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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.


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