAC stuff is used in paper sizing because of its cationisation. That’s something you need in order to print on it.

It’s a bit anticlimactic in real life, as it’s just a clear liquid. And not visible once applied on the paper. But in order to test this, we created a second recipe that just included a cationic starch. So that would be better for the environment, – all natural. 

So we had these two liquids, one conventional, one eco-variation. We applied those onto a test substrate. That’s all done in the lab and by hand. Those papers were then measured and compared with another. 

The application for these sized papers would be in inkjet printing. You need different papers, and different coatings for different print processes. 

The way the printability was tested was through a range of lab tests. Those included Code verification, ink and calcium chloride penetration depth measurements, Mottling,- Bleeding and Wicking calculations, print density and colour analysis. 

I won’t bore you with the details, although I have to say for me this was some of the most fascinating stuff I ever got to experience! But there’s a whole range of stuff that can be measured, there are test patterns that you can print and then look at the patterns under the microscope, but we also looked at the sizes substrates – always in comparison to base paper, which has nothing on it, even under the Electron Microscope, where you can see the actual particles clinging onto the fibres. 

Overall, my eco-recipe didn’t do the job, in some tests it performed ok, especially in how the ink looked, so the sizing created a good barrier, which means that the ink stays on the surface, where we want it to be. But my eco-recipe took too long to dry! On average 1394.7ms. So that’s one and a half seconds. Ish. And that means that in an industrial printer, it would smudge. 

Also good news was that both papers did ok in the deinking test, so they recycled ok. 

To summarise: we probably need all this stuff in and on our paper, as we want to be able to print on it. But there needs to be more research done on the environmental effects of these chemicals. How they are being produced, and how the wastewater is treated in recycling mills. 

There’s a shit tonne we should know about paper, so this is just the start!

What are your thoughts on paper? How relevant do you think LCA of paper products are to your work?

Help me spread the word about this podcast, so that we can have a discourse, and this doesn’t remain a one sided communication. You can get in touch with me through twitter or instagram, the handle is @ccdbylisa in both. 

Please like, share and follow the podcast on whatever app your listening to it, and tell other designers about it. 

I’ll talk to you next week, where I’ll continue with the introduction to paper, and go into the history and tree fibre alternatives.

Until then, thank you for listening and take care!

Episode 3 Choosing the right medium for our communication

Listen to epsiode 3 here and find the full transcript of the episode below:


Hi this is Lisa, and you’re listening to the Conscious Communication Design Podcast

I’m a design researcher and educator and I  want to talk about how we can make  communication design sustainable. 

How we can be conscious about our decisions, and what impact we and our work have on the world and how we can use our skills for positive change.

On Monday this week, the first of a series of new IPCC reports was released and it made for shocking and disturbing headlines. What is this report, and what can we as designers draw from it?

The IPCC is the International Panel on Climate Change by the UN that creates reports based on scientific evidence and data. 

This report that was released on Monday, “addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science, and combining multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.”


So what does this report mean for us and how can we use it?

The findings are also presented in a Summary for Policy makers report. 

It’s a summary of the understanding of the current state of the climate, including how it is changing and the role of human influence, the state of knowledge about possible climate futures, climate information relevant to regions and sectors, and limiting human-induced climate change. 

So the key findings are formulated as statements of fact with specific IPCC language.

There’s even a document which is only 2 pages, that has only the headlines of the summaries:


Those are compiled in four sections:

A. The Current State of the Climate

B. Possible Climate Futures

C. Climate Information for Risk Assessment and Regional Adaptation 

D. Limiting Future Climate Change

This is such an amazing publication. Ok so let’s read some of those:

It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred. 

1 Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.

Low-likelihood outcomes, such as ice sheet collapse, abrupt ocean circulation changes, some compound extreme events and warming substantially larger than the assessed very likely range of future warming cannot be ruled out and are part of risk assessment.

From a physical science perspective, limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality

Now, what do we do with this?

I know these are long sentences for a podcast, but we can use this as absolutely unequivocal source for climate communication! 

You have a client that’s on the fence about using the more sustainable option despite equal cost? Create an info graphic  with one of these statements, put it in your slides, -there is no counter argument!!!

I was excited when I looked at this report. There is no ambiguity in the language. There is no -maybe, maybe not. This is crytsal clear and noone can argue against it. Let’s use these scientifically factual statements to convince those that still need convincing. 

