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Reference Tool : Why Print Is Truly Green

October 2009 By Joanne Vinyard
Director, The Print Council
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AT PRINT 09, The Print Council released a new position paper that lists 10 strong reasons why print is a sustainable and environmentally responsible communications medium.

Titled "Why Print Is Green," the new report describes specific ways in which print is green—from the responsible products used, renewable energy sourced, increased recycling rates, improved design and delivery methods. The report is intended for use by printers and designers to demonstrate to their customers why print media is the environmentally sound choice for communicating with the audiences they want to reach.

"Our industry is a leader in recycling, sustainability and pollution control," says Ben Cooper, executive director of The Print Council. "In fact, we pioneered putting those concepts into widespread practice over the past three decades. Media buyers and marketers who believe that print is lagging as an environmentally friendly medium need to know that print is leading in this critical area. 'Why Print Is Green' documents the information, serving as an easy-to-use reference guide for print producers and print consumers."

This brochure was created, reviewed and produced responsibly with the help of multiple Print Council members, including Sappi, NewPage, International Paper, IWCO Direct, Heidelberg USA, The John Roberts Co. and NAK Marketing.

(The following is an excerpt from the position paper, detailing four of the 10 reasons why print is green. To receive a copy of the full brochure, including all research sources and additional references, send an e-mail request to

Show You're Sustainable

Mother Nature clearly celebrates the cycles of life—the Earth twirls every 24 hours, for example, and travels once around the sun every year. For years now, we in the printing industry have been working with her, considering life cycles in everything we do, from what we print on to how we deliver it.

Many of her best materials arise organically, and so do ours. The chief ingredient in paper grows on trees (well, they are trees) and moreso every day, we're basing our inks and toners on fruits and vegetables.

Likewise, she doesn't so much discard as reuse, and so do we: Most of the material from trees that doesn't become paper becomes power, and we both generate and use more renewable power than just about everyone. And more of our products are recycled than just about anything.

We take these steps not because they make us look good—though we hope they do—and not just because they make economic sense, although they clearly do. We take them because we know nothing exists apart from nature. Here are some of the best ways we show it:

We consider the source. We're careful to ensure that the paper and printing products we use originated responsibly. For instance, we rely on forest certification programs such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which dominate in North America, and the Euro-centric Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certifications.

All three promote forests' long-term health by minimizing damage during harvesting, preserving habitat and biodiversity, preventing overcutting and other efforts. Safeguards include chain-of-custody certifications, verified by third parties that document the origin of materials at every stage of the manufacturing process.

Meanwhile, inks and toners increasingly are based on fruit or vegetable oils, removing the volatile organic compounds of their former base, petroleum, while making them far more renewable.

We're mad for recycling. And why not? Every reused paper fiber is a double bonus for the planet: Using recycled fiber contributes less to air pollution than virgin fiber, and fibers kept from landfills don't release methane, one of the most damaging greenhouse gases. Plus, the processing of recycled fibers into some grades of paper consumes fewer chemicals and less water.

Of the fiber that went into paper in 2007, more than a third came from recycling, even though demand for newsprint, a key destination for reused fiber, has slowed considerably. In 2008, more than 57 percent of paper consumed in the United States was recovered for recycling—more than any material.

The paper industry is aiming to reach 60 percent recycling by 2012; every additional percentage point means that a million tons of paper are recovered. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paper is recycled at significantly higher rates than any other material. (Glass: 24 percent. Plastic: 7 percent)

We have promoted recycling practically since its beginning. The Direct Marketing Association and the Magazine Publishers of America both lead "Recycle Please" campaigns, and the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) promotes a number of others.

Among them are AF&PA's Paper Recycles effort, which awards outstanding school, business and community recycling programs; and Recyclemania, a higher education recycling competition that involved more than 500 schools from every state in 2009. The association has been working with the EPA and the Keep America Beautiful campaign since 2003.

For us, recycling goes well beyond paper, too. Most parts of the tree are used as renewable energy if not to make paper. Manufacturers and printers recycle printing plates, ink and toner canisters, shrink wrap, cardboard, the cores of large paper rolls, even shipping pallets.

We're green by design. Design plays a crucial role in determining print's environmental effects. Responsible designers incorporate life cycle considerations into every design choice, and use their creativity to capitalize on environmentally friendly options such as specifying elemental chlorine-free paper, low-VOC inks and recycled materials.

Designers can also choose inks that are free of heavy metals or lighter in tone or intensity when a project is likely to be recycled, and forego surface coatings for projects envisioned for shorter life spans.

In fact, responsible designers partner with printers that have robust sustainability portfolios, consult with them on best practices, collaborate with them for the most cost-effective and efficient layouts for reducing waste, and assess results to guide future projects.

We compare well to others. Every type of media has an environmental impact, and ours compares favorably with anyone's. According to the Department of Energy, U.S. paper manufacturers used more than 75 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2006, which is a lot, but a substantial portion of our energy is renewable. Compare that with the 60 billion kilowatt-hours that data centers and servers used that year, primarily from burned fossil fuels—and that doesn't even include the energy that PCs use.

The average person's paper use for a year, 440 pounds, is produced by 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity, the same amount required to power one computer continuously for five months. Daily news followers who read the printed edition of a newspaper use 20 percent less CO2 than those who read news on the Web for a half hour.

Meanwhile, consider the environmental footprint of spam: A study commissioned by the Internet security software company MacAfee estimated it wastes 33 billion kilowatt-hours annually, with the same greenhouse gas emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using 2 billion gallons of gasoline.

And while we grow trees to get our raw materials, electronics manufacturers need heavy metals. Recycling electronics has toxic implications, whether it happens here or is shipped overseas.

Ultimately, producers of all media—Internet, digital media and print on paper—can work together to decrease the environmental impact of communication. PI


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