The Proof Is in the Printing: Corporate Stationery, Marketing Kits and the like Are a Necessary Part of Business Communication. So What Can Businesses Do to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Such Material? A Lot, as Ecos Discovered during an Environmental Audit of Its Own Printing Procedure

Article excerpt

While Ecos strives to be as sustainable as possible, we thought we could do better in the way we print the magazine.

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In October 2006, as part of an environmental audit, we researched several Australian printers who claimed, to varying degrees, to have 'green' printing credentials.

The Australian printing industry has an annual turnover of over $15 billion and employs more than 120 000 people. (1) While some companies are genuine about 'green printing', many others will rely on pressure from customers to make their operations more sustainable.

Printers have traditionally been the source of much waste--paper, chemical and water--which impacts significantly on the environment. The following categories were just some of the criteria we considered when determining which printer would be the best fit for the magazine.

Paper

The average Australian will use 187 kg of paper products--including newspapers, writing papers and product packaging--in one year, (2) so paper was the obvious place to start in reducing the environmental footprint of our print requirements.

Ecos was particularly interested in papers accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a not-for-profit organisation that sets international benchmarks for the responsible management of forests. Only forest managers and producers that meet rigorous FSC standards can be approved for accreditation. So far, more than 90 million hectares have been certified in over 82 countries. (3)

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Papers are also characterised by the type of recycled fibre they contain. Post-consumer recycled papers contain fibres from paper reclaimed from the waste stream after use, such as office waste paper. Pre-consumer recycled papers are made from fibres recovered from pulp and paper mills or printers' offcuts before the paper reaches the consumer.

Monza Recycled, on which Ecos is printed, is an FSC-certified, mixed-source paper made from 55 per cent recycled fibre--30 per cent pre-consumer and 25 per cent post-consumer--and 45 per cent FSC-certified pulp. It is also elemental chlorine-flee (ECF), a bleaching process for pulp involving the use of less harsh chlorine compounds to replace the elemental chlorine traditionally used to bleach papers to their whitest.

Ink

A printer's green credentials should extend beyond offering environmentally friendly papers. Printing plants have traditionally used petroleum-based inks. The emission of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from these inks is a concern, as it contributes to airborne pollution.

Some types of printing process can emit over 100 kg of VOCs on a daily basis, according to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). Under the Environment Protection (Scheduled Premises and Exemptions) Regulations 2007 adopted in July, companies emitting more than this level will now require works approval or licences from the EPA.

New technology has allowed the introduction of vegetable-based inks into the printing process. Sources for these non-toxic inks, such as soy and linseed, are renewable. With the printing industry using about 36 000 tonnes of ink each year, using a renewable alternative will leave a smaller environmental footprint.

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The containers in which inks are supplied have also evolved from tins--which would end up in landfill--to recyclable cartons.

Plant design and equipment

In the printing process, chemical solvents are used as a carrier for the printing ink. New filtration systems can filter solvents from the printing press to allow for reuse. One printer said this system helped to reduce his chemical use by over 85 per cent--a significant reduction, with both economic and environmental benefits.

Digital printing also helps with waste reduction. Computer-to-plate (CTP) technology has helped the industry almost eliminate the need to generate photographic film for making plates. …