10 January 2008
This week's Feature is reprinted with permission from the 2008 edition of Print Me!
This week's Feature is reprinted with permission from the
2008 edition of Print Me!

Here's How...
Print is an inextricably human development dating back thousands of years. Our ability to communicate via the printed page is (no pun intended) part of the very fibre of our being. But as with other resource-intensive manufacturing processes, the printing industry is under heavy scrutiny today as greater awareness of the global ecological impact of human activity grows. Print’s own inconvenient truth is that, at a base level, it is the product of oil being applied to dead trees.

The magic of conveying a message, a feeling, or an idea on a printed page is in danger of losing some of its luster if its creation is deemed wasteful and/or threatening to the global condition. In addition to harvesting forests, pulp and paper production also requires massive amounts of water and energy to meet global demand. The process creates water, land, and atmospheric waste, and relies almost exclusively on fossil fuels. Commercial printing operations use energy-hungry equipment that often require harsh chemicals and processes to lay inks, coatings, and adhesives on paper.

As the scarcity of our natural resources and the impact of global warming become increasingly and painfully obvious, those responsible for producing print are responding by implementing eco-friendly business and manufacturing practices to minimize or eliminate any adverse effects of their activities. Canadian designers, production personnel, and print buyers are the individuals called upon to execute the environmental visions and mandates of their employers or of their customers. As such, these producers have a myriad of ways to reduce the environmental impact of their print, ranging from the basic design and specifications of their projects, to their choice of stocks and inks, to their selection of commercial print suppliers. The following guide highlights some of the eco options available.

Green Design and Production Considerations
Graphic arts producers/buyers are always striving to create more persuasive, compelling print and constantly finding equilibrium with the ever shifting priorities of the client: budget, aesthetics, colour, size/weight, and – more than ever before – environmental sustainability.

Determining the optimal sheet size for a particular print job is a decision often left to the commercial printer – not a bad idea, since reducing paper waste usually translates to larger profits for printers. But not always. Printers generally pay more for custom sized sheets compared to the house stocks available in bulk quantities. The decision to stick with a house sheet and waste a bit more paper might be the fiscally correct option to keep a project on budget, but not necessarily the best for the environment. That’s why it’s imperative to work with your print supplier as early as possible in the planning and design stages and communicate your (or your client’s) environmental objectives. Keep in mind that custom sheets can take longer to reach the printer’s doorstep – another reason to plan well in advance to ensure you’re printing on the best-sized sheet.

Another tip is to be mindful of bleeds when designing, which sometimes require a larger sheet size than might otherwise be needed for designs without bleeds.

The same goes for gang running multiple jobs on the same press sheet. Print producers are likely already doing this for budgetary reasons, but using the same stock (and ink) for multiple pieces within a campaign will not only save paper, it will also reduce the number of makereadies and significantly decrease the environmental impact of your production.

Can your client’s direct mail objectives be achieved by delivering your message to a smaller and more targeted (i.e.more relevant) audience? Advances in one-to-one digital variable data printing allow marketers to harness customer data to create a customized piece that speaks more effectively to the recipient. Studies have proven that response rates are exponentially higher on variable print campaigns versus the mass market approach of blanketing an entire demographic with a static printed piece. In addition to making great business sense from an ROI perspective, one-to-one marketing reduces the amount of paper and ink required to achieve the same objective, thus reducing the footprint of the campaign. Extend this thinking to Web-to-print ordering and fulfillment with on-screen proofing and the environmental benefits quickly begin adding up.

Selecting Stocks and Ink
If recycled stock was the environmental star of the show in the past, today’s line-up extends beyond recycled to include stock certified to be sourced from sustainable responsibly managed forests. Choosing certified stocks is a great way to show your environmental commitment, but there are considerations to keep in mind.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is one of the most widely accepted and recognized environmental initiatives in the graphic arts community today. The FSC is an international non-profit organization that certifies pulp and paper companies who adhere to rigid forest stewardship standards. Users of FSC certified paper are assured that the wood used in its manufacture came from well-managed forests. Print service providers achieve FSC Chain of Custody certification by demonstrating their ability to warehouse, print, and segregate FSC paper, thereby guaranteeing buyers and users that the printed product can be tracked back to an approved source. Hundreds of printers across the country are FSC certified (see list beginning on page 60), and more are being added as user demand increases. Carrying the FSC logo on your printed materials shows concern for the promotion of environmentally and socially responsible forestry.

