Once in a while you come across an infographic that demonstrates the power of the medium by visualizing a shocking reality. Like, for instance, the purchasing departments of supermarkets. And even if you were aware of the influence of these departments, it is distressing to discover that the food produced by 65,000 farmers and horticulturists reaches 17 million consumers through just five such departments linked to 25 supermarket chains.

By Marit Turk

This image comes from the publication Nederland Verbeeld (‘The Netherlands Visualized’), a series of infographics by Frédérik Ruys (Vizualism) and Textcetera that depicts facts and figures about mobility, food and energy in the Netherlands. Commissioned by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, this publication from 2012 recently won the 2013 Dutch Annual Infographics Award. Presented by the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO) and the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), the award highlights the quality of Dutch infographics.

The interesting thing about the publication is the role of graphic design. In the case of infographics, it is not just about aesthetics but also about clearly visualizing complex information. Such visualizations raise awareness about problems that would attract less attention if communicated by figures and texts alone.

For instance, ’What product, what impact?’ (Figure 2) illustrates the impact of products such as beef, cheese and eggs according to their use of space, emission of greenhouse gasses and saturated fats. After realizing how much space is used and how much gas is emitted for every 100 grams of beef, I suddenly feel like eating a vegetarian burger.

The same goes for power consumption (Figure 3). People feel good about themselves when they say they have more energy-saving devices than they had ten years ago, and that they really care about how much power they consume. The truth, however, is that today’s devices consume far less energy than they did ten years ago. In 1990 a fridge used 425 kWh, whereas by 2010 this figure had dropped to just 140 kWh. Despite that, we now possess many more devices and use them more frequently – yes, think of your smartphone, tablet, laptop, stereo, TV and all the rest. So households consume even more energy than they did twenty years ago.

Interested in more numbers and facts? Download the publication here: www.pbl.nl/publicaties/2012/nederland-verbeeld

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