Becoming a More
Sustainable Designer

Fiona O’Reilly

Reflections on a Journey

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you have some level of interest in sustainability. Perhaps it’s in your personal life or perhaps you’re wondering how to make your business more eco-friendly. Maybe you want to connect with a design studio that shares your passion for protecting our natural resources.

In our work here at On The Dot, Lar and I have always valued purpose and authenticity and we partner best with others who share this ethos. Where possible, we want our projects to be more than just business transactions. We love having the opportunity to make a positive difference either socially or environmentally.

In recent times, sustainability has emerged as a specific priority in my work. But it hasn’t just happened overnight. I’ve been on a continuous journey of learning and discovery.

In this post, I aim to share some of my experiences and takeaways from that journey. Don’t worry: I’m not here to preach, because I’m far from being perfect myself. I simply want to discuss what I’ve learned in case it might be useful to you or someone you know.

From Shoots of Curiosity
to Roots of Action

Growing up in the beautiful landscape of rural Donegal, I was always interested in nature. My family raised me to respect the land and appreciate the scenery surrounding our home. As time went on, that appreciation developed into concern about how poor waste management impacts the environment, both locally and worldwide.

Now, as an adult, I try my best to live as sustainably as possible. Like all of us, I’m learning as I go. I’m experimenting and trying to make little changes.

I’m very aware of how easy it is to generate large amounts of waste by consuming too much. On a very basic level, I try to avoid buying things I don’t need. But, of course, there are always things we do need, the most obvious being food and clothing.

Regarding food, I try to buy from refill stores where possible and I grow some of my own in a local community garden; gardening is a great distraction from everyday pressures. When it comes to clothes, I try to buy from ethical, sustainable brands.

Over the last few years, I began to realise that I wanted our business to follow some of these principles too. In addition to my work at On The Dot, I often lecture in design and I wanted to help my students understand how sustainability applies to them and their practice. And so, being the curious person I am, it was time for me to become a student again myself.

Learning For The Future

In May 2022, I completed a Level 9 Certificate in Design for Sustainability and Circular Economies, delivered by Limerick School of Art & Design at TUS and supported by Design Skillnets. The course helped me figure out ways of incorporating sustainable values into our client work and how we run our business.

I learned a wealth of new information from the panel of expert designers. In particular, I became interested in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and number 12 (Responsible Consumption and Waste) really resonated with me. As a designer, packaging has always been a large part of my work but I’m also painfully aware of the negative effects of excess boxes and wrapping.

As part of my studies, I completed a project with a local zero-waste refill shop called Wholegreen, based here in Letterkenny. I worked with Anna Good, the then-owner, to overcome one particular challenge: how do you present a brand’s messaging when you have no packaging? I approached the project in a different way than my usual work:  You can read more about this project if you click You can read more about this project in my recent interview for Design Skillnet.

It means so much to me to have a qualification that reflects On The Dot’s commitment to the environment. Most importantly, it means you can trust us to work ethically and sustainably on the projects that matter to you.

Sustainability in Practice
(But it’s Not Always Perfect!)

We always enjoy working with clients who share our values. Over the years we’ve worked with a variety of sustainably-motivated companies such as NTA Smarter Travel Initiatives and renewable energy providers such as Plan Energy.

I’m an advocate of supporting and buying local, where possible. Since my return to Donegal, I have collaborated with a range of artisan creators and food producers such as Wholegreen, Wild Fuschia, Meadowsweet Tea, Donegal Seaglass, Hugg Organic and Filligans among others. Designing the packaging for these projects really highlighted how difficult it can be to use sustainable eco-friendly materials and source them locally.

Branding is also a particular passion and I love coming up with ways to visually represent our clients brand values. It’s amazing how much of a first impression we get from imagery, so it’s important to get these things right from the beginning. If you’re thinking about pinning down your brand’s visual identity, or indeed if you feel that your existing brand needs a refresh or update I’d love to chat with you about what’s possible.

For me as a designer, some obvious sustainable actions include planting trees and using recycled paper. But, to be honest, I’ve realised these are only the tip of the iceberg. My course and research have encouraged me to think about areas such as:

  • Energy consumption
  • Ethical and responsible consumption
  • Gardening and Biodiversity
  • Transportation of materials/products
  • Water supply and discharge
  • Waste disposal
  • Recycling and upcycling

This new-found knowledge has also highlighted some areas that we may not really be aware of such as the carbon footprint of data storage. We use a surprising amount of energy by viewing websites, making video calls and storing data in the cloud.

There’s so much to think about but I try to stay positive because little steps really do add up. If you’re on a journey like mine, don’t get overwhelmed. Start off by taking some time to simply learn.

If you’re an individual, you might consider checking out local and online support groups and movements such as VOICE Ireland the Rediscovery Centre, www.changebydegrees.com, www.changemakers.ie among many others.

Or if you’re thinking about your business, spend some time researching how your specific business model can reduce its carbon footprint. If you’re based here in the Republic of Ireland, it’s also worth looking into the free Green for Micro programme from your Local Enterprise Board. It helps small businesses take their first steps toward becoming more sustainable and you’ll get access to a green consultant to point you in the right direction.

A Positive Choice

Some collaborations are particularly special. When values align, the creative process is much smoother and there’s a natural understanding throughout.

As you’ve seen, I’m working steadily on sustainable changes in my own business and I understand how it feels for others in the same boat.

So, if you’re looking for a designer who understands and shares your environmental priorities, I’d love to hear from you. Whatever your project, you can rely on me to work on it responsibly and to help your target audience understand what motivates you.

Simply get in touch through our contact form and we can start to explore your project. Let’s make a change together!

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We love to work with people that value working closely with a creative team. If this sounds exciting to you and you are looking for a creative team to partner with on your next project please get in touch.

We would love to find out how we can help you. So lets start with a chat, drop a line to Fiona@onthedot.ie to arrange a time. Looking forward to hearing from you.