FSC also recently launched the FSCXpert Program which allows designers and print buyers to obtain a designation identifying themselves as being environmentally conscientious by verifying their ability to source and manage projects that use FSC paper. Upon completion of a comprehensive educational program and exam, you receive a unique identification number and are added to a published database of FSCXperts. See a more detailed guide to becoming and FSCXpert on Page 58.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is a similar forest-certification organization. SFI is a North American program in which participants practice sustainable forestry but also influence millions of additional acres through the training of loggers and foresters in best management practices and landowner outreach programs. Third party accredited certification audits similarly ensure the integrity of the program.

Ancient Forest Friendly (AFF) papers are free of ancient forest fibre and contain 100 percent recycled fibre or 100 percent FSC virgin fibre. Papers with high recycled content and the remainder of the fibre being FSC are also considered AFF. Vancouver-based Markets Initiative, one of the nation’s major proponents for the protection of ancient and endangered forests, lists eight steps businesses can take to “go AFF,” including the development and communication of an Ancient Forest Friendly Policy. See the organization’s eight tips at
EcoLogo paper certification sets standards and certifying products in more than 120 categories, including printing papers and printing services. EcoLogo helps users identify, trust, buy, and sell “green” goods and services. EcoLogo certified papers contain at least 30 percent content from postconsumer recycled paper but must also meet other criteria throughout the manufacturing process.

For almost two decades, bearing a recycled paper logo on your printed material was accepted as a sufficient environmental effort in and of itself. Specifying paper with a decent level of postconsumer recycled paper is still a step in the right direction, but is generally considered the minimum effort in today’s climate of environmental responsibility. The good news is that there has been a dramatic improvement in the quality and printability of recycled paper. Price premiums once associated with recycled paper are no longer the standard, and “runnability” on press is comparable to most virgin stocks.

Today recycled content is expressed as an equation in conjunction with the commonly recognized recycled logo. The equation denotes the percentage of recycled content; the total amount of recycled content is shown first, followed by the percentage of post-consumer material. For example 100/30PCW means that 100 percent of the paper is recycled, and 30 percent is from post-consumer waste.

Remember, post-consumer waste (PCW) content means the fibre comes from paper that has already been “used” by a consumer, while pre-consumer waste refers to paper that contains fibre that has been recycled from a printer or mill (usually from trimmings and plant waste) or from unsold publications. Total recycled fibre (TRF) content means all of the paper contains 100 percent recycled material, but it can be a mix of both post- and pre-consumer waste. It’s not enough to accept a supplier’s word on your paper being “recycled;” make sure they specify what kind of recycled content it contains as well as the “pre” and “post” percentages. And always aim for little or no virgin fibre whenever possible.

Paper companies are implementing various practices to reduce greenhouse gases and their overall impact on the environment, including the use of alternative energy sources like wind power, biomass fuels, and other renewable energy. Literature available from your paper supplier will highlight their efforts in this area.

Another important characteristic of paper that environmental stewards will want to consider is its chlorine content. Bleaching pulp with elemental chlorine was a practice used by pulp mills to whiten papers and make them stronger. The process was extremely harsh and produced huge amounts of hazardous chemical waste that harmed ecosystems across the world. Most mills have alternatives for bleaching pulp today.

Process chlorine free (PCF) paper is made from recycled fibre that has not been re-bleached with any chlorine based bleach, but some chlorine may remain from the manufacture of the source material. The totally chlorine free (TCF) designation means that no chlorine was used at all in the pulp making process. Today’s TCF papers are generally as bright as ECF papers and are a suitable substitute for those seeking to divert harsh chemicals from the environment. Papers designated as elemental chlorine free (ECF) are virgin papers that used a chlorine derivative instead of elemental chlorine in the pulp making process. The derivatives, however, still produce dioxins, making ECF papers the least eco friendly alternative.

There are a number of ink- and coating-related guidelines the eco-conscious print buyer will want to be aware of.

Unlike solvent inks, UV inks are a benchmark for environmental printing practices because they release no volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions into the atmosphere. UV presses generally produce faster makereadies, which ultimately reduces the amount of paper and ink used in the set-up process.

Soy and vegetable based inks are widely accepted as the environmentally friendly choice when compared to petroleum based inks. Not only are they made from renewable resources, they emit dramatically fewer VOCs than conventional inks. The goal of buyers with sustainability in mind should be to push their suppliers to use the lowest VOC rated inks available. Equally important is what the printer  is doing to steer ink materials from landfills like proper inventory/scheduling practices and reusing/recycling of unused inks. Fluorescent and metallic inks are generally more toxic with higher carcinogen levels and therefore are more hazardous to groundwater and hard to decompose.

