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Green is Not a Destination—It’s a Lifetime Journey

Written by in Features

You better watch out…Stefan Bucher knows if you’ve been Green or not so be Green for goodness sake.

If you have not yet entered the chance to win Neenah’s “Eco-Trip for 2” to visit the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, don’t worry: the deadline is September 30th. But hurry up! You cannot miss this opportunity to experience one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions, never mind the spectacular beaches and scenery.  Don’t forget to enter at

Designers Bill Grant and Matt DeFrain at Grant Design Collaborative worked together to create the companion ENVIRONMENT® Paper promotion: “My team at Grant, especially Matt DeFrain, designed an engaging format. When it comes to environmental stewardship, we try never to be preachy. After all, we do not have all of the facts. Our goal was to stimulate thinking and dialog about these issues as they relate to industrial ecology.”

In an effort to fast track the conversation starter, Bill Grant invited several of his closest and most respected colleagues to review and comment on the project. He continues, “Yes, this is a little hard core, but we were eager to hear what they had to say. The brochure was designed to function as the beginning of a conversation as opposed to a final word. I am thankful and grateful for their participation, opinions and candor. It is encouraging to know that I can turn to fellow designers for a reality check.”


The ENVIRONMENT® Paper promotion:

Hard/Core by Grant Design Collaborative.

The message behind the piece is framed in the words “Hard/Core.”  The “hard” refers to the consequences of industrial waste created by electronic gadgets used instead of paper, as well as the supreme, labor-intensive efforts the paper industry is making to achieve carbon neutrality. The “core” part of the message celebrates six individuals from six different businesses who make sustainability a central part of their lives—at work and at home. Soon, we will feature each of them on this blog.

Meanwhile, Mr. Grant asked some of his many friends in the design industry to comment on the message and the medium. These are tough critics.  Individuals and organizations working to improve the earth’s ecology are always welcome additions at any table. What we learned is that the promotional piece is a conversation starter, and a welcome one at that. And we also learned that there is no such thing as “too much information” when it comes to industry’s supposition. More, not fewer, facts are helpful.

Neenah believes fine paper is a perfect medium for communication and a viable, sustainable choice. We recognize that electronic media has not been placed under the same microscope as paper, an industry at large that has been highly scrutinized and closely vetted by third parties. As such, “Hard/Core” raises questions about how we make our communications choices.

A Life Long Design Process

From Ann Willoughby

Willoughby Design Group

Kansas City, MO


Ann Willoughby respects the intention and learning process.

I rarely read every word from a paper promotion unless I am proofing one that we designed. This was an exception. The message was delivered beautifully, to the point and well written. The design restraint helped me understand and navigate the key messages easily. The stories are believable and inspiring, although I did not check the data.

We certainly use as much 100% recycled paper as possible but we have not used empirical data to measure the carbon costs between that form of communication and electronic media. In fact, it never occurred to as a quantifiable comparison because there are so many variables.  Most of our clients rank sustainability as important. As brand identity consultants we urge clients to align their corporate strategy, actions and culture with their sustainability goals. We have a couple of clients that are working on zero emissions initiatives.

We help clients with strategies to incorporate sustainability into their culture and business, and we attempt to lead by example. Our barn, designed in 2000, uses about 50%-60% repurposed materials. Our new kitchen is made with sustainable materials and processes. At work and home we had energy audits last year. We spent close to $40,000 on the audits including all new windows at our office. We are continuing to replace appliances, furnishings and heating/cooling systems with efficient choices. I buy local fresh food when possible. We use green supply chain vendors whenever possible. Of course we recycle, use green cleaning products and give time and design to organizations that need help promoting their work. I helped organize the national AIGA Center for Sustainability when it was founded and we support the Designer’s Accord and Living Principles. I could go on and on but, in the end. I know I have a long way to go.

