Episode 4 What is paper?

This is thew 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.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paper

Althoug many of you will have designed packagings also, paper used for packaging has other requirements that 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 divers, 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.

http://www.copacel.fr/en/lindustrie-papetiere/produits-fabriques.html

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% off 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.

https://environmentalpaper.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/StateOfTheGlobalPaperIndustry2018_FullReport-Final-1.pdf

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 carcinoganic. 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.

https://environmentalpaper.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/StateOfTheGlobalPaperIndustry2018_FullReport-Final-1.pdf

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 fibers, the stronger the paper. Recycling shortens the average length of fibers. At some stage they’ve reached their end of life, at the laststage, 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 technitions 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 separate the ink from the printed pulp in order to wash it out. 

My study couldn’t prove that the later 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 anlysis. 

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’s 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 waste water 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:

https://www.podbean.com/player-v2/?i=g49mh-10b5da7-pb&from=pb6admin&share=1&download=1&rtl=0&fonts=Verdana&skin=1b1b1b&font-color=auto&btn-skin=3267a3

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.”

https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/

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:

https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_Headline_Statements.pdf

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:

https://hbr.org/2014/05/that-mad-men-computer-explained-by-hbr-in-1969

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. 

https://entertainment.ie/trending/lidl-merch-lidls-next-top-model-463017/

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. 

ttps://www.forbes.com/sites/johnhall/2014/04/20/how-to-choose-the-right-medium-for-your-message/?sh=146f2cee2932

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

https://www.makeuseof.com/is-tiktok-dangerous/

https://www.makeuseof.com/deepfakes-how-to-spot-them/

https://nerdschalk.com/how-to-get-chinese-tiktok/

https://ie.oberlo.com/statistics/most-popular-social-media-platforms

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. 

http://www.clickclean.org/international/en/

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?

https://www.podbean.com/player-v2/?i=cfeqg-10ad23b-pb&from=pb6admin&share=1&download=1&rtl=0&fonts=Verdana&skin=1&font-color=auto&btn-skin=3267a3

Transcript:

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:

https://www.carbonfootprint.com/individuals.html

https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/

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:

People

Planet

Profit

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. 

https://bcorporation.net/

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.

https://bcorporation.net/controversial-issues

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!

First podcast episode is finally out!

The conscious Communication Design podcast is finally live and available everywhere where you can listen to podcasts. -or if you’re missing a platform, do let me know! And you’ll always find the full transcript here on the blog.

https://www.podbean.com/player-v2/?i=vj857-10a15af-pb&from=pb6admin&share=1&download=1&rtl=0&fonts=Verdana&skin=1&font-color=auto&btn-skin=3267a3

In order to allow for good accessibility and citeability, you’ll find a full transcript of each episode here on this blog. So find below the transcript of episode 1: First Things First:

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.

The one thing Communication and Graphic Designers are incredibly good at: fixing problems. We’re good at it cause we do it every day, it’s our job, and our passion. It is what we do. -Identifying the problem, finding a solution, that’s part of every design project.

I’m imagining a world where we use that skill and help make the world a better place. Bit by bit, step by step, pixel by pixel.

Because I think we have a lot more power than we’re often aware of. We can use our skills to advertise for clients products or services, or, we use them to help our clients make better products and services to begin with.

I’m very aware about how idealistic this sounds. But think about it, each design project is basically a whole string of decisions we make: from deciding to take on a project, (no, starts before that: what are we putting out there about ourselves, to attract what type of clients) to how and when and for how long and how often we’re going to engage with the client and how we interact with them, to how we present ourselves to them (think: “are you the person executing your clients wishes” or “are you a consultant, hired for your expertise and with a say in the outcome”), to then obviously more creative decisions: which medium is going to be used to communicate your message, what is your message. (-How much are you basing that on assumptions about your audience?)  

I think we should make these decisions consciously – being aware of the consequences. Being informed.

So what does that look like?

Does it mean you have to say no to clients you don’t want to work with? 

Does it mean we have to print everything on ugly grey recycled paper without any beautiful finishings?

Does it mean we’re not printing at all and moving everything to digital and be done with it already?

Short answer: no, no & no.

There’s a lot more options, and there’s a lot more factors to consider. 

But what if I told you, that greening your business can help your profitability?

That we can measure the carbon footprint of your digital media campaign, and that we can drastically reduce it?

That there is ways to limit the waste your print product creates, and its toxicity?

