How can AIGA design a responsible future?

Saving civilization is not a spectator sport. Each of us has a leading role to play.“
—Lester R. Brown, author, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

AIGA members want to be supported by their professional association in at least three areas: offering inspiration, demonstrating the value of design to business and creating opportunities for design to make a difference in culture and society. AIGA activities are forged to these interests, as is AIGA's mission, which asserts the belief that ”by increasing the influence of design, we can improve the human experience.“

On Earth Day, it is worth reviewing how AIGA and its members have approached design's role and responsibility in environmental, climate and energy terms. AIGA is committed to leading the profession and to the profession's leading in the design of the future. This requires that we understand the importance of sustainable practices.

AIGA supports designers in their search for resources, ideas and examples, as well as offering principles to guide a designer's actions.

Sustainability, as an outcome rather than a politically correct label, must deal with both human and natural dimensions. If our civilization is to be sustained, people must be helped out of poverty, disease and hunger. If the environment is to be sustained, we must deal with the challenges of limited resources and climate change. These latter two concerns encompass energy sources and consumption.


As principles defining the role of designers, AIGA has adopted and endorsed the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Designers Accord and the Kyoto Design Declaration. To guide designers more specifically, AIGA includes environmental and social responsibility in its Standards of Professional Practice and downloadable brochure on print design and environmental responsibility.


As a model for members and the broader community, AIGA seeks to minimize its carbon footprint and adverse impacts at its headquarters in New York and through its national activities. Assessments of environmental engineering and responsible printing have resulted in: a reduction in our use of hazardous materials, increased waste recycling, the conservation of water and energy, improvements to mechanical systems, the installation of a green roof, purchasing green electricity, planning greener conferences, a reduction in paper consumption and a switch to recycled toner cartridges.

We have purchased carbon offsets for all AIGA activities at the national and chapter levels, including the travel of participants to events and for each of our employee's personal lifestyles, and have launched the CarbonCool offset program to allow designers to offset their own activities.

AIGA Center for Sustainable Design offers information, resources and a community of designers dedicated to environmentally responsible action. We have held conferences on sustainable practices, including ”Compostmodern '08,“ presented by AIGA SF and the Center for Sustainable Design, and always include speakers committed to socially responsible design in our programs. In lieu of gifts to our speakers, we opt to fund projects that serve impoverished communities, such as the Project M water meter project in Hale County, Alabama.


Adopting principles and adapting our own practices hardly begin to ignite the potential of the profession in launching responsible change. The Aspen Design Summit encompasses a process for using design thinking and creativity to address major global problems. Beginning in 2008, an Aspen Design Challenge will be presented to design students worldwide each fall to seek their solutions to a specific global problem. This year's addresses the challenge of protecting and providing safe water.

The challenge to students recognizes that designers can help solve these difficult problems and that the next generation is the one that must own the solution. Selected students' work will then be promoted worldwide in forums that involve the world's business and government leaders, such as the Aspen Institute and the World Economic Forum in Davos. AIGA is determined to see that the designer's voice is among those heard on the significant issues facing the world today.

To paraphrase George Lois, designers have the power to defeat habit with creativity. There is no greater opportunity than sustaining the environment, humanity and civilization.

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.