Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Re-nourish, re-launched

By Guest contributors on October 18, 2009

This post was submitted by guest contriburor Eric Benson, an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois. His research explores how design can be sustainable and consequently how to teach it.

After nearly two years of planning and research, has finally relaunched its new site, making it the graphic design industry's only comprehensive resource on sustainable graphic design theory and practice.

The site offers graphic designers access to practical, reliable sustainable design tools, including thoroughly researched yet accessible guides to greener print, packaging, and digital design; searchable nationwide databases of greener paper and printer options; an interactive project calculator that allows users to design a more sustainable, cost-effective print project from beginning to end; and a third-party certification system that sets the bar for graphic design studios and the work they produce. Developed by a tight-knit team of design professors and working professionals, is the result of several years of research into environmental science, sustainable design best practices, and hands-on experience. With the relaunch, leads the graphic design industry into a new era of sustainability by providing designers and their clients a practical way to go green without the greenwash.

Ever since Re-nourish launched this site anew, we've been consistently humbled by the positive responses we've received. We've received many emails thanking us for our hard work and asking to be more involved and have more recently been honored with a 2009 AIGA (Re)Design Award and are in the running for a 2009 Cooper Hewitt People's Choice Award - vote if you like!) It's clear, however, that designers at all levels, and those who work with them, are hungry for straight talk and real information. But to do this legitimately - without greenwashing and without catering to special interests - we have to answer some seriously complex questions.

What impacts should be considered? How should those impacts be measured? Where should the bar be set? Who should get a say? How do we integrate the efforts of others without reinventing the wheel? These questions often put us in the position of challenging conventional wisdom and this, inevitably, makes folks uncomfortable.

Over the last several months, we've been working towards the next phase of Re-nourish, in which we methodically address as many of the big questions as we realistically can. But the truth we face now is that sustainable design requires a lot of players to make it actually work. The design supply chain extends from end user to client to designer to printer to manufacturer to harvester. It includes, peripherally but no less importantly, nonprofits and government agencies. That's a lot of stakeholders, each of whom have their own needs and wants. There are plenty of areas where we all agree, and some where we don't.

So what can Re-nourish really expect to accomplish, as three designer/educators trying to do what no one else has yet even attempted because of the difficulty of the challenge? Our answer is: we can serve as facilitators. Our goal is not to be arbiters of right and wrong when it comes to sustainable design. Our standards are not a be-all-and-end-all system. But as three working professionals who have no real allegiance to any special interest beyond our guiding principles, we bring a nonpartisan commitment to the process of shaping what sustainable graphic design will be.

Re-nourish believes that in order to create a truly sustainable graphic design industry, every stakeholder group has to set aside politics. This has to be a consensus-based process. Maybe we're naive. Maybe we're subversive. Or maybe we're just stubborn. But we believe that a sustainable graphic design industry has to, by definition, work for everyone along the supply chain. We don't expect complete harmony (there is beauty in disharmony, too), but we refuse to shut anyone out of the conversation. That's why we've opted to keep Re-nourish free from financial influence in the form of sponsors or advertisers.

We're excited to watch as other organizations contend with the same challenges we are, and we hope that they remain open to working with all stakeholders in this process. AIGA has now announced that their Center for Sustainable Design (of which Eric Benson, one third of Re-nourish, is an education committee member) has launched their own initiative called the Living Principles. We applaud this step forward, and hope the organization is willing to commit to working with outside stakeholders to shape the future of our industry.

Our door, as always, remains open. We invite the AIGA and other organizations, unaffiliated designers and their studios, manufacturers and printers, and anyone else who genuinely cares about this cause, to join our consensus-based approach. We offer Re-nourish as a facilitator in what will inevitably be a challenging - and ultimately, enriching - process.

Please leave your thoughts below.

--Eric, Jess, and Yvette

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