To make you understand where I’m coming from with all this, I’ll give you an introduction to who I am.

My name is Lisa Zimmermann, I’m from Germany originally, but have emigrated to Ireland many moons ago. So if you were wondering what the weird accent is, it’s a mix of German, Irish and whoever I listen to on a daily basis. 

When I studied Communication Design, I realised quite soon that I was in a pickle: I loved advertising. But working in an ad agency wouldn’t work for me, as I had quite a large amount of moral objections towards a lot of typical types of clients. In the last year of my undergrad studies, even when I did a 3month internship as a copywriter in a typical PR and ad agency in Berlin, a lot of the clients’ projects I was working on, I wasn’t happy advertising for. For example: we did a campaign for a zoo, which was soo much fun of course. I’m very aware that zoos are an important part of culture and heritage for a lot of people. But I had made the decision years ago not to go to them anymore, as I just don’t find it right – for animal welfare reasons. So now I was advertising for one? That couldn’t be right either, – right?

I had found myself in an ethical dilemma, torn between my dream to be a communication designer and copywriter, and, being true to what I believed in and who I was.

So I worked freelance on the side, and thankfully landed a couple of clients that I had no ethical concerns with. Some of them were even – in the very nature of their business – eco-friendly.

Because I moved to Ireland and happened to have to write a thesis, I started my first bit of research. I wanted to find out how sustainable Irish Communication Designers work, and what that even means, so I read anything I could find on Sustainable Graphic Design – as it’s usually called in the literature. And then I surveyed Irish designers and interviewed a few. -To find out that most didn’t apply sustainability principles as they didn’t know how. And how would they, it’s not part of the curriculum usually?! But, let’s be honest, who was I to teach them, an unexperienced graduate and a blow in from another country. 

Even in that first bit of research, I had discovered that most literature was focusing on making printing sustainable, and missing out on the ethical debate, on sustainable business practice, and on the digital side of things. I felt this research had to move with the changing role – which is nowadays more accurately described as ‘Communication Designer’. 

 But I felt that I didn’t quite know enough about what sustainability means, and I wanted to understand and be able to judge when a print product is sustainable. So I studied Environmental Sciences and wrote a thesis on paper sizing ingredients. FYI: paper sizing is the process of coating paper with a mix of starches and chemicals in order to make it printable. 

I started working as a lecturer, in communication design, typography, web design, and I teach graphic design principles and Adobe CC skills to interior and fashion designers and architects. I’m not currently teaching the stuff I researched – yet. Because there is no room for it in the traditional curriculum. 

That’s why I just designed my own course, a certificate Programme in Sustainable Communication Design, that is aimed at professionals – people with work experience. 

So long story short, after three Masters theses on this stuff – I finally feel somewhat confident enough to talk about it. But please do call me out if I’m talking BS, because I am not claiming ultimate wisdom. In fact, I want and need feedback from listeners, as the only way we can come up with solutions for a sustainable future is by collaboration and learning from another.

There is a great new movement happening in the advertising industry in Ireland and the UK called the Great Reset or Purposedisruptors. Similar to the First Things First manifestos, people agree to want to take responsibility, and in this case, “reshape our industry to tackle climate change”. They asked people in the industry last year, in 2020, whether they think their work should encourage people to behave more sustainably like during lockdown 93% agreed. 

Some 30% of the industry did however feel that they have been feeling increasingly hopeless about the impact that they can make through their work.

I hope I can help with that.

I spend my time trying to stay updated with paper technology, printing, design education, IT, and environmental matters, societal and ethical issues that relate to the profession, like accessibility and diversity. 

Because I think all of those tie in with Conscious Communication Design. 

And then I’m trying to come up with what that means in practice.

So I will give you bitesize mini-classes on options and factors that we can consider. 

For example, what is ethical business practice and how we can figure out what’s ethical to ourselves? You may have heard of the First things first manifesto. It was published in 1964 by Ken Garland and 20 other designers, photographers and students. Back then, they “proposed a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful, more lasting forms of communication.”

They hoped that the “call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes”. So basically, they didn’t want to waste their skills on meaningless ads that scream “buy me” “buy me” anymore. 

http://www.designishistory.com/1960/first-things-first/

They had already recognised that design wasn’t just pretty pictures, but had a responsibility for what they communicated.

