In a recent discussion about designing for environmentally friendliness and sustainability, I realized that the use of sustainable products isn’t necessarily friendly if you compromise in some other way. We often think of products that we can use or not use to help the environment. Use of green products such as fruit based and stone stocks and vegetable and soy inks is a good start, but further thought and consideration is needed.
The idea that doing more design projects digitally was brought up. Many people think that by not printing you are being the most environmentally conscious. This is not true however. Think about it. Anything run over the Internet requires a digital storage device of some sort that is constantly powered and connected to the internet. For example; If you were to take a newspaper and stop printing it and made it only web based you would actually be doing more harm to the environment. The web server that is required to keep a newspaper online as well as all the devices that are required to view that site use enormous amounts of electricity.
What if all books ceased to exist in printed terms? Would this be better for the environment if they were produced digitally? Not necessarily. Printing a large number of books or newspapers is not as harmful to the environment, because it may waste fewer resources in comparison to taking the digital route. Consider how much electricity is expended simply by running web servers, powering personal computers and even portable devices just to read something as ephemeral as a newspaper article. What about the paper? It can be recycled. What about ink? If it is environmentally friendly ink it might be biodegradable.
If we take into consideration all the effects that a project could have on the environment, for both digital and printed materials, we can better select the most sustainable way to design. Thus, digital and print have their places.