By Cassandra Carnes
Part 1 of 2
Environmental sustainability is an ongoing responsibly in the forefront of the industry. While some express a certain passion on this front, others go with the flow, while others detest the entire idea. The term "green" has an essence all in and of its own. Constant "green washing" turns leaves those that want to be eco-concious with the struggle of separating the true from the false. However, as the issue fluctuates to the priority lists of many people and companies, marketers must comply.
Evident not only on packaging and labels, products that are truly deemed green follow a sustainable lifecycle. Marketers and print providers are aware of the environmental demands from a growing number of clientele. For those that want to go the eco-friendly road on their own, offer eco-friendly services to satisfy demand, or to have an edge over competition, many programs are in place to help.
While both sides of the electronic versus print argument offer compelling arguments, it is evident that digital printing technologies forge a place in the middle. The ability to print only what is needed, when is needed, is essential to reducing unnecessary printing. For high-volume applications, workflow sophistication aids in those looking to suppress print.
Reduce with Digital
With all the talk of on demand printing, digital print capabilities offer a clear alternative to wasted print through set up and unused materials. To reduce both costs and provide environmental benefits, digital print’s affect on the book publishing industry is well documented.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) commissioned Quantis, a Canadian-based environmental assessment firm for a study that characterizes the potential environmental impacts of alternative approaches to paperback book printing In the U.S. The study is based on a lifecycle assessment (LCA) of various methods scenarios for printing and delivery of a paperback book.
The LCA was a comparative study of two printing technology categories, offset analog and digital inkjet. Four presses of varying levels of productivity and four distribution scenarios were used to determine the potential environmental profile of each of the systems in order to consider possible synergies between them and to determine the least potential environmental impactful means of producing and distributing a paperback book. The presses involved in the study included a Timson Offset, an HP T300 digital inkjet press, an HP T200 digital inkjet press, and a Digital R85.
In order to comply with ISO standards for comparative LCAs, the study was reviewed by an independent review panel. The results of the assessment are summarized by a report distributed by the HP Development Company, The Environmental Case of Digitally Printed Books: A Life Cycle Assessment Study, published in June 2011.
The LCA compared the lifecycle environmental impacts of using digital HP Inkjet Presses to either supplement or replace printing of paperback books on an analog offset press. The function was to print, bind, distribute, and sell paperback books to retail store customers in the U.S. and dispose of them.
According to the report, the results of the demand profile modeling showed that book returns—unused books—are the primary driver for higher potential impacts from offset printing. This is due to the return rates associated with the fulfillment models that rely exclusively on this technology, values from various sources place this value between 17 and 35 percent. "While there is less data available for digitally printed books, what does exist indicates a significantly lower return rate for digital, approximately five percent. In other words, digital printing allows the output to better meet the actual market demand, thereby helping to reduce waste and lowering potential environmental impacts," states the HP report.
Of the four scenarios, the LCA determined that the one that used the small in-store digital press, Digital R85, to supplement runs on a larger digital press, the HP T300, had the lowest potential overall impacts. It is important to note that all impacts are viewed as potential, since they are representative for only the print product studied and cannot be extrapolated to other print products.
So what can you do as a publisher or book printer? Book return rates are a large driver of potential environmental impacts; therefore it is worth further discussion. From a cost perspective, long runs generally favor analog printing technology while shorter runs favor digital. "While return rates are variable and depend on contexts and publishers’ strategies, in general, digital printing allows a reduction of return rage in comparison to offset printing," concludes the report. However, the study also illustrates the possibilities of combining both digital inkjet and offset analog technologies to reduce return rates for a given book and also enhance both profitability and environmental performance.
The push to Web services is created with promise of convenience, speed, and environmental benefits. However, many print advocates campaign that virtual-based alternatives to print are not always necessarily the best choice for the environment.
This Fall, the Printing Industries Association, Inc. of Southern California (PIASC) launched its Choose Print educational campaign targeting Southern CA advertising agencies. Since then, with support from the Printing Industries of America (PIA), the program has been adopted by 90 percent of PIA affiliates nationwide. Graph Expo 2011 attendees were able to get a closer look at the campaign.
The Choice Print campaign’s position is to expose misinformation about the environmental impact of printed media. The program’s goal is to shed print in a new environmental light, presenting facts about its sustainability potential.
The campaign pulls statistics from a number of different organizations including the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA). Through a series of national surveys, the organization reveals that most Americas—87 percent or 268 million—have access to curbside or drop-off paper recycling programs. Additionally, the AF&PA cites that in 2010, 63.5 percent of the paper used in the U.S. was recovered for recycling, a number that represents an 89 percent increase in the recovery rate since 1990.
Reuse is another element to the print and sustainability. One way for print providers to take an environmental stance is by determining which materials can be reused or remanufactured into new products. Select vendors and distributors have launched programs designed to help their customers recycle material waste as well as used graphic material into new, functional products.
For example, Laird Plastics launched a business with dedicated resources focused on the recycling of plastics. The closed loop system takes collected materials and directs it to domestic outlets whenever possible. Outlets include extruders, compounders, brokers, or OEMs. Though the development of strong relationships with its outsourcing partners, Laird can provide transparency to the recycling process and support claims through documentation. The concept is to utilize backhauling opportunities across its 53 locations to sweep the market for pounds of plastics. When they deliver daily full sheet requirements to customers, they haul off the recyclables.
The Eco Life
Those truly interested in running an eco-friendly business must live the lifestyle. A variety of reputable organizations have set out certification criteria. Organizations that qualify receive the certification, along with the boasting rights. This could be a competitive advantage for businesses with policies for partnering with eco-concious vendors.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC was established in 1993 as a response to concerns over global deforestation. The organization is regarded as an important initiative to promote responsible forest management worldwide. FSC provides internationally recognized standard setting, trademark assurance, and accreditation services to companies, organizations, and communities interested in responsible forestry. The FSC label provides a credible link between responsible production and consumption of forest products, enabling consumers and businesses to make purchasing decisions that benefit people and the environment as well as providing ongoing business value.
Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) is an independent, non-profit organization providing a certification label for sustainability in the graphic communications industry. SGP is the industry standard for the certification and continuous improvement of sustainability and best practices within print manufacturing operations.
Print facilities that are SGP Certified indicate that they are in conformance with the SGP program criteria. An SGP Certified Facility has met the basic requirements, along with specific requirements relating to the establishment of a sustainability team; the implementation of a management system; the use of SGP program metrics; taking specific steps to reduce the facility’s environmental footprint; implementing pollution prevention activities; and committing to fundamental social and ethical norms. Additionally, the SGP Certified status includes annual reporting and a biennial certification audit requirement.
Chain of custody certifications, such as FSC and SGP provide businesses practicing environmental procedures with legitimacy. More and more, print buyers and marketers only want to work with companies that follow these procedures in order to operate in a way that holistically considered environmentally friendly.
While print is sometimes cast in a negative environmental light, several organizations are trying to debunk the negative claims. Additionally, the use of digital print—as illustrated in the HP case study—could actually help reduce the amount of print that is wasted. It is evident that all individuals and organizations need to consider their environmental impact for one reason or another. Many vendors associated with the printing industry have stepped up to the plate to educate and provide solutions for a better environmental profile