That manifesto was picked up again by another group of designers and revised in 2000 As the First Things First Manifesto 2000. They wrote “We propose a reversal of priorities in favour of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication – a mind-shift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning.“

So this picked up the same idea of ‘let’s not waste our talents to sell meaningless shit.’

 It caused a bit of a stir, people that opposed the manifesto said that design should be value-free, and many others welcomed the idea. 

This was in a time when advertising for cigarettes had just become illegal. -In Ireland that was the case in 2000 exactly. In 2005 the WHO actually put a framework convention in place that requires from all 168 signed countries to ban tobacco advertising. Unless, their constitution forbids it. Duh. I believe except for Zimbabwe, where you can even advertise for cigerattes on TV, most countries have at least quite strict regulations on how and where, if at all it’s allowed to advertise for tobacco products. Now a lot of countries have even adopted plain packaging for them. 

I’m mentioning this as it’s a simple example of how much our understanding of what is ethical and what isn’t can change over the course of time. If you watched Mad Men any time recently, you know what I’m talking about.  

And there’s modern adaptations of the manifesto as well, there even is a Sustainable Web manifesto.

There’s more practically adaptable things we can do as well though. I want to discuss all things paper. One of the reasons I wanted to do research on paper was, that I felt like, ok so I pick recycled paper now, is that it? 

And why won’t my printer not allow me to select a finishing option once I’ve selected the recycled paper? 

Short answer is, because it doesn’t make much sense, to pick a sensible option and then smother it with chemicals so it’s definitely not recyclable anymore. But, I think we always need to consider both: Where something comes from, and where it goes after it’s used. Is it recycled or/and is it recyclable? 

Most printed products don’t do well on recyclability anyways if they have too much ink on them, as it takes another load of chemicals to deink the fibres. 

But that’s something tangible we can do: consider how much ink we’re using!

And let’s learn which inks are used for which print process and which print process makes sense for which job. Because those lovely soy-based inks we hear about everywhere aren’t an option if you print small jobs that need to be printed digitally. 

Oh, and we can also have a look at how we can set up a project so that it reduces the amount of waste paper in production. So, ultimately, we’ll look at the whole life-cycle, and each step during the production, for different kinds of print products.

And – excitingly, we’ll talk about the digital side of things of course! 

Why am I so excited about this? Because there has been a bunch of amazing books that have come out on Sustainable Web Design in the last couple of years, and they have a range of tips in them that are oh so relevant for communication designers as well. In fact, I am dying to share that knowledge with you! But also, we need to all be aware that digitalisation is not the solution for tackling the climate crisis if all we do is transfer our wasteful behaviour into a digital world, where the waste isn’t visible as much.

So, there’s green web hosting of course, that we can recommend to our clients or use ourselves if we host websites. But that’s just the start, and it’s also not available everywhere in the world. I want to try and look at how digital products create a carbon footprint in the first place. It’s something to do with energy, but, where exactly is that energy being consumed? 

At the senders end, at the receivers end, where does the energy come from that brings data from A to B?

But of course we’ll discuss how we can reduce that carbon footprint. By making websites lighter and changing the way they’re built, but also:

how can we create visual communication that isn’t overloaded with pretty pictures and videos (because those are the biggest elephants in the room here). But we’ll also look at the energy consumption of different types of images, file types and colours (yes you heard right, did you know that blue colours take more energy to be displayed -it does depend on the technology of the screen though). Or by tidying up your vector graphic in Illustrator, you can reduce the overall file size of the .svg?

You may be thinking now, come on, that can hardly make a difference now, whether the image is 50 or 60 KB. But, think about it this way, that image may be a logo that you’re sending off to a client. And they are going to use that image as is for quite a while, and by loads of people. It may be integrated in presentations, it may go on a website an app, all employees email signatures. So it may be sent forth and back by end devices and servers thousands or millions of times a day. Now think about those 10KB again. The difference is suddenly quite substantial.

Now we’re not designing logos every day, but if it’s an image that acts as a header on a web page, or a social media graphic, the same applies: You design it once (hopefully that is), but each time someone accesses it, it is being sent from a server to an end-device, so your images or web content is making a hell of a lot of journeys, don’t overpack it!

Imagine you can just listen to this podcast, and bit by bit learn little ways in which you can make the impact you have, a positive one, and the products you create a little bit greener. 

Imagine all designers designed with the impact of what they design in mind. I mean the full impact, including that on the environment. We could be advocates for sustainability, and help reduce the amount of waste, in our bins and on our servers. 

