• Transform magazine
  • July 01, 2022

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Weaving sustainability into our daily thinking

Dan Bramham B&W

Dan Bramham, creative director at Greenwich Design, discusses the link between digital and environmentalism in the world of design agencies, along with the joys of improving a client’s environmental reputation.

Like many companies, the pandemic was a time of change for Greenwich Design. We’d moved into a new studio just weeks before the first lockdown and instead of enjoying our new creative space, we quickly had to rethink how we did everything. We moved away from desktop machines and invested in laptops and monitors; we set up a VPN so we could access our server remotely; we migrated all our files to the Cloud and became pretty much paperless.

While this was borne out of necessity, it has helped shape the future direction of Greenwich Design, giving us the impetus to build a more environmentally friendly culture. We’ve embraced flexible hybrid working allowing staff to work from home a couple of days a week, which really suits our model. When we’re in the studio, we’re also more conscious about our carbon footprint and we’re proud to support our ‘zero landfill’ building. The design work we do every day has changed too. In just a few short years, we’ve transitioned from being a heavily print-focused business to the thriving digital-first agency we are today.

Can a digital solution be as effective?

That’s not to say we’ll never do another print-job – packaging design still forms a large part of our work – but, where possible, we’re encouraging clients to consider whether a digital solution could be just as effective. We’ve encouraged many clients to make the shift to digital with their brand guidelines and toolkits, for example. Doing the best job we can while taking responsibility for the planet is something our designers feel strongly about. We believe it’s that authenticity that’s attracting clients like Forest Fund, an initiative set up to protect the world’s remaining forests by encouraging organisations to plant trees.

Forest Fund brought us an interesting challenge – the need to communicate a solid business proposition to a C-suite audience of company owners, business veterans and High Net Worth Individuals, whilst reflecting the organisation’s eco-credentials. Forest Fund trees not only have the potential to reduce atmospheric carbon and give communities long term employment but can also make substantial profits for contributing businesses. The brand identity – recently honoured with Gold at the Transform Europe Awards – feels as at home on the pages of a hedge fund magazine as it does in an eco-conscious outlet. 

Straddling two different worlds is a challenge that many of our clients face, particularly when it comes to sustainability. Shell, one of our longest standing clients, is often in the spotlight over environmental concerns and it’s rarely a good news story, yet much of the work we’ve done for them recently has centred around their investment in sustainable technology and the steps they are taking to becoming carbon neutral. People are quick to criticise, but the fact is that without companies like Shell, we wouldn’t have our iPhones, our gaming systems or our Lego bricks.

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good

While we’re passionate about contributing to the greater good, we’re also conscious as an agency that being overly sanctimonious is not going to help anyone. Many companies are worried about being accused of greenwashing or not having strong enough eco-credentials, so they avoid the subject of sustainability completely. Others complain that without governments enforcing legislation around the big issues, there’s little that can be done on a personal level. We believe that as individuals and as an agency, there are small steps we can take every day that contribute to the bigger picture, and that extends to our approach with clients.

Let’s look at a brand identity, for example. While we all know it’s important to create a brand identity that has longevity, and that you can build equity in, for a start-up or SME, it can have far-reaching effects. We always avoid the temptation to follow trends and instead go for well-thought-through creative solutions that are sustainable – that won’t need to be updated in a year’s time. Having to make changes to business cards, shop signage, van liveries or packaging is not just an expensive mistake, it also has a significant environmental impact.

Don’t just preach to the converted

While sustainability is an important part of our own studio ethos, that doesn’t necessarily inform our client roster. Of course, we’re proud to work with eco-conscious companies like Forest Fund or the papermakers, James Cropper, but we don’t shy away from a client if they have less than perfect eco-credentials. If we only chose to only associate with clients whose eco-credentials matched our own, we’d be missing out on an opportunity to make a difference through our work. Changing perceptions is a huge part of our job, and what could be more satisfying than helping a client improve their environmental reputation? (As long as we’re confident the client will back it up with action, of course!)

It’s also important to set KPIs that acknowledge positive change. In our experience, every designer has the desire to improve – whether that’s their circumstances, their skillset, or the environment they're working in. But in the creative world, KPIs are often based on deliverables rather than improvements to process. Rewarding designers not just for their outputs but for persuading clients to question and rethink how they execute a project can be a huge step towards positive change. Whether that’s turning a brochure into an interactive PDF or creating a mobile or web app instead to tell a client’s story – designers should be credited for using creative solutions that minimise or negate the use for printing.

Creative teams have the ability to present complicated facts in simple ways so that people ‘get it’. When it comes to sustainability, the phrase ‘Be the change that you want to see’ has never been more important, and the design world can use their skills to help people to understand the bigger picture. We view it not just as an opportunity, but as a responsibility – a way to give back that enacts positive change – and no matter how small we think the impact may be, it’s almost certainly going to be better than doing nothing at all!