Choosing the right medium or platform for your communication

Often, the medium is determined by the client brief, or budget. More often than not though, we have a say in it. And if the client isn’t asking for our opinion, we have to make it clear to them that we aren’t pixel-pushers, but that they hiring us as expert communicators. 

So now that we’ve exteblished that it is us that decide which medium should be used for our communication, how do we decide?

In MadMen times – sorry if I keep referencing that show, but actually, not sorry, I think it’s fair to assume any Graphic Designers has seen at least one episode, as it gives a brilliant introduction to advertising history – In MedMan times, which is only 50-60 years ago, there was only so much to choose from: Traditional media: TV, radio, posters, billboards, flyers, direct mail, POS. 

I just had to look up if they had direct mail at those times already, I wasn’t sure as I assumed printing and material cost must’ve been comparably higher at the time, but no. They did! Direct mail -in the western world- started around after WWII and became increasingly popular once computers became more affordable in the 70ies, because in order to directly mail recipients, you had to store and and maintain large databases of addresses, which was very difficult without a computer. Remember when Sterling Cooper – that’s the ad agency in MadMen – gets their first computer? It’s the year 1969 in the show, and a glass-enclosed climate-controlled room is being built to house the agency’s first computer: the IBM System/360 – in the space where the copywriters used to meet. Yep, it’s a whole room, the computing power of that device has a capacity of 2 Megabytes. The photo you take on your smartphone is larger than that. The purpose of the computer likely was to target potential revenue streams. I found an interesting article on the Harvard business review that explains the functionality of that computer:


Fast forward to modern times. The Oxford dictionary defines an advertising medium as “A vehicle of communication which enables some form of advertising: print, billboard, television, radio, website, catalogue, direct mail, etc.”

Etcetera. Uff. What is etctera? What ISN’T advertising these days?

That reminds me of a stylish selection of Lidl clothing I saw in the shop the other day. Exclaimer 

For the international listeners that may not be familiar, Lidl -similar to Aldi- is a Discounter chain from Germany with a total of 11000 stores in Europe and the United States. They have a pretty horrible block colour logo that – in the nicest words I can find – looks like 90ies trash. And they decided to print hat on anything from Socks to T-Shirts and sneakers, which are also fashioned in the bold primary colour design. Like, wow. Oh and this stuff isn’t free, like, you pay for it. 


So, we’re not just paying to be proud brand ambassadors of Gucci, UnderArmour and Co., no, also for the local cheap discounter. Apparently. 

What’s more, we live in a world were individuals choose to be marketing vehicles, for a little to a lot of cash on the side, depending on how well they sell their soul. We call them “influencers”. 

Advertising also, like pretty much anything else, has to be an experience these days. It’s not enough to hang up a poster and hope someone manages to accidentally look at IT instead of what currently distracts them on their phone. Instead a brand has to be an experience, and the consumers fully immersed in it in order to engage, as otherwise, they can’t even digest the marketing you direct at them, as their drowning in this flood of information and things trying to get their attention.

Ok, I’m sounding very doom-and-gloomy here. I have to clarify: I LOVE advertising. 

Not because of the power it holds to manipulate people, but because of the strategic thinking behind it. You have to figure out the message you want to send, the medium you want to send it through and the impact you aim to achieve.

So what are the media we would decide on for classical communcation strategies for our clients:

Traditionally, we determine the medium based on the audience, the budget and the message. 


Let’s add one more parameter in there: sustainability. 

Now, I’d love to say “the carbon footprint”, because that’s so nice and tangible, can be measured and represented in numerics. But we need to consider the overall environmental footprint, as for example recycling paper causes waste water contamination that needs to be treated and producing a digital message needs to be received by digital devices that are primarily produced using rare earths coming from an industry with exploiatative working conditionss

And then as a third factor within this sustainability bracket, we should be considering the societal influence of our communication, and I think this is indeed influenced by which medium we use. 

If you are using a social media platform to communicate your clients message, you are making a statement and you are supporting the success of that platform.

This is such a difficult decision, as on the one hand you want to pick up your audience where they communicate with each other. Just because Facebook has 2.8 billion “active” users, you probably won’t reach teens and tweens in Europe there. 

Those can best be found on Twitch and Snapchat and TikTok. But should you be using those as a platform for your advertising in the first place?

Social Media campaigns, the ones that actually engage through user generated content, encourage users to -usually upload video or image content and often showing the user themself.

