The Survey Says. . . Emerging Green Strategies
IN JANUARY 2008, InfoTrends and North American Publishing Co. (NAPCO) formed a unique partnership, combining PRINTING IMPRESSIONS' large subscription base with InfoTrends' in-depth research tools. The result is a new quar- terly tracking program called "Emerging Strategies in Production Print," aimed at polling print service providers on some of today's hottest industry topics.
To kick off our inaugural survey, we chose a topic that has been gaining a lot of recognition over the past year: "green" printing and sustainability. With many buzz words and views being tossed around by industry leaders, we decided it was time to check the pulse of the industry itself to get its view on the subject and see how it is adapting to rapidly changing trends.
The survey was conducted to gain a better understanding of emerging green print adoption and strategies in print production environments. InfoTrends explored print-for-pay businesses, as well as in-plant trends, and used NAPCO as a resource to reach more than 400 print-for-pay companies and more than 200 in-plant locations.
While this article only focuses on the results of our print-for-pay respondents, the full report (including the full range of results for both print-for-pay and in-plant environments) is available on InfoTrends' Reports Store at http://store.info-trendsresearch.com , as well as PRINTING IMPRESSIONS' Bookstore at www.piworld.com/bookstore .
Setting out to examine the reach of green initiatives in the graphic arts industry, we wanted to see how many print service providers were in motion and creating a more sustainable workplace. Asking if companies had taken any steps to become more environmentally friendly, we found that more than half of the providers surveyed had implemented some form of green policy. Furthermore, we noted that nearly one-third of those with these policies in place have also completed one or more certification programs.
(See Figure 1.)
Why have half of the providers surveyed put these initiatives in place? Overwhelmingly, we find that printers feel that social responsibility is the most important factor for adopting green strategies. Companies also rated customer demand, marketing and public relations as having a greater impact on implementing green policies.
Nevertheless, expected legislation was not a driving force for printers to institute green policies. It appears that many service providers are used to imposing state and federal regulations into their shops, as they are often enforced by OSHA, the EPA, and other local and federal agencies. As a result, expected legislation becomes exactly that--expected and, therefore, becoming less of a factor.
(See Figure 2.)
Overall, the print providers surveyed have management personnel that are very supportive of green strategies. Nevertheless, many of these companies believe that implementing green strategies will increase costs. To this end, printers generally agree that there are not enough tools to calculate a business' environmental impact, which may deter them from implementing new green or sustainable strategies within their company.
Print-for-pay companies, which overall have the highest adoption rate of certification program implementation, typically agreed that the processes for becoming certified are too time-consuming.
(See Figure 3.)
The most popular green policy implemented in print shops nationwide is waste paper recycling, which many shops have been doing for years. Meanwhile, another popular initiative for print-for-pay companies is the purchasing of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified papers. The growing use of these types of paper may be due to a combination of factors, including social responsibility, wider availability and customer demand to print on FSC-certified stock.
(See Figure 4.)
While the use of FSC-certified paper is growing, only a small portion of survey respondents are using 100 percent recycled paper, with companies that run primarily digital imaging devices having higher 100 percent recycled paper usage than those companies in a predominantly sheetfed offset environment.
What could be some reasons for this trend, especially in sheetfed shops? Perhaps 100 percent recycled paper is too expensive in larger sheet sizes; or maybe printers choose not to run them because they could possibly wear down the blankets faster. Customers could also just not be asking for 100 percent recycled paper for their jobs. Many digital press vendors run certification trials for paper on their devices, and they could be certifying a greater number of 100 percent recycled paper.
While the printers surveyed see waste paper recycling as their biggest environmentally friendly step, they also see waste paper recycling as one the biggest waste disposal issues. Solvents and toner are also large disposal issues for print-for-pay businesses. Solvents may be a greater issue for companies because of the more common use of offset presses in the segment.
Solvents are almost always required in this environment, and these solvents often contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Solvents with VOCs have stricter regulations and may be harder to dispose of. Toner disposal may be a problem for print-for-pay printers because of the lower adoption of digital devices, and toner recycling programs with vendors or third-party companies may not be in place.
Alternative energy sources have a low adoption rate among print service providers. Biofuels are currently the leading source of alternative energy for printers, with wind power and solar power trailing closely behind. Overall, the adoption rate of alternative energy sources may be low due to the unavailability of purchasing alternative energy from an energy company.
Energy companies, however, are increasingly delivering electricity to businesses and individuals in the form of alternative energy. Wind power is a popular form of alternative energy that can be purchased from energy companies, and is being used by vendors and printers alike.
(See Figure 5.)
In regards to working with industry environmental groups, print service providers are taking the initiative to become members of these organizations and gain chain-of-custody certification through some of them. The Forest Stewardship Council had the largest adoption rate among the offerings presented in our survey.
Nevertheless, we believe that the percentage of FSC-certified printers from our survey (32.4 percent) may be high. At this time, there are around 1,090 FSC-certified printers out of more than 20,000 providers in the United States. That means, in reality, that only about 5 percent of print-for-pay businesses, including commercial printers and quick printers, are FSC-certified today.
The adoption rate may be higher due to many of the survey respondents having certifications. Nevertheless, it could also mean that printers do not fully understand what it means to be chain-of-custody certified. For example, printers may use FSC-certified paper and consider themselves FSC-certified as a business, but certification usually requires an independent audit from one of these organizations.
Regardless, providers can leverage certifications and memberships to green-focused groups when trying to attract new customers. Many print-for-pay companies are trying to attract other businesses that have their own requirements on sustainability, and a recognized "green" organization can possibly be a deal-breaker when choosing printers.
(See Figure 6.)
As more print buyers implement green and sustainable strategies, it will directly affect how printers do business. While 30 percent of printers may not be FSC-certified today, it may reach that within the next few years. The same can be said for organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance, SFI and the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.
Because printers are pushing for ways to become more green and sustainable, vendors will also follow suit, finding ways to decrease the environmental impact of processes. While offset and toner-based processes are well on their way to reducing their impact, ink-jet seems to be the next big hurdle in finding a sustainable solution.
Also, alternative energy sources will be purchased on a more frequent basis by print service providers and graphic arts vendors. Many companies will also take steps to neutralize their carbon footprint, and some are doing that already.
On the whole, green adoption is strong and growing. It promotes social responsibility and can also carry marketing benefits. As more companies adopt green strategies, however, it will be more difficult for businesses to differentiate themselves. Savvy marketers will become carbon-neutral, buy alternative fuels and use environmentally friendly consumables as they strive for further differentiation.
The use of alternative energy is low at this time, but it will grow as availability increases and costs decrease. Recycled and environmentally friendly products will continue to create new opportunities for suppliers and have adverse effects on those not willing to adapt. Production processes for these new products will become refined and push costs down, allowing for easier, wider-spread industry adoption.
It is clear that the green printing and sustainability movements are not just buzz words. Rather, they are a new way of doing business by focusing on not only the present, but also the future of print. PI
(Editor's Note: Justin Searles, Bryan Yeager and Eve Padula of InfoTrends co-wrote this article.)