by Cassandra Balentine
Caring for the environment is trending. Print providers can capitalize on the movement by taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint. This includes everything from investing in newer equipment built to reduce energy consumption and emissions, to stocking eco-conscious media options.
According to Smithers, the combination of escalating climate hazards and a newfound consumer consciousness has sparked unprecedented urgency and action around the climate crisis and the need for sustainability. This is addressed in its recent study, The Future of Green Printing to 2026. “Many print purchasers and consumers are becoming very aware of the impact of print manufacturing on the environment. Print and packaging converters who have implemented sustainability plans have found that by highlighting them through their various outreach platforms are finding kindred spirits who are interested in engaging with them,” states Smithers.
Consumers care about the environmental impact of products they buy and want to know more about how those products are made and the reputation of the company that makes them. “Having an authentic and meaningful sustainability platform is no longer a bonus for companies—it’s a must to meet consumer demands,” adds Meredith L. Collins, customer marketing manager, Domtar.
Making moves towards a reduced environmental footprint has many advantages, but it is important to look at whole picture and not get swept up in the marketing. Determine which changes will make the most difference or bring in the most new opportunities.
According to research firm Smithers, many printer service providers (PSPs) want to develop a strategy to reduce environmental impact and provide new opportunities; however the execution can present a number of challenges. The first hurdle is where to begin.
Depending on the printing process and application, many different touch points can be addressed. “These would include simple areas like using media that contains recycled content, more environmentally friendly ink types and cleaning solvents, and of course one of the biggest—waste mitigation and recycling. Each of these may require in-depth research and process rework, so it may not be as easy as it seems. It really starts with a desire and focus. A simple first start could be looking at the reduction of energy usage and/or procuring energy offsets both, which have the potential to provide a significant impact,” says the firm.
Be clear in your sustainability messaging, by choosing a specific claim, defining the benefits, and making it easy to understand why your audience should care. “It’s easy to veer sustainability messaging into technical jargon, so share your efforts in language that is meaningful and relevant to your audience,” explains Collins.
Mary Ann Rowan, chief experience officer, Solimar Systems, suggests one of the great challenges involves understanding what digital transformation does to the environmental impact. “Organizations have to be conscious that just changing to a digital printing or digital delivery strategy doesn’t guarantee you are lessening your carbon footprint or reducing the impact to the environment. Greenwashing is something organizations have had to better understand while all the time it is becoming more complex due to consumer demand for communications when, where, and how they want them,” she explains.
In terms of an opportunity to leverage a reduction in environmental impact, Rowan believes eco-friendly and sustainable messages are always important. “There are always things an organization can invest in to offer sustainable options or make it the policy of their organization to have sustainable products. In my opinion, it has to be tangible and truly important in the pursuit to reduce negative impacts on our environment. In other words, any eco or sustainable message should be true to the cause and not just a promotional opportunity.”
Robert Barbera, director marketing, production solutions, Canon U.S.A., Inc., sees many print organizations both large and small being proactive in reducing their environmental impact. “Like many strategic initiatives, it takes an internal champion to help develop and implement their plan,” he suggests. However, it may not be that simple as many print organizations aren’t equipped with the resources necessary to accomplish this. “With this in mind it is critical that industry associations and vendors help provide the education, tools, and solutions to help them reduce their impact.”
Cost can’t be left out of the equation. Victor Gomez, director, Industrial Labels, Epson America, Inc., points out that everyone agrees we need to mindful of our effect on the environment at home and work. However, the challenge is how to achieve that worthy goal in an economically viable way. Speaking specifically to labels, he says suppliers are offering a greater variety of label and packaging materials that are thinner, lightweight, recyclable, compostable, environment friendly, and renewable. “But until these reach economies of scale, converters have a hard time passing along to their customers the premium they command over standard options.”
Reed Hecht, group product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc., elaborates, noting that print providers face considerable cost and work to develop a strategy that reduces environmental impact. “Those costs could be purchasing new equipment, seeking out alternative materials, and considering all aspects of their production and the impact on the environment.”