I think when using methods like this, we should:

A. Be aware that there will be ethical consequences of the large amount of image and video data freely available to AI – for example for the creation of Deep Fakes (Deep Fakes are the videos and images were artificial intelligence called deep learning is used to create fake events, like Barack Obama calling Trump a Dipshit).

An increased digital footprint poses great risks such as being more prone to phishing attacks and stalking. Using TikTok could stand in the way of a user working in their chosen field. For example, ones that requires a high degree of security, such as high-profile government occupations, since a foreign country has access to highly-personal and detailed information about you. You might have heard that TikTok is Chinese, but that TikTok isn’t actually available to Chinese users. They have their own version, called Douyin, due to the countries strikt censoorship regulations. 

But it’s not like Tik Tok is the big devil hear, other Social Media platforms are just as bad when it comes to data security. We should all avoid over-trusting and over-sharing with apps that don’t value security and privacy from the get-go. And we should probably not exploit young users by encouraging them to overshare in order to trend our newest hashtag





And B. Considering the carbon footprint of large amounts of data created, stored and sent, 

In order to gauge the carbon footprint of a TikTok video, I wanted to first know the typical filesize of those videos. 

Tiktok let’s you upload 288MB videos on iOS and 72MB videos on Android. They use a video compression algorythm that appears to be mysterious even to heavy users. Ther’s an option to upload HD versions, which is kind of hidden in the upload settings. 

To see how large videos actually are after upload, I downloaded a few random videos that used the hashtag #hd or #hdvideo. The downloaded videos ranged from 1.6-16.3MB, so that’s quite a heavy compression alright! Yet of course, a compressed HD image would still be in the Kilobytes or Bytes region. 60 Seconds of Tiktok use is estimated to create a carbon impact of almost 5gEQCO2. All Social Media use projected “display and progress of the news feed” as being representative over the duration of daily usage/user, that makes 102kgEqCO2 per user per year. 

Of course we should also consider how the platforms run their datacentres. Greenpeace published a report on this in 2017, but given that that’s already 4 years ago and there’s no newer report, I won’t go into it at this stage. 


Ok so which medium do we choose then? There obviously can’t be a silver bullet answer. And I’m not saying that we have to avoid the newer social media platforms altogether, especially if this was indeed the best way to target the clients audience specifically. But I think  that especially here we need to be ever so mindful of the impact we create through: the actual content we create for clients, but we’re also partially responsible for the actions we encourage our audience to take. 

If Trump is responsible for encourging people to storm the capitol, so are advertisers that encourage users to create content that is making them vulnerable to be exploited or disadvantaged in the future and creates a ginormous amount of carbon. 

I’ve talked a lot about social media now. I can’t touch on all the different media we have available to us these days, but social media is probably often overlooked in it’s negative impact and prised as, if it works, can have the greatest Return On Investment. 

I think much of this thinking is transferrable. TV ads aren’t solely shown on traditional Television sets anymore, they’re displayed on streaming platforms as well. So the way we choose those streaming platforms, depending on our targeted demographic, but also on the platform itself. We can see it as a vendor and should choose our vendors carefully, because we DO have that power. 

And with traditional print media, I urge you all to consider not just the production, but also what happens to the material after use. Print advertising is so very harmful overall for the environment, because it usually has a very, very short life-cycle, compared to other design products. That is what makes it even more important that we consider their full impact. And I’m looking forward to go into more detail of sustainable print options in future episodes.

What are your thoughts on social media ad campaigns? Please let me know!

Help me spread the word about this podcast, so that we can have a discourse, and this doesn’t remain a one sided communication. You can get in touch with me through twitter or instagram, the handle is @ccdbylisa in both. 

Please like, share and follow the podcast on whatever app your listening to it, and tell other designers about it. 

I’ll talk to you next week, where I’ll start with an introduction to paper.

Until then, thank you for listening and take care!

Episode 2: What is Sustainable?



Hi this is Lisa, and you’re listening to the Conscious Communication Design Podcast

I’m a design researcher and educator and I  want to talk about how we can make communication design sustainable. 

How we can be conscious about our decisions, and what impact we and our work have on the world and how we can use our skills for positive change.

It’s the second episode of this podcast but it’s already coming out later than intended. The reason for this being that I just received my second vaccine and unfortunately felt quite ill after. 

Of course, any healthy thirty-something year old -like myself- would ask themselves in this situation, whether a COVID infection would actually be as bad as the side effects that may occur after the vaccine. Those definitely are thoughts that went through my head. 

