Turning my business into a green design business

I’ve been keen to become a green design business and attain environmental certification for a while but felt that the ISO 14001 standard for Environmental Management Systems was too restrictive and costly for a business the size of mine. When I learned about Green Small Business, I was delighted. Their ethos and flexibility really appealed to me, as did their commitment to helping small businesses minimise environmental impact and reach net zero.

So I forged ahead and, with lots of help and support from Green Small Business to review my services, end products and business supplies, I achieved my certification.

If you want to align your business with your values by implementing green policies and procedures, I’d highly recommend speaking to Green Small Business.

Becoming a green design business

We fall into easy habits and tend to do what is easy. Reviewing your daily business activities is an enlightening process. There are small things all of us can do to become more sustainable and efficient, so let’s explore how we can make our businesses greener.


It’s all very well to promote yourself as ethical, but you need to back this up with factual information. The best way to do this is by putting processes and policies in place that help staff, customers and suppliers understand your values and actively work with you to help you achieve your goals.

In my journey to achieve energy efficient website design I have discovered a tool which helps me monitor the carbon consumption of web pages. You can see it in action at the foot of my website.

#designtip – Look at the processes essential to your business. What can you do to monitor their impact? Think of ways you can demonstrate accountability to your customer base.

Business Travel

Since becoming a certified Green Small Business we have successfully implemented changes to reduce our environmental impact. However, business travel has left us a little stumped.

Lil Creative Studio is based in the South Lake District with clients all over Cumbria, Yorkshire and beyond. The minimum travel time to see most of my clients is 50 minutes by car. Public transport is convoluted, infrequent, and in some cases almost non-existent; we have one bus a week through the village.

Some weeks I find myself driving all over the county, racking up travel miles. An electric car would be a practical solution but realistically, it’s not an option right now.

Clients within walking distance is the dream and I’ve been fortunate enough to have some, but they are few and far between.

So what’s the answer? Travelling when it’s essential and meeting virtually when it’s not. Being able to talk face to face with clients online, present ideas and discuss projects at length has been such a turning point. Car travel is down and I feel like I’m making a difference.

Saying that, I do miss meeting people in real life, and more clients have been requesting in-person meet ups. However, video conferencing continues to be my preferred way of combating the travel miles.

#designtip – Think about how many business meetings you could hold virtually. If there are cases where only travelling will do, check out public transport options or arrange for your meeting to coincide with something else you have to do in the area.

Energy Efficient Websites

As technology improves and internet speeds increase, so does the carbon consumption of the online world. Sustainability minded designers who wish to move towards being a green design business are investigating what it means to have an energy efficient website. So what does this involve?

1. Ethical host

There is a growing market of ethical hosts out there to choose from; some are committed to the environment, others to social justice, and many to both. Have a look around for a host that is the best fit for you and your clients’ values.

2. Host location

Minimise the distance information travels from your website to your consumer. Think of it as travel miles and keep it short.

3. User experience

Good information architecture and user experience will allow visitors to interact with your website in the most efficient way, keeping unnecessary page loads to a minimum.

4. Imagery

One of the biggest consumers of energy on a website is its images. I suggest optimising all imagery and using secure SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) where you can.

5. Motion and video

Like images, motion effects and video are very high energy consumers. Motion should only be used to highlight a page message, and do not set videos to autoplay until essential.

6. Colour

As technology changes so does the energy efficiency of our device screens. Black is currently the most energy efficient colour to use, followed by red and green.

7. Fonts

I recommend using system fonts or self-hosted fonts rather than linking to online web fonts.

8. CDN (Content Delivery Network)

Use a CDN to host all of your images and videos. This speeds up the download of your website page, which in turn uses less energy.

9. Maintenance

I strongly suggest deleting old information, backend plugins and outdated code. Why? Clean websites have lower carbon consumption.

#designtip – Making your website 100% green is a Herculean task so begin with focusing on optimising your imagery and deleting old information, backend plugins and outdated code.

Print Design

The printing industry isn’t known for its light environmental footprint. In fact, from high energy consumption, to solvent based inks, to huge paper consumption, pretty much every step has an impact on the environment.

Here is how you can ensure your printed literature is sustainable:

1. The Printer

Check if your printing company is ISO 14001 certified. This is an international accreditation that says the business has assessed its environmental impact and is committed to reducing it.

2. Energy Source

Does your printing company source its energy from a Renewable Energy supplier? Or perhaps they produce their own?

