Be a Trim Tab – ‘greening’ your business

Buckminster Fuller, renowned author, designer, engineer, futurist and inventor, wrote:

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary – the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, call me Trim Tab.”

I love this quote – so  inspiring as to what one person can do. Applying this to sustainability, here are some actions to consider:

Reduce energy use: energy must be generated somehow, whether from hydroelectric, coal, nuclear, solar, wind, etc. It’s debatable whether printed or digital materials have a smaller carbon ‘footprint’.

  • Shut down computers, lights and power strips overnight and on weekends – and unplug chargers when not in use – they siphon off small amounts of electricity.
  • Use natural light
  • Insulate with passive solar designs  — like window shades and trombe walls. Here’s a link for a nifty water wall made out of mason jars or reused water bottles:
  • Install solar panels
  • Take part in a reputable carbon offset program

Reduce water use:

  • Drink filtered or tap water, instead of bottled water
  • Replace exterior landscaping with xeriscapes (using little or no water)
  • Catch rainwater for gardening (cover catchments to avoid breeding mosquitoes)
  • Reuse gray water

Reduce paper use:

  • Recycle used paper (use both sides before recycling)
  • When printing for clients: aim for FSC certified, use a high-recycled content paper, and avoid coated papers.
  • Re-purpose old projects and drafts – hand-made specialty envelopes, craft projects, etc.
  • Go paperless when possible: use PDFs for comps, proofs, estimates, PO’s, RFQ’s, sample packets, billing.
  • Offer clients whom you serve remotely a ‘green’ discount, and note that on their invoice.

Design - make sustainability a part of the design process:

Research: What is the best way to reach this audience? What is the best method? What is the best message? The wrong method, no matter how well designed, is a waste of materials, resources and time if no one looks at it.

Avoid hard-to-recycle products – due to:

- Wasteful excess in production

- Toxins present in production and/or disposal

- Complications in recycling: envelopes, carbon paper, thermographs, sensitized paper, blueprint paper, films, plastics, scotch tape/glue, metal clips, colored papers, fluorescents, etc.

- Balance hard/software upgrades with actual workflow needs – electronic waste is toxic and hard to dispose of. Very often one can skip several upgrades without any effect on productivity.

Inks: Avoid inks based on heavy metals which have well-known serious health risks to humans and the environment — the acronym CAMALS is a good warning: Cadmium, Arsenic, Mercury, Antimony, Lead, Selenium. (Sadly, these elements are present in some of the most gorgeous colors: bright yellows have chromium and lead; deep and bright reds have cadmium and mercury in them, etc.)


- How recyclable is the material?

- How compressible is the material?

- Beyond making it from a recycled source, after it’s initial use, can it become something else? Can it serve its original function, then transform into – or be used for – something else? I’ve seen creative packaging that became a light shade (creative folding), or a tote bag, etc. Can the company encourage recycling of its package in a fun way – thereby being a good planetary citizen, encouraging some fun in life, and boosting it’s brand? See this wonderful little video from The Fun Theory folks about a bottle bank arcade:

Proofread: I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring a great proofreader. Beyond the obvious benefits of being professional and credible, proofreading can mean the difference between a successful job and one that goes in the trash. When I was just starting out, I remember a job where the project manager by-passed the final proofread (cost $500). There was one copy error but it was a lulu: the client’s phone number was wrong – 2 digits were transposed, which turned out to be the phone number of an adult bookstore. Yikes! The whole press run (10M) had to be thrown away: a complete waste of paper, the project manager was out the entire press run cost, and professional credibility was strained.

If all of us made some of these changes, just think of the cumulative effect. Please share your ideas for a more sustainable work environment, particularly as it pertains to design.

Here’s to being a Trim Tab!

© 2011. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without written consent from the author, Moira Hill.

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