Green will never be green. Sorry.

  • Posted in Default
  • By admin
  • Date January 23rd, 2011 13:55
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  • If, like me, you like a bit of irony every now and then, this one is the cherry atop the whipped cream that failed to sweeten the eco cake. The color green will never be green. Because of the way the ink or dye is made, it is impossible to use it without contaminating what it is used for. And as previously covered, contamination makes or breaks a material's chances at getting recycled. That green plastic, or green printed box? Contaminated. That glorious, first choice Pantone® green P367? Yes the one that all self-respecting eco products and brands prefer. Meet the toxic king of all Pantone mixes - all hail. The more it is used on paper or board, the less likely the print is going to get recycled or composted. The greener the plastic, the meaner it is. It's all making a one way trip to the incinerator. Meaning, the more a brand or product wants to deck itself green, and be visually perceived as eco, the less ecologically responsible they end up being. Makes you wonder why it has to be like that, right? Well, the color green is an interesting one; the human eye can distinguish more shades and tones of it than any other color. Must date back from our days of living in tree canopies. It is why night vision displays in green colors. There is however a reason why the color green has also been associated and used to depict poisons, toxins and anything destructive or hulk-like aggressive. Even kermit green won't pass the eco friendly marker.   Why is that? Because this is one heck of a difficult color to make, and without adding metals and other toxic substances to it, you can never stabilize it enough to make a consistent, lasting tone. Kind of a big deal for reproduction. As natural as the color is to be perceived, there are no 'clean' greens out there. There have never been any. At one point in time, in the 18th throughout the 19th century, green paint or paper print had enough arsenic in it to kill a person. It is one of history's myths that it was the arsenic VOC from the paint on the walls of his prison that killed Napoleon. Other green paints were so corrosive, it ate away the canvas, wood or paper it was used on. Without these killer components, it was simply impossible to have green keep its color and not turn blue. Chemical engineering of inks and dyes has seen its advances, so if anything, green ink today is as clean and as safe as we-humans can make it. Despite all those efforts, even today, each color green is more harmful than the other. Pigment Green 7 is the most used and most applied to base-color various ranges of plastics. And be it that its source compound is an organic pigment, it contains a huge dose of chlorine. Second most popular one is the variant of Green 7, Green 36, and this pigment is adding copper and bromide to the mix. Organic base, yes. Toxic finishing. You want to avoid any green that is made from Green 50 pigment source because here, atop the bromide and chlorine, you get a side of cobalt, titanium, nickel and zinc oxide and an inorganic pigment to begin with. You can end up worse, and add to that soup some barium and copper sulfides. And all that is just to get but one of three components needed to make an ink. Each of the other two could hold additional toxins in them, such as drying agents that use manganese. Does green still sound natural to you now?   
Where all tones and shades of green in nature are so beautiful, inspiring and hopeful, anything that tries to mimic it in print is destructive towards that beauty. In fact, most brands often end up negating the good they aimed to do with the product they promote by going for that green look. And it is, once again, perception that plays its hand here. Often the packaging that is not all printed green is the product that is perceived to be less eco. While it happens to be more responsible than its green clad competitors. So then - we collectively sigh - what is a graphic designer to do if he aspires to make an eco difference? The realities of the trade can be seen as a roadblock, or as an element to be re-thought. For example, the reality of brand design is that you cannot go about demanding a brand to change their established color. Same rule applies for a drastic new color palette or a minimal look for an established product. Yes, your client could go rebel on it all, package it without any visual reference or color as not to impact the planet, and then spend additional resources as to so-called 'educate' the consumer. All noble and worthy of applause. But no brand can afford to educate its audience, and those that do only end up educating their competitors. The role of the designer here is to play the role of a designer. Too many of us only play the role of a decorator. That is an honorable profession, don't get me wrong, but design is a step or two beyond just making things pretty. Designing green is another step, and yet still only but a tweak here and there. Designing positive is an overhaul. A rethink of what you are doing, for who you are doing it, and how you can do it 'more better'. That is out of the realm of what designers have learned in their education. That is out of the realm of what they have made themselves comfortable with. But by definition, designing is to improve upon previous results. Not to redo the same with a different look [aka decorating]. I believe we graphic designers are simply not going to have a choice but to be, or become, sustainable minded. We are vital links in determining a design's output and impact, because we make choices regarding material usage, production techniques and usability of what is designed. There are a lot of us, and competition today holds more than just the portfolio or client list in value. Increased regulatory, investor, and consumer pressure for transparency, accountability, and corporate responsibility will create new opportunities for print and packaging design.  The good news is that downturn or not, printed marketing and packaging are always needed. Greener print & packaging will be more important than ever. Consumers and businesses will be buying less, but both will be expecting more value from what they do buy. Retailers will be buying less too, but they will also be wary about the high risks associated with low costs. Brands and retailers will be likely to reduce the number of suppliers that they buy from. They also are likely to make investments that ensure the sustainability of the suppliers they consolidate to. Converting firms that can walk the talk and quantify the impact of sustainability on the achievement of business results are going to be more than a step ahead of their competitors. Owh yes, brothers and sisters of the eco gospel; this "green" is evergreen! That sort of evergreen is the brand color of sustainability. Sure, the trees we want to save are a part of that, but sustainability means staying in business as well. Being able to sustain whatever it is you do, make or sell. "Hang on", you say, "we've been trying to do that all along!". Welcome aboard, take a seat. Now work around the roadblocks and apply design to find lesser impacting ways for that darling Pantone 369. It is often easier than you dare think. As said, designing green is tweaking stuff here and there to make the bad less bad. Green will never be green. Not unless technology finds new ways of reproducing this color range without the need of toxins and heavy metals. That has proven too much, but it is going to happen. If by need only; the metals needed are not only health hazards, they are becoming increasingly more rare. The world is running out of copper for example, and prices are only going up while supplies of it is only going down. The ink industry is has not been ignorant or blind to any of the above issues, and it is an industry in constant redevelopment. Ink has been engineered, re-engineered and re-re-engineered for centuries on end. Already in the late 1980's to mid 1990's, the ink industry had to reinvent a whole slew of colors (reds and blues) because these were made with damaging metal compounds. Four of the most damaging (lead, cadmium, mercury and chromium) have been replaced by carbon-based pigments, and are in common use today. At the time the concern was that we would no longer have a range of reds and blues wide enough to keep designing. It's 2011, and last I looked, Coca Cola red is still among us. 
Be it now mercury free.

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