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The New Era of Sustainable Print

February 1, 2009
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During 2008, Pira International conducted research for PRIMIR/ NPES in a study entitled “Sustainable Print in a Dynamic Global Market: What Going Green Means.” With North America being the largest producer of global printed products, and the groundswell of focus on energy conservation, environmental and sustainability concerns, PRIMIR members agreed it was time to face the issue head-on and learn more.

The 300+ page study, soon to be published, delves into the impact of print on the environment. It investigates who is driving sustainability in our industry, accreditation and other environmental management programs and systems, regulatory and compliance issues, how print compares with other industries, and carbon footprinting and offsetting. In the end, the study provides a number of best practice case studies as well as recommendations for all firms in the print supply chain.

According to the study, “The world is now at a crossroads between the old path of development at the cost of environmental degradation, and a new path combining economic growth with social responsibility and environmental sustainability.” Sustainability is generally defined as:

• Balancing the needs of society, environment and the organization, and

• Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The industry is awash with ‘green’ claims and a lot of greenwashing. It is difficult to separate the myth from reality, but the PRIMIR study found that few companies in our industry that claim to be ‘green’ truly are. The study pointed to a significant need for education around virtually every element on the path to sustainability.

Most printers claim to be ‘green’ simply because they are FSC certified. On the positive side, however, a large number of printers are recycling everything they can from their operation, and many are also generating income as a result. Other more progressive firms have an all-out corporate commitment and culture towards sustainability, full time staff dedicated to that purpose, and have made significant investments that already provide a positive ROI—not only to their production costs, but also in new customers who are seeking a sustainable supplier.

Some examples include a small west coast printer who said that a $5,000 investment in a solvent recovery system generated 30% reduction in solvent use. Another print firm reportedly generates $5,000 to $7,000 per year by recycling plates. And one of the few ISO 14001 certified printers in the U.S. said that the investment of $30,000 over three years in certification and audits had a positive ROI, even without accounting for the additional business gained as a result.

While the corporate commitment and culture is a huge driver for many of the printers interviewed, the researchers found that the Fortune 1000 companies customers) are one of the main drivers for companies that commit to ‘green’ and sustainable practices. The PRIMIR research found that a key issue for print buyers about sustainability of print is with paper (recycled content, landfills, and sustainable forestry). However, the research clearly indicates a trend and shifting focus towards carbon footprint concerns and ‘carbon neutrality.’

For corporate communications executives, it is easy to assume that using alternative electronic media (e-mails, podcasts, websites, or even television) are naturally greener. Reduction of print is an easy target, but in reality, e-media alternatives have a far greater environmental impact than is commonly believed. Consider this, while the paper industry is the U.S.’s second largest user of electricity, with consumption of 75 billion kilowatt hours in 2006, data centers and servers were not far behind, having consumed 61 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. And, since print volumes are declining, while the use of data centers is projected to double in five years, and the disposal of electronic goods is the fastest growing cause of toxic waste, this is far from a safe alternative.

The quest for sustainable print in this dynamic global market, with downward pricing pressure, a global credit crunch, and escalating energy prices, at first glance appears to face an insurmountable challenge. The industry needs to develop a new philosophy of supply chain integration, a partnership approach, and a more supportive and inclusive dialogue.

There are a variety of complex issues facing the print community, from more efficient production to lifecycle assessment of products and compliance with even tighter regulations. A key recommendation to everyone in the print supply chain: “Educate!” Educate yourself, your customers, suppliers, employees and your local community. This education must be compelling and creative to change the culture of a business and get all the staff onboard for the journey that lies ahead.

In the end, the PRIMIR study “Sustainable Print in a Dynamic Global Market:What Going Green Means” identifies a number of recommendations for all participants in the print supply chain. Among them:

• Develop a concerted effort to focus on increasing the uptake of 1SO 14001 and the standardization of EMS processes.

• Carbon calculation best practices need to be developed with all key stakeholders in the supply chain.

• The industry needs even lower VOC solutions for washes, solvents and ink, with improved performance of capture and recovery systems.

• There needs to be greater incentives for energy reduction and the utilization of renewable energy sources.

• There also needs to be more widespread awareness of water conservation measures.

• Designate an environmental champion to act as a catalyst for change within the business and start to measure and record what you are currently doing.

An Executive Synopsis of this research study will be circulated to all NPES member firms soon. NPES corporate members may request a free copy of the full study.


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