Green credentials are no longer simply an attractive business bolt-on. Companies in all sectors demonstrating a commitment to reducing their environmental impact not only enjoy reduced costs, an enhanced reputation and a competitive advantage, but are taking important steps to ensure the longevity of their business, and of course the planet.
In an ideal world a green printing business would be defined by five pillars.
Investing in new equipment is usually viewed as the biggest single expense in any green endeavour, but it is also one of the most effective ways of boosting environmental credentials and making significant cost savings.
LED-UV curing, for example, has taken some time to gain traction in a commercial environment but is now widely regarded as superior to traditional UV methods, offering instant drying, long light source lifespans and up to 88 per cent lower power consumption than conventional UV. And there is no mercury or spray powders involved, making for a cleaner working environment.
Kit that offers greater control over each print element is also beneficial. Fujifilm offers software that allows processors to minimise chemical usage by monitoring what’s going on inside the machine and adjusting replenishment requirements accordingly, rather than simply topping up chemicals on a regular basis, as is the case with traditional processes. As a result, bath life is extended; instead of swapping them out every two to three weeks, baths are operational for up to three or four months instead. Some printers which have adopted this software say it has reduced chemistry usage by 75 per cent.
But there are also options for 100 per cent chemistry-free printing. Agfa Graphics’ Azura TU plates, for example, eliminates developer and replenisher entirely, with printers reporting 87 per cent reduced processor maintenance, a 95 per cent reduction in waste collection and a massive reduction of water, again up to 95 per cent.
Logistics is an oft-overlooked element of the sustainable business model, but it is an area where big rewards can be had for very little effort.
For a start, drivers can improve van efficiency by as much as 15 per cent by making basic behavioural changes, such as shifting gear at 2,000rpm and relying on windows instead of air-conditioning to keep cool under 90kmh, and using air-conditioning over 90kmh to keep aerodynamic. Of course, ensuring drivers stick to these kind of guidelines is no easy task, which is why many companies employ technology such as Lightfoot, a driver monitoring system. The system keeps an eye on a driver’s behaviour, offering real-time guidance on driving more economically, and sending a weekly or monthly email report to the fleet manager. The company’s fuel calculator suggests that a business running three vans, each doing around 50,000 miles a year, could save $5,000 in fuel and 3.64 tonnes of CO2 annually.
Some companies are going further still by investing in green vehicles, which is unsurprising given the benefits they offer. According to the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, opting for a low-carbon vehicle instead of a conventional one could save firms $30,000 in running costs over the vehicle’s lifetime.
Some companies bikes and electric vehicles to deliver its products, with every letter delivered through the service saving 28 grams of CO2, while the days of businesses installing a privately owned rapid-charging station for its own electric cars and vans are not too far away.
Some printing businesses are reaping the benefits of renewable energy, which helps to protect against energy price volatility, reduces energy bills and, of course, bolsters those important green credentials.
Solar panels for instance can save around one tonne CO2 a year for every 10 that are installed, and can reduce consumption of energy from the grid by as much as 50 per cent. See break-out box for insight into how two Australian print businesses are benefitting from having implemented solar power.
Consumables is an area where printers can make the quickest environmental wins. The industry gets a bad rap for paper usage, but recycled and sustainable-grade papers are now the norm. Although there is some debate over which is ‘better’ for the environment, both have a role to play. Recycled paper, of course, does not end up in landfill, and technology in this area has come on leaps and bounds in recent times. A few years ago there were technical challenges in achieving a high-quality recycled paper – you would have to add some virgin pulp to get it up to scratch. Now, though, 100 per cent recycled paper can be of an extremely high quality.
Paper made from waste is gaining traction too. Crush, manufactured by Italian company Favini, uses organic residues from food processing around its Crusinallo mill in Northern Italy to reduce the amount of virgin fibre needed.
FSC-certified paper, meanwhile, assures printers and procurers that paper brandishing the FSC logo has come from responsibly-managed forests that promote regrowth and biodiversity, certifiable through comprehensive chain-of-custody documentation – something customers are increasingly mindful of.
More companies are turning their attention to vegetable-based inks, which offer high-quality results without the environmental issues associated with their mineral-based counterparts. French manufacturer Capoverde is currently working on getting its products into the market in a bid to reduce the consumption of print media made from oil-based materials. It products use acrylic coatings, without PVC and VOC release, and the coatings are free from phthalates, formaldehyde, phosphate and glycol ethers.
Of course, much of the environmental damage from consumables comes after they have been used, but a number of companies have stepped up to tackle this issue. Altodigital offers a cartridge return programme in line with ISO 14001 standards, while J&G Environmental – known for pioneering sustainable waste management in the industry – offers a complete ‘circular service’ to its customers, delivering consumables then collecting waste containers for recycling and reuse.
The oft-mentioned ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 are almost standard for print businesses now – customers would certainly be right to be wary of a company that didn’t have accreditation at this basic level. As such, forward-thinking environmentally-savvy companies are casting their nets further afield.
A number of printers are voluntarily involved with carbon-neutral schemes, too, although CarbonNeutral certification is the most impactful way to illustrate this. In 2002, Pureprint was the first printer in the world to be awarded this status, and many others have since followed suit.
But as businesses expand, it’s worth looking at accreditation schemes that hold sway in other countries. The Ecolabel is particularly important: it is a scheme that everything from consumer products such as shampoos and cleaning detergents, to floorcoverings, textiles, and even campsites and hotels.
The idea behind such a wide-ranging application is that the logo is instantly recognised, making it easy for both consumers and businesses to make a green choice by opting for products that carry the mark.
The PIAA offers an accredition programme, Sustainable Green Print (SGP), which it says is the Australian printing industry’s own recognisable certification programme, designed to help printing companies meet their environmental responsibilities. Based on an ISO14001 framework, SGP is tailored to meet individual print business requirements, the demands of customers, and their customers. The multi-level system gives a choice of three linked achievement levels including ISO 14001 (Level 3 SGP).