3. Is the printer local?

Aim to use a local printer rather than the cheapest online printer. Not only do we need to support our local businesses, but it reduces transport pollution.

4. Paper Stock

Does the paper they use have a FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) accreditation? Or perhaps it’s 100% recycled? Many sustainable papers are both.

5. Inks

Does the printer use vegetable based inks? This means only water is required to clean the printing presses rather than solvents.

6. Is the end product recyclable?

Whilst metallic inks and laminates can make your printed items exciting, using them means they are no longer recyclable.

#designtip – Not all print jobs can achieve the six recommendations above. However, aim to ‘tick’ as many as possible each time – I suggest a minimum of three for each project.

Green Office

1. Paper

As one of the biggest office consumables, using sustainable paper is essential for any green office. I recommend looking for 100% recycled, FSC or PEFC paper. On our green design business journey, we are currently trying out a selection of different paper types from unbleached 100% recycled to a pure white FSC.

2. In-house printing

Only print what is essential. My top tip is to print in draft format; that way you’ll use considerably less ink. In the office we mainly print orders to be attached to receipts or invoices. We are researching cloud based options that will allow us to store invoices and receipts digitally.

3. Waste disposal

Office consumables like paper, cardboard, tea and coffee can be recycled but what about the more difficult items? Search online for bespoke recycling or life continuation schemes. We send printer cartridges away for recycling, and have discovered a lady who up-cycles vinyl banners into bags for a local charity.

4. Waste reduction

The waste that can’t be recycled or re-used: can you change it? The plastic folders we used for our job bags are being replaced with cardboard bags when they finish their lifecycle. We have also just recently started using refillable fountain pens instead of plastic biros. Making small changes is a good place to start.

5. Suppliers

We aim to use local businesses for office supplies. But sometimes we turn to Amazon when the local shop doesn’t carry what we need. We are creating a local and sustainable supplier list for all office supplies.

#designtip – Rather than try to tackle everything at once, make a list of reasonable changes you can make now. Start with swapping to recycled paper and move on from there.

Energy Use

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a great way for businesses to continually improve their environmental performance and demonstrates to their staff, suppliers, and existing/potential clients/customers their commitment to a sustainable future.

Let’s look at the impact of energy use.

1. Energy supplier

Who is your energy supplier? Are you obtaining your energy from a green or socially responsible supplier? If not, visit Ethical Consumer (UK) to compare the different companies out there. 

We have been powering Lil Creative Studio with 100% renewable energy from Good Energy since we first opened.

2. Energy consumption

Look at the energy consumption of your office. Is everything shut down overnight? Do all consumables have energy saving settings, and are they activated? How is the office heated, and can that be optimised? 

Here at Lil Creative Studio we only run consumables (ie. computers and printers) when needed. Everything is turned off overnight and every device has its energy savings settings activated. Heating is kept to a minimum and only turned on when essential. Finally, we’ll replace office consumables with items that have the highest energy rating.

#designtip – It couldn’t be easier to reduce energy use; just start by switching off devices before you leave the office for the day. If it helps, leave paper notes in your line of sight to remind you.


Have you ever thought about where your money goes? Where it will be invested and who will benefit from those investments? Whether it will have a positive or negative impact on the environment and society?

We recently joined a bank with a mission to provide financial services for green design businesses and organisations who want to change the world for the better.

#designtip – Spend some time researching ethical banks and green investment funds before dipping your toe into the water. Online comparison sites are a good place to start.

Starting off with an EMS

An EMS can help you:

 •  increase the amount and kind of market or funding you can access;
 •  save money;
 •  enhance your reputation;
 •  ensure your company complies with
 •  environmental laws and regulations;
 •  look after the planet.

You need to think about:

 •  the services you provide;
 •  the products you produce;
 •  the processes you carry out;
 •  administration and meetings;
 •  purchasing of supplies, materials and services;
 •  the travel and transportation of people and goods.

Steps to developing an EMS:
1. Identify the environmental impacts of your business
2. Develop an environmental action plan
3. Develop an environmental policy

Once these are in place you need to:
1. Put your words into action
2. Monitor your progress
3. Continue to assess the environmental impacts of your business

Note that your Environmental Management System should be reviewed yearly.

Head over to Green Small Business and see how they can help you. Tim provides everything from information on how to produce your own EMS to the full implementation service. Their expert knowledge and guidance will put you on the path to becoming a green design business.

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