I try to believe that most people actually want to do a good job and want to preserve our planet.  But it’s not that easy with our job. -To make it sustainable I mean. We don’t have any certifications like architects or can see the supply chain of what we produce like fashion designers.

We’re creating, well visual communication! It’s not straightforward, but there’s heaps of what we can do. And I’m here to tell you about it.

But I need your help! For now, I need you to 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:

https://www.instagram.com/ccdbylisa/

https://twitter.com/CCDbylisa

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 the impact of the industry and try to define what being conscious and sustainable means in more detail.

Until then, thank you for listening and take care!

Travelling animation by mult.dev

Not directly related but isn’t this cool? This animation was created by mult.dev and shows the places I lived so far. You can add places and means of transportation, change the colour scheme and then export as an .mp4 file or embed the HTML code as I did here. Beautiful!

Natures Right to protection?

Last night, Climate Case Ireland hosted an online panel discussion titled “Establishing Constitutional Environmental Rights in Ireland” including guest speakers David Boyd (UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment), activism expert Ailbhe Smyth and researcher in Environmental Justice in Columbia, Carlos Olaya. This talk inspired me to pick up a few key points in this post. The whole talk can be viewed online here:

In recent years, Ireland has managed to modernise her constitution through progressive referenda, such as the (same-sex) marriage referendum in 2015 or the 2018 referendum that sought to repeal the 8th amendment which prohibited termination of pregnancy under any circumstance. Climate Case Ireland -which is the effort of Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) to take the Irish Government to the Supreme Court for failing to take adequate action on climate change. The case was heard over four days in January 2019, which was a spectacle I am very proud to have attended. The case was lost initially, but then appealed, and in the end – won! – by Climate Case Ireland, and by us, the Irish people as part of our protection-deserving environment.

The idea behind this online discussion – so Emer Slattery (FIE), who presented the webinar – stems from the admission by the Chief Justice to “an unenumerated right to a healthy environment being consistent with the dignity and wellbeing of the citizens at large.”

A right to a healthy environment was almost admitted by the Court, so what is the next step? I shan’t attempt to answer, these guys did a much better job at that. I particularly loved the philosophical aspects of the discussion:

Ailbhe Smyth mentioned, that the right to a healthy environment protects the elements of the environment, when in a constitution, states interpret it as healthy resources for humans, but shouldn’t they also manifest the right to a healthy environment for ecosystems? Hence, should a constitution consider “natures right to protection” rather than the “citizens right to a healthy environment”.

David Boyd writes in his article “The constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment”, that Environmental rights and responsibilities have been a cornerstone of indigenous legal systems for millennia. Some time along our way through christianisation, industrialisation and modernisation we degraded our ancestors wisdom and reformed our legal systems disregarding the ground we stand on. It took us til the 1960ies for the first written suggestion that there should be a human right to a healthy environment. Now more than 90 national constitutions include environmental rights.

A commenter mentioned in the webinar chat, that the Brehon law (the native Irish legal law which applied prior to the adoption of common law in Ireland in the 17th century) included considerations for environmental protection. Naturally, I had to look this up, and it is indeed fascinating stuff:

The Brehons (or brithem) were the successors to Celtic druids and their role was to preserve and interpret the law, kind of like an arbitrator. As courts.ie article “Remembering the Past” states, “In many respects, Brehon law was quite progressive. It recognised divorce and equal rights between the genders and also showed concern for the environment.”

Mistreating trees for example, under Brehon law led to penalties similar to those for mistreating humans. The early Irish relationship with trees, as described in the law, was not just utilitarian, but deeply spiritual and tied to the people’s identity.

Below you can see some of the penalties for harming or killing trees under Brehon Law:

CLASS AND NAMEPLANTSPENALTIES FOR HARMING A TREEADDITIONAL FINE FOR KILLING A TREE (AURBE)
1. Nobles of the Wood
Airig Fedo
Oak (dair)
Hazel (coll)
Holly (cuilenn)
Yew (ibar)
Ash (uinnius)
Scots pine (ochtach)
Apple (aball)
Alder (fearn)
Willow (saille)
Whitethorn (scé)
séts (=2.5 milk cows)Not mentioned in the law
2. Commoners of the Wood
Aithig Fedo
Rowan (cáerthann)
Birch (beithe)
Elm (lem)
Wild cherry (idath)
Blackthorn (draigen)
Elder (trom)
Spindle tree (féorus)
1 milk cowséts
3. Lower Divisions of the WoodWhitebeam (findcholl)
Arbutus (caithne)
Aspen (crithach)
Juniper (crann fir)
Bracken (raith)
Bog-Myrtle (rait)
1 yearling heiferséts
4. Bushes of the Wood
Losa Fedo
Furze/Gorse (aitenn)
Bramble (dris)
Heather (fróech)
Broom (gilcach)
Wild rose (spin)
1 sheep1 yearling heifer
Source: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/eco.2019.0058

