A Greener Blue Planet

I’m such a big fan of BBC’s Blue Planet and Blue Planet 2 series. If you’ve never seen them, you really must check them out. Even if this isn’t typically your sort of television entertainment watching, you might find it surprisingly addictive. Personally, there’s no other documentary that gives me such joy. Seeing the diversity that’s under the surface of our oceans provides a glimpse into the ever creative life force of our beautiful blue planet. It’s a fascinating and profound reassurance of life’s abilities to evolve, survive and thrive even as we all ultimately succumb to this very same force. The BBC has provided a stunning display of imagery that never ceases to inspire my creativity too. (And who can resist David Attenborough’s gift of story-telling alongside ingenious soundtrack editing?)

One of the other things watching this BBC series brings up for many is how important it is to recognize that we humans aren’t the center of the universe. Have you been watching the slow banning of plastic straws and single use plastics? According to The Printing Report, “In response to public pressure following the airing of the TV show, in June 2018 the fast-food chain McDonalds, which uses 1.8m straws a day, announced that it will stop using plastic straws in all its UK restaurants by 2019.” Fast Company reports that, “As of July 2018, U.N. Environment and WRI found that 127, or 66%, of the countries they surveyed have implemented some type of policy to regulate plastic bags.”

The BBC continues to educate us. A recent article states that, “The natural world contains about 8.7 million species, according to a new estimate described by scientists as the most accurate ever. But the vast majority have not been identified - and cataloguing them all could take more than 1,000 years.... The team warns in the journal PLoS Biology that many species will become extinct before they can be studied.”

Our “footprint’ on this planet with any product consumption or design is more relevant than ever. It impacts the entire planet. While consumption will always be part of our existence, breaking out of habitual patterns of consumption that are less wasteful is increasingly important. Are there other ways to reduce that footprint? Innovation and creativity coupled with foresight are sure to lead the way.

Some companies are jockeying to be part of the solution. Not just the small companies like Aardvark Straws but also those who carry a lot more weight in the marketplace and consumer identification. (Thank you Starbucks, Disney, Hyatt, American Airlines and more!) Innovating companies that embrace the idea of less single-use waste will be increasingly valuable to consumers. (Trader Joe’s, I love you but wrapping so much of your produce in plastic really isn’t necessary, is it?) Printing Report tells us that, “Trailblazers include Triocup, an all-paper cup that folds over at its top, thereby eliminating the need for a plastic lid on your coffee cup, and Frugal, which has developed a new paper-cup material that is easier to recycle. This all-paper approach has a significant advantage over combined material products that can be difficult to recycle.”

Clearly, during the evolution process for less waste, paper is positioned to make a “greener” comeback. Rather than resisting it, I embrace the challenge to attempt greater innovation.

Paper is one of the primary tools a designer uses to make a well-crafted piece for print products. For many of us, it’s one of the most exciting aspects of the design process. The trailblazers in the industry set the stage for us as designers to continue the ripple effects, benefiting all of us.

When I first entered the world of print advertising and marketing, the numbers of paper mills were seemingly the same names that had historically provided paper to us for decades. The same swatch-books of papers that designers referred to may have been on the shelves for a couple of years with little obvious changes. Like today, you still had the varying grades of papers and sheet sizes with some of the more popular papers stocked in local supply houses while some still needed to be ordered and shipped from the mill in another state, days if not weeks in advance of deadlines. But the heavyweight paper mills remained the same.

In recent years however, the graphic paper industry has had to innovate like few others. Selection has simultaneously increased and decreased. Not only has the demand for types of paper shifted, but the ways in which paper is printed has shifted. “Greener”practices have come to the forefront. With online sales increasing, digital printing has become increasingly popular as print quantities have come down. There seems to be a broader spectrum of colors, textures, and finishes but a smaller number of suppliers. Shipping is more of an intercontinental process when ordering paper versus a strictly transcontinental shipping process. Paper manufacturers are buying up other paper manufacturers that were once major competitors.

All of these industry shifts lead a designer like myself to have a treasured close connection to their vendor rep at the local paper house (thank you, Kelley at Athens Paper!).

Printers are also finding ways to innovate. Recently, I had to good fortune to use one of these latest innovations for a large non-profit’s annual fund-raiser held here in Nashville. This black tie event is their largest annual fund-raiser — a lot of class and sophistication were called for in the design process. We branded the event utilizing digital printing with gold metallic ink (yes, you read that correctly: metallic digital printing!) on a series of pieces that included save the dates, invitations and reply cards, and event programs all printed beautifully on a textured Classic linen stock. This year, $1.3 million was raised at the event! I’d like to believe that the paper helped to play a part in serving the needs of the community while keeping quantities printed to a minimum.

Innovation will lead us all to creating a “greener” blue planet. I want to be a part of that process when I can. What’s not to love about that? Won’t you join me in these efforts? Reach out anytime you have questions about a project and I’ll do what I love to do for you and your project!