I believe it is important not to be preachy about sustainability. For me, living and working sustainably is a life-long design process, an act of intention that takes time and the willingness to continue to ask questions, make mistakes and adjust. What keeps me going is the possibility of a future for our children where humanity is not limited by finite access to energy, health, education and freedom because of harmful technologies and beliefs that destroy people and the planet. Impossible? Maybe, but why not use design help to create more life affirming experiences that are affordable, beautiful and accessible to everyone.


Why Didn’t I Think of That?

From Stefan Bucher

344 Design

Pasadena, CA

“Forces of Nature” is one of these items that makes me think “OK. I’m a politically and socially engaged person. Why the hell didn’t I already know this? And why can’t I get that kind of clear, actionable information on canned tuna?” For one thing, it never occurred to me that pieces printed on 100% recycled paper would consume less resources than electronic communication if you factor in the entire life cycle. Actually, what’s startling is the inverse. Who knew that electronic media would eat up so damn much? Makes sense once you think about it, of course.

Some carefully maintained blindness seems to be necessary to make it through the day now, sadly. I want to do right, but when it comes to environmental impact, doing right in one area often seems to mean doing wrong in another. I want clear direction, and I’m not sure if the subject (and our limited understanding of it) allows for that. In the meantime, I try my best, and getting burst of education such as “Forces of Nature” makes it so that I can avoid at least a few of the major blunders.

As it is, my clients use a high percentage of FSC certified papers. I wish I could say that it’s because of my educated pushing and prodding, but credit goes to my print rep David Mayes at Typecraft, who’s made it his mission to make recycled papers my mainstay without sacrificing price or quality. If I ever get into paper heaven, it’ll be because of him.

As for incorporating sustainability into my practice, I’m no role model. I design books. The ones I do for publishers usually get printed in the far east—far outside my ability to steer paper choices beyond “glossy” or “matte.” The books I produce here in Los Angeles are printed on FSC certified paper whenever possible, but they’re still books. My justification remains that something isn’t waste if people don’t throw it away. My goal is to make books people care about enough to keep them around. I realize my vanity and my dubious justification. I hope that there will be follow-up pieces to the smart and beautiful “Forces of Nature.”


Dig Deeper for Sustainable Facts

From Doug Powell

Schwartz Powell

Minneapolis, MN


Doug Powell’s latest green project: fixing up an old Raleigh bike for his commute.


On one hand, Neenah is asking designers to consider the issue of sustainability in a way that goes beyond the fairly superficial—albeit well-intentioned—notions of “recycled” paper and soy-based inks that defined the early response to this issue a generation ago. With “Hard/Core,” Neenah asks the reader to consider the true environmental costs of the “eco-friendly” alternatives many of us have turned to—for instance, what natural resources were used in creating an electronic device? These are excellent questions that need to be asked as we develop a more comprehensive understanding of this unthinkably complicated problem.

On the other hand, the examples in “Hard/Core” are given in an overly provocative and simplified way and without much backup. For instance, the Swedish example of the printed news journal versus the digital version is fascinating, but I want to know more about this: how was this data culled? how was it measured? what are all the factors that contribute to this surprising conclusion? Sadly, I only get a single endnote number that credits something called Printweek which turns out to be a print industry promotional piece—not exactly where I’m going to turn for objective information on sustainability issues. Likewise, the “Going Digital” example is credited to “” which appears to represent European print and paper interests… hmmm.

If Neenah is truly interested in exposing the depth of this issue, I would encourage them to tell these stories with more than just a few sentences, because they are really compelling and important examples. Instead, I’m left with the somewhat cynical impression that I’m only getting part of the story.

What if Neenah had an independent environmental organization—not an industry advocate—help them develop the next issue of “Hard/Core?” That would be noteworthy.

I fear this is coming off negative, so let me add that Neenah should  be commended for its commitment to carbon neutrality, and they have the right to promote this position vigorously. Regardless of business category, this is a bold and important policy for any organization. Oh, and it’s a beautiful piece!