Coatings add beauty and durability to printed products, but do have an impact on the environment. Aqueous(AQ)- based coating emit fewer VOCs than their petroleum-based varnish counterparts and are therefore considered a better environmental choice. Printed material coated with AQ can be recycled and doesn’t require solvents for clean-up on press. UV coatings are liquid formulations that cure (solidify) on press under ultraviolet (UV) lamps. Though the lamps use a great deal of energy, the process doesn’t emit VOCs or solvents into the air. With any protective coating, a good practice is to minimize the amount used by limiting the coating to only the heavily inked areas, as opposed to a flood coating which covers the whole page.

Choosing a supplier
There are printers across the country who share your interest in minimizing their ecological footprint, but it’s up to you to evaluate their “greenness” and to engage them in this critical issue.

The most immediate way to determine a printer’s commitment to sustainability is to evaluate any designations or memberships they may have. We’ve discussed some of the major paper designations above (FSC, SFI, EcoLogo, etc.); if a printer has any or all of these seals of approval, it’s a great start. However, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper and evaluate other aspects of their operation to make a sound choice when comparing suppliers. Has the printer been recognized by third parties (paper companies, environmental groups, print industry/design associations, etc.) for award winning projects or programs? Is the printer an active corporate citizen contributing to local or regional environmental initiatives or educational programs in the community (tree-planting, etc.)? Does the printer have a published, documented environmental policy on their web site? Does it contain performance improvement goals and objectives? If your supplier shrugs his shoulders when you ask about specifics of their environmental practices perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the supply pool.

Digital printing eliminates the need for the plate making chemistry and makeready waste associated with lithographic printing, and is therefore a more environmentally friendly process. However, the choice of which printing process to employ is almost always determined by the run length and format size of the desired piece. With all other things equal or comparable (cost, quality, etc.), going digital is by nature a better eco choice.

The vast majority of lithographic printers in the industry have already made the switch to computer-to-plate technology (CTP) for a number of economic and quality reasons. From an environmental standpoint, printers who have not yet converted are still requiring an intermediate film step in the creation of their imaged printing plates, resulting in a host of harsh chemicals, solvents, and developers for processing and clean-up. Choose a CTP printer over one still using film.

Depending on the equipment they have, CTP printers still require some chemical processing for their plates. Many are taking an environmental leap forward by eliminating the need for even this chemistry by converting to chemistry-free printing plates, which require a harmless rinse or go directly from the CTP machine to the press. If your CTP printer is using processless plates, you can be assured your production is “cleaner” than it otherwise might be. If your printer isn’t processless yet, they should be taking steps like adding neutralizing solutions to the developer before it is goes down the drain. Asking your printer about their waste treatment procedures shows that you’re thinking about improving the process as a whole, rather than taking their logo designations at face value.

Waterless printing is a type of lithographic printing that eliminates the water or dampening system used in conventional offset printing.
It uses a special silicone rubber coated printing plate, special ink, and temperature control on press. As a result it eliminates dampening-related VOCs from the printing process, and therefore doesn’t contribute to ozone depletion and global warming. Also, since the process gives printers the ability to achieve colour and register faster across the press run, it ultimately reduces the amount of paper waste associated with achieving makeready. Choosing a printer with waterless printing capabilities is another way to make your next project a greener one.

One of the most significant ways a printer can take responsibility for its environmental impact is through the use and promotion of renewable energy. Although the thought of a wind farm in a printer’s backyard is still far-fetched, a handful of Canadian printers are taking the lead by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from certified green power facilities to offset the energy used by their printing operations. BC’s Hydro Power Smart program and Ontario’s Bullfrog Power are two of the more high profile programs, and printers who subscribe to their services are truly minimizing the impact of their operations.

Similarly, print buyers can negate the impact of their actions by purchasing – or asking printers to purchase on their behalf – carbon neutral certificates. Going carbon neutral is a relatively new way for people to take responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions they create in everyday activity. When you engage in an activity that spews emissions into the atmosphere – driving your car for example – you can effectively negate them by purchasing ‘carbon offsets’. These are credits that fund energy efficiency projects elsewhere, such as wind farms or solar installations. By purchasing these credits, individuals offset their own emissions and reduce net climate impact. Explore with your printer ways to make your projects carbon neutral.

According to the American Institute of Graphic Arts, “Designers have an obligation to themselves and to their profession to seek the knowledge and skill required to move sustainable design from the margins to the mainstream of design practices and business communications of print.” Print buyers and production personnel need to extend this mentality even further into the choices they make in the selection and procurement process. From using materials with less impact and toxicity, to encouraging reuse and recycling of raw materials and finished goods, to selecting suppliers who share your concern for print’s long term sustainability, the choice for a greener future is yours. PM!

For more information, contact:

Susan Ritcey
Canadian Printer
T: +1 416 764 1509
F: +1 416 764 1738

This article has been reprinted with permission from Print Me! 2008. Canadian Printer is the parent publication, responsible for the creation and development of Print Me!