But of course, that doesn’t matter. In my opinion, the fact that being vaccinated reduces the risk of me endangering others, especially the more vulnerable, is the only thing that matters. And for that, I certainly can endure the – in my case- harsh side effects. So please keep the greater good in mind, if you’re still on the fence about whether or not to get the vaccine. And chances are your side effects aren’t as bad anyways, my body can be a bit of a drama queen sometimes.

I celebrated my vaccine by giving a little to the Unicef campaign “Get a vaccine – give a vaccine”,  as while European states are prepping for the third booster vaccines for vulnerable and elderly people, Afrika’s population for example has less than 2% of it’s population vaccinated to date.

I thought this was a suitable topic to talk about as it also offers an introduction to the topic of this episode: what is sustainable? 

Bit of a big stretch from vaccines to sustainability you think? Ok, hear me out. 

Seeing that you’ve found your way to the second episode of this podcast on Sustainable Communication Design, chances are, you will have heard of the most frequently quoted definition on Sustainability as it was termed by the Brundtland Commission: the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This definition always reminds me of the Native American saying: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

I’ve shared houses and apartments with quite a lot of people over the years and always set myself the rule to leave a common room as I found it or a little bit better. If all people in a household did this, the breeding ground for arguments is stopped in its tracks. 

Now imagine having this outlook on your existence on this planet. You’d need to make sure that your life on this planet doesn’t have a negative impact on the planet. That already seems impossible. 

How many greenhouse gases are generated based on your actions can be measured. There’s a wide range of carbon calculators for individuals out there, for example:



However, carbon emissions aren’t everything. 

That’s what bothers me about the term climate action as well. It focuses on one aspect of the environmental crisis we are in, neglecting the mass extinction and pollution of our soils and oceans with plastic that is breaking into micro-particles that we will need to learn how to extract again if we want to keep getting nourishment from this planet. 

So, we might not be able to reduce our negative impact to 0%.  Yes, you can pay for offsetting. And that is indeed important as well. But I believe it should be a last resort, and only done if the emissions can’t be averted. This had me so depressed in the past that I genuinely questioned if being on this planet is ethically feasible, knowing that every day in my existence contributes to the destruction of our environment. 

But things have changed. People have woken up and become aware of the crisis and that we all need to work on rescuing our environment if we want to continue living on it as a species. It’s become easier to be environmentally friendly and to promote eco-conscious behaviour and actions without being labelled as a hippie. Quite on the contrary, it’s actually on trend now. Thank you Greta!

So I propose we look at it that way: Let’s leave the planet as we found it, or a little bit better. And that’s not as difficult to do. 

Commonly named in relation to sustainability are the three P`s:




If we want to make decisions that are conscious and sustainable, we need to make sure they don’t harm either of those three or better yet, support all three. 

We need to design for people by considering accessibility, equality and diversity, respecting different cultures, and by giving back. Giving back can be as quick and easy as a donation, but often more valuable is the transfer of knowledge. What you are acquiring through listening to this podcast is specialist knowledge which is difficult to obtain, so please do talk about what you learned, talk to your clients and colleagues about it, help those around you, volunteer. 

This is also where I build my bridge to the vaccination topic: the vaccine may be your personal decision, but from a sustainability standpoint, we always must consider what is best not just for us but for the people around us, and especially those that we don’t see, we need to think outside our social bubble.

We can design for the planet by respecting all the resources we are using, and how we use them. There is no such thing as waste in the material world, absolutely everything is and stays a resource. Things end up in landfills because they’ve either been designed with so many compound materials that they cannot be taken apart anymore, and hence not recycled, or because they are soiled or people have been too lazy to separate the object into its individual components. But this is also mostly the result of poor design. There IS such a thing as waste in the digital world – data that is stored and not used, that is using up the planet’s resources without any benefit for anyone. THAT, we have to avoid. 

And we need to design for profit because no business is sustainable if it isn’t economically viable. Think about producing ineffective design communication. THAT is wasteful, costly, and of no benefit to anyone. We can use environmentally conscious business practices as a vehicle for your business strategy. 

And this can be done for example through certifications or accreditations, which validate your business as a serious economic player, and in addition, adds policies to abide by, giving you clear instructions on what to do. 

Let’s have a look at certifications and their limitations.

In general, there’s one big problem with certifications: they encourage people to abide by the standards of the certification rather than thinking beyond that and striving for what is possible.  

One certification that is – from my standpoint – really quite holistic and transparent,  is the B Corporation, or “B Corp” Certification. 


