Question: I’m a member of the printing industry and I’d like to try to “green” both my business and my products. Where do I start?

Answer: Great question. Few people know that the printing industry is the largest air polluter after automobiles and steel manufacturers, a fact that should have more companies reaching out to see how they can operate in a more sustainable way.

Even small changes in the workplace can help create a more sustainable work environment for your employees and lessen the overall carbon footprint within the industry.  According to the Printing Industries of America’s Environmental, Health and Safety Affairs page, sustainable manufacturing in the printing industry embodies three concepts: product (including design, input materials and the ultimate fate of finished goods); process (manufacturing process); and envelope (all support activities that occur at a printing operation like the building, the grounds, the maintenance, the transportation, and employees).

Taking the concepts of products, process and envelope into consideration and using some of the most sustainable printers in the business as examples, let’s have a look at some changes you can make as a member of the printing industry to “green” the way that you do business:

Source sustainable paper

Did you know that recycling one ton of newspaper saves 17 trees and enough energy to power an average home for 6 months? It’s true. So is the fact that many white papers are bleached using a chlorination process that releases dangerous chemicals and pollutants into the water. Make it your duty to source sustainable, recycld paper like that produced by Eco Paper Inc; they manufacture paper that is made of post-consumer and agricultural waste, is chemical free, and uses less water than traditional paper.

Invest in Earth-friendly ink

According to EFI, environmentally friendly inks are those that contain “the highest quantity of bio-derived, renewable raw materials available for the particular ink technology, along with the lowest possible volatile organic compounds (VOC) levels.” VOCs, which can cause cancer and birth defects, are leaked from petroleum-based inks found on printing and packaging products that ultimately end up in the landfill. In the place of traditional ink, many companies like Printing for Less and Barefoot Press use vegetable-based ink like soy which are both earth friendly and still produce bright, high quality images.

Purchase sustainable packaging

Avoid using bindings, adhesives or foil stamps in packaging and choose biodegradable packaging for protecting your final product. There are a number of choices available to those seeking packaging that won’t have long-term negative effects on the environment. Focus your search on packaging made of natural materials like starch, corn, tobacco, sugar cane, cellulose and lignite. Printing for Less also coats their products with a solvent-free UV coating, using a water-based aqueous coating without any harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

Build in a greener direction

There are a million and one ways to outfit your printing facility in a “green” way. Some of our favourites include: making use of abundant natural lighting; using LED lighting or energy-saving fluorescent fixtures;  going carpet free (thereby eliminating the effects of formaldehyde out-gassing produced by carpet products); ensuring your facility is well insulated (read more about energy-efficient insulation); and landscaping in a way that lowers water consumption. Barefoot Press even went so far as to recycle a 1950s-era industrial building, using sustainable materials like bamboo floor, energy efficient appliances, lighting and windows.

Explore renewable energies

There are a number of ways your business can save on energy. Explore the use of renewable energies (those that come from natural resources and are able to replenish at a constant rate) like solar panels and wind energy. Printing for Less is 100% wind powered! While wind-powered electricity costs a little more, via their website, Printing for Less suggests that as more businesses choose to purchase energy from renewable sources, green power will gain momentum and go mainstream, eventually ensuring that an energy that is clean and cost-effective.

Acquire third-party certification

A great way to green your business is to acquire third party certification and purchase products that meet similar requirements. According to Natural Resources Canada, about one-third of Canada’s forests are now certified under at least one of three systems: the Canadian Standards Association, the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. More information about third party certification can be found via Natural Resources Canada.

Interested in reading more about success stories within the printing industry? Check out this article in The Epoch Times, profiling Green Printer, a Vancouver based printer offering strictly recycled paper options, whose goal is to save between 750,000 and 1 million trees over the next ten years.

Questions or comments about “green” printing? Leave them below!

 image credit: Yureiko