So, you better not run around killing elders or apple trees, or you end up paying the bitter price of 5 séts (units) aka 2.5 milk cows – ouch!

As Tina R. Fields wrote it so beautifully in her article “Trees in Early Irish Law and Lore: Respect for Other-Than-Human Life in Europe’s History”: “Brehon Law provides an example from European history that illustrates traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and animistic relationships with the more-than-human world of nature.”

In the end, while I dread policies and politics, what I take from this talk is that we should be taking ownership of our constitution and that we need to figure out a way how we can become connected to nature not in just a superficial latte-in-a-bamboo-cup-kinda way, but in true connectivity, in synch with our ecosystems and with a deep respect and understanding of our dependence on it.

Sustainable Web Design – Resources

Book cover of Designing for Sustainability by Tim Frick

While the discussion has started much earlier, the first book about Sustainable Web Design in the English speaking realm was Tim Frick’s Designing for Sustainability – A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products & Services, which was published in 2016 by O’Reilly. In the book, Tim explains the foundations of sustainability and its definition and outlines a framework for designing more sustainable digital products and services, which consists of the categories design and UX, content, performance optimisation and green ingredients, including green hosting. The book also includes research on devising meaningful ways to measure the environmental impact of digital work and looks at what a more sustainable future Internet might be.

Book cover image Tom Greenwood Sustainable Web Design

Published just this year (2021), Tom Greenwood’s Sustainable Web Design (available at A Book Apart) goes into detail on how we can measure our impact, how we can design low-carbon websites, what sustainable web development looks like, and how green web hosting works.
Tom also explains how to sell Sustainable Web Design, which he has experience with his agency Wholegrain digital. He talks about being selective when it comes to projects, something that I always advocated as well, but was hesitant and wary of people’s reactions.
You can get a little taster of Tom talking about his experience in this podcast episode 103: Sustainable Websites – Tom Greenwood, Wholegrain Digital.


Book cover of World Wide Waste by Gerry McGovern

Also only published in 2020 by Silber Beach is Gerry McGovern’s World Wide Waste – How digital is killing our planet – And what we can do about it. The book looks a bit broader on digital consumption and the waste that comes with it. It looks at organisations and consumer behaviour, and as such also at personal and cultural change in our relationship with media consumption that is inevitable.

Help me keep this list up to date, if you have and book or resource suggestions, please leave a comment or contact me!

Sitemaps – thing of the past or must-have?

While Google’s John Muller commented on Reddit that HTML sitemaps are not worthwhile for SEO purposes [1] [2], there may be enough other reasons to keep them around. Sitemaps have arguably become a bit of a rarity, but there’s good examples of sitemaps making sense for a variety of reasons.

What is a sitemap?

sitemap is a file where information about the pages, videos, and other files on a site are provided, as well as their relationships between them. These can be provided in form of a .xml-file, which is created solely to aid the search engine in crawling the site and finding the files it is looking for. But the contents of a page can also be mapped out via HTML, which is then usually linked in the footer of the page.

Should a sustainable website have a sitemap?

An HTML sitemap can help with the organisation of a website, especially larger ones, with structuring content and keeping track of all pages. It can therefore serve as a project management tool. But it can also aid in highlighting the value of the website and identify the most relevant and unique keywords for SEO.
Moreover, an HTML sitemap can aid in enabling page links in a natural way to drive visitors, help them find their way to difficult to categorise pages.
The biggest potential of a sitemap, in terms of making it sustainable, probably is, that it can help identify orphaned pages, understand user journeys and optimise them, aid in SEO and therefore findability (one of Tim Frick’s principles of Sustainable Web Design) and in a good page structure. However, sitemaps still only make sense for large websites, or new content needs to be crawled fast (like for news to be displayed on Googe News), there is no need for a sitemap on a portfolio page or the site of a small local business[5][6], blogs, for example, should avail of RSS feeds instead.