He adds that at face value, buying new technologies or equipment based on environmental benefits that take advantage of reduced electricity and water consumption and less harmful ink technologies, etc. is a quick and easy step to quickly improve not only productivity and the benefits of an upgraded fleet, but also quickly help a print provider reduce the impact on the environment. “Not every company can support this change due to investment and capital costs; however there are alternatives such as choosing aspects of the business that are easy to make small changes that add up. For example, consider media selection and choose a media that is more sustainably sourced and FSC certified. Instead of a vinyl product for short-term outdoor signage applications, choose a paper-based product that will survive the customers expected environment,” recommends Hecht.
The argument for digital print does have inherent environmental undertones, shorter runs, localized printing, less waste, and fewer chemicals.
“Digital print by nature is designed to deliver print on demand and just-in-time inventory, and therefore can help reduce carbon footprint,” states Barbera. He points out that run lengths are getting shorter and jobs are getting more personalized. Digital print allows the print buyer to buy what they need, when they need it instead of estimated required inventory and then disposing unused or unusable inventory. In addition, many digital presses such as the Canon varioPRINT 140 and varioPRINT 6000 Series TITAN, are designed with reduced environmental footprint in mind.
Gomez agrees, adding that the basic tenet of on demand digital color label printing is to print only what you need when you need it, as close to the place where you need it. “Digital printing can help minimize waste by reducing how much is pre-printed, and therefore how much could end up scrapped in a landfill.”
Additionally, by printing on demand at the manufacturing site where the label is applied, there’s fewer emissions from transport. Gomez says Epson label printers have ENERGY STAR recognition, reflecting the company’s efforts to create innovative products that are reliable, recyclable, and energy efficient. As Epson’s Environmental Vision 2050 says, “our goal is to create compact, lightweight, energy-efficient products designed for long life and easy recyclability that have a lower environmental impact across their lifecycles.”
Hecht adds that within its Printing Solutions Business segment, Epson is committed to further refining its MicroPiezo Ink Jet Printing Technology to provide higher productivity and increased environmental benefits. “The long-term goal in applying MicroPiezo technology in an expanded range of commercial and industrial fields and replacing conventional analog printing processes with Epson’s digital printing processes is to help reduce environmental impact across a range of markets—commercial signage, label printing, textile printing, and more,” he shares.
“Environmental factors in print manufacturing and use have been getting a lot of attention for years, especially as a result of the misinformation spread falsely accusing print of having greater environmental impact than e-media,” says Smithers. While the firm states that this falsehood has been disproven many times, the reality is that old purchasing and use habits of print have still generated more waste than is necessary. “Using environmentally and socially sustainable materials and processes for environmentally and socially sustainable products and services needs to become the focus. Print needs to be based on creating and producing products that reduce waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. This is known as a circular economy. In addition to the shrinking skilled labor market, the shift to more targeted use of print and packaging production with digital print on demand technologies provides a way to create a more lasting impact on environmental sustainability.”
Haim Levit, VP & GM, HP Indigo, adds that the focus on sustainability, both for customers and brands, was notable prior to COVID-19 and he believes the pandemic has served as an accelerator for this trend. “Digital print in general is a sustainable production method, and for us at HP Indigo specifically, this is a very important strategic pillar. We focus on end-to-end sustainability, from the manufacturing process of our hardware and inks, all the way to the production of recyclable and compostable finished goods by our customers. I see the demand for sustainability from brands that are looking to package innovative solutions, and I have no doubt this trend is becoming vital.”
There are many paths to choose when making the printing function footprint greener in both digital and traditional print, comments Lance Martin, VP marketing, Komori America & MBO America. “Digital print has the ability to reduce the demands on the entire supply chain of the print operation, generally using no printing plates and no water chemistry, for example. Since the first sheet is acceptable quality and will match the profile of the last sheet, paper waste is greatly reduced. Energy reduction, startup and raw material reductions, smaller facility footprint, print count reduction, and more are all to be considered. In the direct mail and advertising segments, campaigns are no longer required to be “shotgun blasts” of large volumes; instead, they can be highly targeted and personalized pieces sent at a lower volume, while still achieving as high or higher conversion rates, again reducing paper and consumables.”
