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In the last five or six years sustainability has arguably received more social, political and media attention than ever before, and while for certain industries the steps toward improved sustainability may be obvious, for graphic designers they can be somewhat elusive. Which is why I was so pleased to come across this interview in the Atlantic with Advertising Design Director, Paulina Reyes. Formerly of Kate Spade New York, and now at advertising agency Mother, Reyes is one of several designers whose work is showcased in the exhibit “Design for a Living World.”

The exhibit, organized by the Nature Conservancy in collaboration with the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, features the work of ten designers who were invited “… to create new objects from sustainable materials sourced from around the world.” The other designers invited to participate were Yves Behar, Stephen Burks, Hella Jongerius, Maya Lin, Christien Meindersma, Isaac Mizrahi, Abbott Miller, Ted Muehling, and Ezri Tarazi.

According to the Atlantic, during her time at Kate Spade New York Reyes traveled to Bolivia in 2008 to work with local craftspeople to create a series of handbag designs from sustainable wood, cotton and jipijapa, a fiber made of palm leaves. Reyes’ philosophy that sustainability is “not only an environmental issue, but a social one as well.” is also reflected by her interest “… in the possibility of creating a profitable company that can generate its production by using the craftsmanship of women in vulnerable conditions.” For designers and human beings in general it can be easy to become focused only on our craft and the immediate pressures of daily life. Reyes and the “Design for a Living World” exhibit offer a compelling example of how designers can incorporate sustainability into their work. It also speaks to the exceptional talent and ability of the designers involved.

“Design for a Living World” will be on display at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix from January 16–April 4, 2012. You can read more about the designers and their projects on the Nature Conservancy’s website and explore the interactive site here.

While we may not all be able to implement large scale projects there are smaller steps that each of us can take toward sustainable practices in our profession. Some excellent industry specific resources are the Institute for Sustainable Communication where you can download a free poster of Print Logic’s “Print” or “Not to Print” guide, AIGA’s Design for Good and Ogilvy Earth. If you know of other industry specific resources please feel free to share them with the community by posting below