CNN  — 

Could big brands save millions of dollars a year and help preserve the environment just by slightly changing their logos?

French graphic designer Sylvain Boyer thinks so, and he’s started a project to demonstrate it. All it takes, he says, is to redesign the logos to use less ink. Since corporate giants print them so frequently and on so many different materials, just a small change can have a huge effect.

Boyer has started a campaign called “Ecobranding” to demonstrate the idea: “It all came to me in 2013, the year my first daughter was born. I was designing a birth announcement card with many colors which was looking great on the computer, but when I submitted the design to the printer for silkscreen printing the bill was greatly expensive too! I decided to reduce the number of colors, with a direct consequence of making it more affordable and greener,” he told CNN.

Precious ink

Boyer has redesigned some of the world’s most famous logos for reduced ink usage, with savings ranging from 10 to 39 percent: “We used the tools of the offset printing industry, which allow us to calculate very precisely the rate of printed surface. Then it’s only mathematics,” he said.

The changes are subtle, but their effects would be massive at scale, Boyer argues: “Every creative decision taken in brand design has a direct impact on our environment. When you draw one logo for a big company, in fact you draw millions of logos because it will be reproduced millions or billions of times in many formats, with a major ecological and economic impact,” he said.

Boyer's modified Starbucks logo uses 38.57 percent less ink.

Printer ink is one of the world’s most expensive liquids. In 2013, Consumer Reports calculated that it can cost between $13 and $75 per ounce ($1,664 to $9,600 per gallon), making it more expensive than Champagne and designer perfume. That means that even saving a little of it can go a long way. But how much money would companies save? Boyer says it’s hard to come up with an accurate estimate, but he’s willing to try: “Last year, Starbucks produced about 670 million paper cups, with its logo printed on each one. We can estimate, and I insist that it’s only a speculation, that a single logo print could use 0.06 ml of ink. Our redesigned logo uses 38 percent less ink, or 0.0228 ml per cup, which could save nearly 4,000 gallons of ink a year.”

A greener type

It’s an established idea that typography can affect ink usage and reduce the impact of printing on the environment. Although printer cartridges can be recycled, most end up in landfills, where their plastic casings can last hundreds of years.

A Dutch company called SPRANQ started creating eco-friendly fonts in 2008 and later developed an application, Ecofont, that modifies any typeface by inserting tiny holes in the solid areas. Businesses can use it for their everyday printing, savings up 50 percent ink, according to SPRANQ.

The Ryman Eco font.

A similar approach is taken by Ryman Eco, a free font designed by London advertising agency Grey and stationery brand Ryman that uses 30 percent less ink than popular typefaces like Arial, Times New Roman and Verdana: “The central idea of Ryman Eco was to design a compact, readable type that saved ink by reducing the overall surface area of the letters printed,” said Dan Rathigan, who designed the font.

“Admittedly, this is dealing with savings of very small margins indeed. Grey’s campaign for Ryman Eco was intended to start conversations about how many small gestures to reduce material waste could contribute to a larger impact.”

In 2014, a teenager made headlines around the world when he said that by switching from the typeface Times New Roman to the less ink-intensive Garamond, the US government would save $400 million a year.

How would brands react?

Boyer says that by shrinking a logo’s ink footprint some secondary benefits also arise, such as reduced printing costs and even a cut in energy consumption, because the associated digital files occupy less space on servers. He does realize, though, that not all brands would take changing their logo lightly: “Maintaining the differentiating attributes of the brand while providing an eco-friendly design is going to be the major challenge that we will have to face,” he said.

“It’s a debate about branding in general. Some people think we should not touch the ingredients of the brand because it’s a sacred temple, others think that we can evolve the brand without changing its DNA to better meet the expectations and aspirations of our time.”

According to Tom Rickner, a type designer and director of Monotype Studio, there might be some resistance: “Redesigning types to reduce line lengths or ink usage is not a new concept. Much of Monotype’s early work for newspaper publishing was focused around finding the right balance between readability and ‘characters per pica’, the all-important measure of how much text you could fit in a column or on a page,” he said.

“In the age of branding, the same balance needs to be achieved, with the additional consideration of maintaining the brand voice. Type, along with color and imagery, is one of the primary means of establishing a brand voice. Making changes in the type solely for the reduction of an ecological impact needs to be considered in these broader contexts.”