Sitemap examples

The following shows the sitemap of online magazine designorate.com. It is linked in the top menu via “About” and also in the footer of the page.

Sitemap of Web-based Design Magazine Designorate https://www.designorate.com/html-sitemap/

The sitemap in this case definitely helps in finding pages that are otherwise difficult to find. Pages that are listed last in the sitemap don’t appear in the menu, the page “Design Ressources” actually links to the “Publications” page. I also find the list of resources under “Design Thinking” very helpful and wonder why it isn’t adapted in the top navigation. Overall, the structure and organisation of the page is difficult to understand, but through looking at the sitemap I find the resources a lot more helpful than if I looked just through the menu.

Let’s have a look at another example, the below is the sitemap of the online directory mygreendirectory.info, I couldn’t find a link to a sitemap but found it by chancing it and entering /sitemap in the URL.

sitemap from mygreendirectory.info/sitemap

First things first, it would be helpful if the list was presented in two or three columns, it took three full-screen images to puzzle together the above image. But since there is no link to the sitemap anywhere visible, it is safe to say it was created for the search engine, not the visitors.
Again, the sitemap headings don’t correlate with the navigation items, the “FAQ” page doesn’t exist, the “Offer” navigation link leads to a page called “deal”, which is blank, same as the “Events”, but I guess that was to be expected in a pandemic. The navigation item “Add a listing” is linked to the page “advertise”, which I suppose summarises this not so honourable intention of a website. A few cheesy stock photos and a poor logo, and a page that let’s you buy ad space. The lack of reviews on the listings doesn’t create authenticity either. A long way to go for mygreendirectory.info.

Conclusively, sitemaps can be beneficial for large websites such as directories for a variety of reasons, but they won’t save a poorly structured website.

Resources

[1]https://www.reddit.com/r/bigseo/comments/dbqcmh/still_worth_making_html_sitemaps/
[2] https://www.seroundtable.com/google-html-sitemaps-seo-28312.html
[3] https://www.searchenginejournal.com/html-sitemap-importance/325405/#close
[4] https://sustainableux.com/talks/2016/designing-for-sustainability-concept-to-practice/
[5] https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/sitemaps/overview
[6] https://blog.spotibo.com/sitemap-guide/

Sustainable web design is accessible web design

Digital products offer opportunities print products don’t: the product can be adapted to the viewer. When I first heard about variable fonts and having to consider that viewers should be able to increase the type-size on a website, or adjust the colour scheme, I felt like everything I learned and loved about design was thrown over board: How dare those users adjust my carefully selected design choices!
Thankfully, I have come a long way and see modern web typography as an art form in itself, an underrated one as such. In my previous post Best practices in Sustainable Web Design I introduced the beautifully designed website sustainablewebdesign.org and it’s accessibility controls panel.

Screenshot from https://sustainablewebdesign.org/ accessibility

The drop-down menu is – very noticeably – located in the top right corner of the page. It allows for alterations in colour and font size, and even allows for the removal of the background design elements. It even allows for switching to dark mode, which apart from adding a different viewing experience, allows for site access with lower energy consumption.
Accessibillity is a very broad topic, and if you are, like me, not originally coming from a web design background but only dipping your toe in every once in a while, it is very easy to get overwhelmed.
Thankfully, there is a standard in Web Accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

WCAG is primarily intended for:

  • Web content developers (page authors, site designers, etc.)
  • Web authoring tool developers
  • Web accessibility evaluation tool developers
  • Others who want or need a standard for web accessibility, including for mobile accessibility[1]

The WCAG is developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), as part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which develops standards for the web[3]. The website has a very handy quick reference guide that helps in understanding what is required for accessible web design in four categories: Perceivable (text alternatives, adaptability, distinguishability), Operable (keyboard accessibility, time adjustments, seizures and physical reactions, navigation and input modalities), Understandable (readable, predictable, input assistance), Robust (compatibility)[2].

There are of course also online tools that scan websites for these features. The w3.org website itself lists 162 software or online tools for web accessibility standard compliancy testing[4]. And it does not only go by its own standards but also offers filters for standards of specific countries, and also a guide that helps in selecting the right tool.