In their own words: it goes beyond product- or service-level certification. “B Corp Certification is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. The B Impact Assessment evaluates how your company’s operations and business model impact your workers, community, environment, and customers. From your supply chain and input materials to your charitable giving and employee benefits, B Corp Certification proves your business is meeting the highest standards of verified performance.”

Filling out the first questionnaire to get the certification process started takes 2-3 hours and then 6-10 months to get validated, according to their website. Also, only 1 of 3 applicants receive the certification.

While this might sound disheartening, it also speaks for the credibility of the certification.

The assessment consists of questions that are tailored to the company’s size, sector, and geography. The questions revolve around governance, workers, community and environment.

Some of the questions  in the “Environmental” category are for example: 

If you lease your facilities, have you worked with your landlord to implement energy efficiency improvements, waste reduction programs or water efficiency improvements?

Does your company monitor and record its universal waste production?

What % of energy used is from renewable on-site energy production for corporate facilities?

So that’s the first part, you fill out the assessment, you then receive a report card which allows you to compare yourself with other companies that have done the assessment. 

It shows you your companies overall score on a benchmark scale, and, because it is in comparison to other B corporations, the labels on the x-achsis of the scale read “Good”, “Great”, “Outstanding” and “Extraordinary”. The average of a B IMPACT SCORE of 80 is at “Great”.

Isn’t this lovely? You get into this club of genuine do-gooders and the worst mark you can get is “Good”! That’s what I call a high standard.

And the individual breakdown of the score will already give you a good idea of what to improve on, which is the third step.

The B Corp Certification is powered by B Lab, a nonprofit organisation, “that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good.“ So far they have 4000 companies in 70 countries certified. 

While there definitely are always ethical issues with certifications and accreditations, I find B Lab deals with theirs in a very transparent manner. They have a complaint procedure and their own page dedicated to controversial issues in which they publish statements on decisions they had to make in the past, especially in connection to specific industries, for example, bottled water companies, cannabis-related products, the prison industry, zoos aquariums and animal parks, it’s long and VERY interesting list. I’ll put the link in the show notes.


The assessment tool is free and straightforward to use, so definitely give it a go! 

An Irish researcher and Visual Communication Designer named Con Kennedy has done some research on the sector and its shortcomings and opportunities in the past. One of his findings was that Irish designers were lacking a business strategy. They started working freelance or in a small agency and basically set the whole thing up without a real plan. After a while then they find their niche by landing a client in a specific area or doing a specific project that went well and then getting similar projects or clients through word of mouth. 

Now this phenomenon might be quite typical for the Irish market, as a lot of business here is acquired by word of mouth and perhaps this influences the lack of awareness for strategy in design startups. But no matter what the country or market we are talking about, a strategy can help a business set itself apart from the competition. Environmental consciousness can be a Unique Selling Proposition and marketing tool. 

However, we need to be very mindful that if we use Eco-consciousness to market ourselves, that we do this very mindfully, as we don’t want to be green-washing 

The term greenwashing was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, and the practice is even older. 

Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.

It can however be done unintentionally as well. If you just started thinking about this recently, and are still new to sustainable business practice, then maybe don’t claim the environmental-stamp on your corporate design just yet. 

What I mean is green leaves or plants in the logo, the word green in your name or even using green as a corporate colour. 

To be honest, this kinda stuff is very outdated at this stage. That was ok in previous decades, but in the last couple of years, the world has woken up and is aware of the need for sustainability in every business practice. 

What is a better idea is to include a page on your website with your business’ environmental policy and the commitments you make to your clients and the planet. This shows you’re taking things seriously. If you’re a pro and doing absolutely everything you can to have the most sustainable business you can, you have an evolved environmental policy that you stick to, and you specialise in specifically environmentally friendly practice, then by all means, put it in your name and be proud of it! 

I’m sure we’re going to have more badges and certifications for designers as well in the next years. If you know of any that I haven’t mentioned yet, please do get in touch, I’d love to hear also about certifications for designers in other languages and countries!

What other interesting certifications do you know of? Please let me know!

help me spread the word about this podcast so that we can have a discourse, and this doesn’t remain a one-sided communication. You can get in touch with me through twitter or instagram, the handle is @ccdbylisa in both. 

Please like, share and follow the podcast on whatever app you’re listening to it, and tell other designers about it. 

I’ll talk to you next week, where I’ll look at choosing the right medium/platform for communication.

Until then, thank you for listening and take care!