Eco-friendly Practice: Studio Common Ground

By Phoebe Miller In my own experience working in marketing and communications and creating marketing materials for my creative work, I know it can be difficult and confusing to navigate some of the options, complexities and costs involved in minimising the impact of your output on the environment. Thankfully, it is becoming easier, due to increasing in awareness and education and a growing demand for eco-friendly production.

This month we're turning our (energy efficient) spotlight onto an small design collective called Studio Common Ground, who aim to work with people who have like-minded ethical and sustainable business objectives to develop simple, meaningful and effective design. Working across a variety of projects and media, they look at sustainable outcomes for both the client and our environment with every project.

Intrigued, I spoke to Jessie Brooks-Dowsett from Studio Common Ground to find out more.

Studio Common Ground business cards, made using unwanted paper samples. 

Can you tell me about the key elements behind the eco-friendly side of your work? Sustainability, in our opinion, is about awareness and education. So with every new project we're approached to be involved in, we try and work closely with our clients to gain insight into their business objectives and then translate them into a meaningful communication design piece that is environmentally mindful. Whether that means we develop a paperless outcome, use recycled materials or create an aesthetic that relies on using techniques like die-cutting or embossing to replace ink colours. We also make sure we confer with our printers in the early stages of of the design process to understand their press sheet sizes and find the most efficient way to set up the job, maximising the amount of pieces we can fit on the press sheet and minimising the paper waste. At Common Ground we believe that these small measures will make a big difference in the long run.

We've had the opportunity to work with a lot of clients who have been environmentally mindful; printing on sustainable products and using non toxic inks or waterless printing techniques. But, I think our own branding is the best example of using materials creatively to produce a more eco-friendly result. As designers, we are sent A LOT of paper samples, stock options and paper promotions from various paper reps and whilst we could recycle most of these products, Common Ground thought we'd put an extra loop in their life cycle! We had some rubber stamps made up of our logo and now we trim up all the un-used paper stocks and samples and stamp them to make our business cards.

Work in progress: putting good use to packaging

Work in progress: a bear gets some hair

Can you tell us about a recent project you are particularly proud of? Common Ground was approached by Paul Ducco from All Things Considered to develop a poser for the Languages Other Than English (LOTE) student film festival. The posters were to be hung up around schools and given to all the participants, school aged children (12-18yrs old), so the artwork had to be fun, without being too childish and relate to theme the UN's theme of 2011 'Forests for Everyone'.

We sat down and did some brainstorming and kept returning to the idea that forests evoke a sense of fantasy and whimsy, of secret worlds and hidden characters. We decided to develop a set of anthropomorphicanimals and felt that in support of the forest theme we wanted to create this project without using any new materials. We collected cereal boxes, drink packaging, old paint swatches and got to work! We sketched up the characters and then set about manually cutting and pasting all of the characters together before scanning them all and digitising the final product.

Work in progress: LOTE poster taking shape

Work in progress: creating a whimsy world with unexpected materials

The finished product: LOTE film festival poster

What challenges have you come up against in trying to make your practise sustainable and how did you overcome them? The biggest challenge I have is tracking down sustainable resources, trying to gain certification on fair trade or organic materials or track down local/community based suppliers. I wouldn't say I've overcome this yet but websites like Oh My Green, The Green Directory and Eco Directory sure do help!

Is there anything you’d like to do or learn to make your work even more sustainable? I spent the weekend at the Sustainable Living Festival (in Melbourne) and have become fascinated with permaculture, so I'd love to learn more about that, but I'm not sure that will make my work even more sustainable! I think a large part of being sustainable comes down to your community focus. If you can easily trace the source of your materials and produce your work locally there's a good chance you're on the right track. So I'd love to learn more about my community, engage closely with what other people are doing around me and hopefully create some more opportunities for fantastic collaborations!

Are there any other designers or makers with an environmentally-aware focus that you are inspired by? A lot of people are becoming more aware of our environmental and social impact, which is something I respect and admire. People are making small changes to they way they look at and approach their work, it's this level of consciousness which will make a big difference in the long run, from the kids over at Cassette who've become Carbon Neutral to the beautiful people over at See Saw who produced the most stunning and sustainable piece of work in their Finsbury Sustainability Report (2010).

But if I'm talking about the people whom I admire the most and am inspired by it would have to be the bunch over at Small Giants. They look at the big picture stuff. To quote straight from their website. "Small Giants was founded in 2007 to create, support, nurture and empower businesses that are shifting us to a more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable world. Some people call this type of business social enterprise. We just think it makes sense." I couldn't have said it better myself!

Phoebe Miller is a Brisbane-bred, Sydney-fled, Melbourne-embedded gal who enjoys making, spruiking, collecting, exploring, telling her friends where to eat and posting photos of doors on instagram. After several years working in corporate marketing and communications, Phoebe followed the urge to explore her creative side. These days she divides her time between her sustainable fashion accessories label, Simply Phoebe, and freelance PR consulting.