One of the tools is wave.webaim.org. I’ve tested the tool by running three different websites through it:

1. Ethics in Graphic Design Blog


http://www.ethicsingraphicdesign.org/

Screenshot from ethicsingraphicdesign.org
Web accessibility test of the site http://www.ethicsingraphicdesign.org/ using https://wave.webaim.org/

2. The Green Web Foundation

https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org/

Screenshot from thegreenwebfoundation.org
Web accessibility test of the site thegreenwebfoundation.org using https://wave.webaim.org/

3. The UX Collective

https://uxdesign.cc/

Screenshot from uxdesign.cc
Web accessibility test of the site https://uxdesign.cc/ using https://wave.webaim.org/

The first report for ethicsingraphicdesign.org mostly consists of errors regarding missing alternative text for images and a lot of ‘suspicious’ link text or redundant links. The thegreenwebfoundation.org suffers of too much low contrast for its text elements that are placed on images. In comparison, the result for uxdesign.cc seems like a disaster. The many errors primarily stem from ARIA issues though. ARIA stands for Accessible Rich Internet Applications and is a set of attributes that can be added to HTML elements and are supposed to help users with disabilities who use assistive technologies (AT). When accessibility issues cannot be managed with native HTML, ARIA can help bridge those gaps[5]. Standard HTML accessibility features are prefferable though, as ARIA isn’t supported in older browsers. In this last website, a lot of the ARIA links seem to need fixing.

Web accessibility tools can be very helpful in assessing what needs more work, and the WCAG are indeed very helpful, but consulting experts, collaborating and testing with people with disabilities should be the way to go. I am hoping we will also see more little tools like the accessibility controls on the sustainablewebdesign.org website. With more and more variable fonts becoming available, we are entering an era of simpler, more accessible, and more adaptable web design. Have you seen any other interesting accessibility features? Please drop me a comment below!

Resources

[1] https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/

[2] https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/

[3] https://www.w3.org/WAI/

[4] https://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/

[5] https://www.lullabot.com/articles/what-heck-aria-beginners-guide-aria-accessibility

Best practices in Sustainable Webdesign

Sustainable web design goes hand in hand with general good web design practice, which should:

  • solve problems
  • achieve results
  • be innovative
  • be predictable
  • communicate a message effectively
  • support business objectives e.g. getting users to
  • consume the content or respond to action(s).
  • be designed with an understanding of how humans process visual information

Tim Frick is the author of “Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services” – one of the pioneering books in this field, which was published in 2016. In the same year he gave a talk at sustainableux.org, which is an online “conference in an attempt to provide a forum for practitioners to share the methods and philosophies that enable us to make meaningful contributions to the struggle as individuals, and an industry” [2]. In his talk Designing for Sustainability: Concept to Practice [1], Tim categories these four pillars for sustainable web design:

  • Findability
  • Usability
  • Performance optimisation
  • Green hosting

Before we attempt to fix a problem, we must understand it. Hence does good and sustainable web design depend not just on fast performance. Good load times are important, but they don’t always correlate with reduced data transfer and emissions [5]. The httparchive.org‘s Web Almanac publishes some incredibly insightful data with the mission to track how the web is built. Below shows the page weight distribution in 2020:

Bar chart showing the distribution of the total bytes per page. Desktop pages tend to have more bytes throughout the distribution. The 10, 25, 50, 75, and 90th percentiles for mobile pages are: 369, 900, 1,915, 3,710, and 6,772 KB per page. Source: https://almanac.httparchive.org/en/2020/page-weight

By experts recommended is an overall page weight of 1MB [6], and many companies make target 1MB as their performance budget. Tools like Jonathan Fielding’s Performance Budget tool [7] can help calculate which load speed can be achieved with which page weight per selected connection speed, and also how the weight is distributed between assets.

Bar chart showing the median number of bytes per page for images, JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. The median desktop page tends to have more bytes. The median mobile page has 916 KB of images, 411 KB of JS, 62 KB of CSS, and 25 KB of HTML. Source: https://almanac.httparchive.org/en/2020/page-weight

The above shows, the bulk of the page weight still comes from images, so image optimisation is the key to reducing the overall page weight, and with it the data transfer, and the emissions.

An average website produces 4.61 grams of CO2 for every page view. For websites that have an average of 10,000 page views per month, that makes 553 kilograms of CO2 per year[9]. The carbon footprint however needs to account for the data transfer over the wire, the energy intensity of the web data, the energy source used by the data centre and the carbon intensity of electricity as well as the website traffic[8].