Sal Sheikh, VP marketing, large format solutions, Canon Solutions America, says many recycled and eco-friendly media substrates are available.
Collins feels it’s important to work with paper mills that demonstrate responsible sourcing and manufacturing. “Paper is made from a renewable resource—trees—which must be protected and properly managed. Adhering to third-party certifications is the most effective means of ensuring forests are responsibly managed, meaning they can continue to provide benefits like clean air and biodiversity for generations to come.”
Looking at it from a software and workflow perspective, Rowan says it is about optimizing processes so fewer mistakes are made, which leads to less waste. “Additionally, by making it possible to handle small runs and a higher volume of orders, there is less overall waste from printed materials produced in too high a quantity and inventory sitting in storage. Through the optimization of the files going into a production environment, if the files can be made smaller and more streamlined, they take less energy and storage space to process and manage. This is also good for the overall carbon footprint. This is in addition to the continual advancement in more environmentally friendly inks, substrates, and embellishment materials.”
Digital finishing and enhancement also plays a role in the eco-puzzle. Mark Nixon, VP, global sales and marketing, Scodix, points out that digital enhancement print reduces the carbon footprint by eliminating molds, dyes, waste, and storage.
Sustainability is more than a trend and is a noteworthy topic for many reasons.
“We’ve seen increased interest in the concept of a circular economy,” says Collins. Rather than taking, making, and wasting it, governments and corporations—including Domtar—are focused on creating a system where resources are responsibly managed and regenerated.
She says consumers have also become more focused on the environmental impact of the products they buy, whether they’ve been sustainably made or the reputation of the company that makes them. “The pandemic has caused consumers to re-evaluate what is important to them. Because of this, more people want to do business with companies that have ideals and practices in line with their own. It’s important for companies to be straightforward and honest about their own sustainability platforms,” adds Collins.
“Sustainability is a big trend among many brands, as millennials are altering buying habits with the environment in mind,” admits Barbera. In fact, more than half of the respondents that participated in the recent Print in the Eye of the Buyer survey commissioned by Canon deemed sustainability certifications and designations as absolutely essential/very important when selecting print provider. “Given the importance of designations such as SFI, FSC, and PEFC, print providers may consider investing in certifications that demonstrate their company is buying paper from sustainable sources.”
Another helpful program in this realm is the GREENGUARD Certification Program, which Sheikh says gives assurance that products designed for use in indoor spaces meet strict chemical emissions limits and so contribute to the creation of healthier interiors. “It focuses on emissions from building materials, in this case printed wallcoverings/wallpaper and signage.”
Specific advancements may include new media options or ink sets, in addition to equipment built with environmental impact in mind.
“Suppliers are offering a greater variety of label and packaging materials that are thinner, lightweight, recyclable, compostable, environment friendly, and renewable,” says Gomez.
Having been thoroughly tested against the UL 2818 – 2013 Gold Standard for Chemical Emissions for Building Materials, Finishes and Furnishings, Sheikh shares that Canon UVgel ink was awarded the GREENGUARD Gold certificate.
Epson has a considerable focus on sustainability and reducing its impact on the environment. This drives development of new inks and technologies, such as the SureColor R-Series resin printer. Epson’s resin ink technology is free of harmful chemicals with low volatile organic compounds (VOC) and supports environmental certifications such as HAPs Free, REACH, Nordic Swan, GREENGUARD, French-VOC, and AgBB.
Martin points out that the HS-101 ink series used on the Komori Impremia IS29 was recently certified by the International Association of the Deinking Industry—INGEDE, to be “deinkable,” which is key to allowing printed products from the press to be recycled.
Make Your Move
Printing is a series of complex and interconnected processes, and there are both upstream and downstream areas that print providers can target when establishing an environmental strategy. “Generally, upstream these would include your raw materials, where they come from, how they are manufactured, and how you transform them. Downstream you can look at how the finished product is distributed, used, and disposed of. While just a start, it should help bring some light into where to begin to get the most impact,” says Smithers.
Several advancements of equipment, media, and ink manufacturers were designed with the environment in mind. If you’re looking to reduce your environmental impact, there are many paths to take. dps
Jan2022, DPS Magazine