Ultimately, any web project should start with a performance (or should I say carbon-) budget, meaning that we set our target at the lowest possible page weight while still respecting design principles. Because any request sent for unattainable information is a useless request – if our visitors don’t find what they are looking for, the energy it took for them to get to our page was wasted (and our job poorly done).

Good and effective web design needs to have a good user interface, which guides the user and presents them with a clear path, UI should be clear, consistent, flexible, intuitive, responsive & structured. The users attention must be focused and overstimulation reduced. All functionality of the website or app should be obvious and self-explanatory, following the principle show, don’t tell. Important features should be exposed and easy to find, but overall user requirements should be kept at a minimum. It is also not necessarily helpful to include phony testimonials that supposedly underline trustworthiness, which can be better demonstrated with independent rating tools – authenticity makes for good design. But the overall page must also be consistent, and follow familiar patterns. All of this while following the Gestalt principles.

Case study

The website sustainablewebdesign.org promotes web design that follows the Sustainable Web Manifesto: and is clean, efficient, open, honest, regenerative, and resilient[11].

Screenshot of sustainablewebdesign.org

So let’s have a look at the website sustainablewebdesign.org itself and analyse it in regards to good and sustainable web design practices:

Findability (seach function, SEO, content inventory and relevance

The site doesn’t have a search function
A quick SEO check yields a good result: The amount of css and js files used should be reduced and the amount of h1 headings optimised, otherwise the page has good crawlability, structure and meta data. The content is very relevant and includes data and resources from this year so very much up to date.

Usability (all functionality obvious and self-explanatory, attention focus, Gestalt principles

The visuals are kept simple, instead of images, the website uses coloured shapes created with css, which reduces the page weight. No imagery also means few distractions. The content is broken up into easily digestible chunks which require scrolling to view. The design is based primarily on typography and white space with content organised through coloured shapes and proximity and similarity. The website works primarily with two fonts: Paralucent 600 and Courier 400, and font awesome for icons. The features and calls-to-action are straight forward and effective.

Performance optimisation

A few images are used further down for image recommendations, but those are fully optimised for the web. Running a speed optimisation test reveals that the page still takes 2.651 seconds for the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), but is fully loaded shortly after (2.726s). For a test run from Chrome-desktop-location:Ireland this is not overly fast, but can be explained with the website being dependant on a multitude of css and js files to build. The free performance test result lists security issues, which can likely be ignored as they are based on the fact that the website uses WordPress, and if WP is kept up to date, the security vulnerabilities will be resolved by the CMS. Overall, for a WordPress site it performs very well.

Green hosting

The websitecarbon.com test result claims the site was run on “bog standard” energy. It did however say that for this website, too, which does is fact run on renewables, so I would doubt this result.

Accessibility

The website has a very prominent tab in the top right menu, which allows for adabting the website in font size, colour mode and even to toggle off the background shapes, and therefore reduce the background noise. This is truly progressive!
A test on webaccessibility.com gives a 92% compliance score. The only violation being that links that open in a new tab don’t have a warning window

Authenticity

The website states it is presented by MightyBites and Wholegrain digital. Tim Frick (Founder & President MightyBites) and Tom Greenwood (Managing director Wholegrain digital) are the authors of the books Designing for Sustainability and Sustainable Web Design (respectively) which are promoted on the website.
These two resources (together with World Wide Waste by Gerry McGovern) are pretty much the only published books to date about Sustainable Web Design.
If you read this, Tim and Tom, which web hosting provider runs your website, or more importantly, with which energy?

Resources

[1] https://sustainableux.com/talks/2016/designing-for-sustainability-concept-to-practice/

[2] https://sustainableux.com/about/

[3] https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/designing-for-sustainability/9781491935767/

[4] https://almanac.httparchive.org/en/2020/page-weight

[5] p. 23 Sustainable Web Design by Tom Greenwood, 2021, A Book Apart, London https://abookapart.com/products/sustainable-web-design

[6] https://wp-rocket.me/blog/best-practice-guide-reducing-website-page-weight/#:~:text=Web%20performance%20expert%20Tammy%20Everts,part%20of%20their%20performance%20budget.

[7] https://www.performancebudget.io/

[8] https://www.websitecarbon.com/how-does-it-work/

[9] https://en.reset.org/blog/whats-carbon-footprint-your-website-01162020#:~:text=An%20average%20website%20produces%204.61,carbon%20footprint%20of%20their%20websites.

[10] https://sustainablewebdesign.org/

[11] https://www.sustainablewebmanifesto.com/