It’s Not Easy Being Green

It’s not easy being green. If you’re thinking about making your next print project environmentally friendly, make sure you know about recycled paper and “green” printing.

You have undoubtedly heard impassioned pleas by environmentalists extolling causes that are good for the earth and posterity. There has been news about the evils of printing and paper and all the damage they do to trees. Frankly, a lot of what is being said is hogwash.

Fortunately or unfortunately, greenwashing (a superficial or insincere concern for the environment) is a trend, and trends catch on even when they are not based on truth.

We are finally beginning to hear about the carbon footprint of reading a book on an iPad or storing a file on a server. Sending an e-mail takes energy, and the bigger the file, more energy is used. Do you really need to copy the attachment on the whole thread and every response? Do you need to attach all those logos to your e-mail signature? The calculation of carbon footprint is very complex.

For example, when the National Geographic Society conducted a lifecycle analysis of its magazine, it determined it made more sense to print the magazine on paper made from virgin pulp. That way, the society could make sure the pulp came from forests that were certified for environmentally responsible management. It could add responsibly managed pulp to the recycling stream. If you buy inexpensive virgin or recycled paper, manufactured in Southeast Asia, you have no idea what the content of that sheet is, or how responsibly that pulp was sourced and the paper manufactured. The National Geographic Society determined China was creating so much demand for recycled pulp, that creating more demand was no longer an incentive to choosing recycled paper.

Responsibly produced pulp was, in fact, a better way to help.

Greenwashing/Recycled
The components of environmental responsibility include the materials, the process, and the design. This is how organizations measure their practices. Printing on 100% Post Consumer Waste paper that will need to be replaced often because it can’t stand up to heavy use is not a sustainable choice. The best businesses have always had sustainable practices because they make good sense. Nobody wants to waste resources, renewable or not. Nobody wants to waste money.

Environmental Choices for Your Client & You
It is important for you the designer to know what choices are available to you and your client. In most cases, your client is going to look to you to make recommendations in line with their values. Here are some choices that you may consider:

  • Choose recycled content when it suits the project.
  • Choose paper certification that aligns with your values.
  • Choose American paper for projects printed in the U.S.
  • Only print what you need.
  • Choose environmentally responsible vendors, from printing to warehousing.
  • Be aware of how you say you are “green.” The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines that apply to environmental marketing claims, such as “recyclable.” For ftc current guidelines, visit www.ftc.gov/green.
  • Educate yourself about the different types of communication, both print and electronic, and choose the most effective combination while taking the environment into consideration.

Here are questions I get all the time from designers and clients alike:

Is recycled paper more expensive?
It depends. Kraft paper is recycled, brown, and inexpensive. Recycled paper that is whitish with flecks is more expensive than kraft, but less costly than a bright white recycled paper with no flecks. To make recycled paper, the mills need to buy or make pulp from paper that has been de-inked, and that pulp costs more than pulp from a tree. That cost is passed to the customer who can then weigh the value versus the cost.

Does recycling paper save trees?
When used paper is substituted for virgin pulp, it reduces demand. Recycling helps to reduce the amount of land that needs to be used for tree farms and may preserve native forests. However, a tree in a native forest is not the same as a tree on a tree farm. A natural forest differs from a tree farm in biodiversity and habitat. In ecologically sensitive areas where pressure to convert natural forests to tree farms exists, recycling can help decrease the demand that causes that type of pressure.

Does the paper industry plant more trees than it cuts down?
Yes, but increasing tree farm acreage at the expense of natural forest is not equal in terms of biodiversity, habitat, etc.

Is recycled paper more environmentally friendly?
A few factors that need to be weighed in order to gauge the environmental footprint of recycled versus virgin paper: is the paper mill state-of-the-art or turn-of-the-20th-century? That makes a big difference. Is the mill in a country that does not allow pollution downstream? China’s paper factories pollute more than American factories. Does the mill reuse effluents such as liquor and sludge, byproducts of the paper-making process, or does it dump these byproducts in a landfill? How fuel efficient is the plant sorting the recycled paper? Are its trucks low emission? Are its conveyor belt motors gas-, diesel-, or solar-powered? How close is the recycling plant to the paper mill? Will the trucks collecting all the recycled paper in the city have to drive a long way to the edge of the tree farm where most paper mills are located? Is an old growth tree going to be cut down to make the paper? This should be avoided at all costs, and several groups have emerged to certify that the source of the paper is legitimate.

How was the recycled paper de-inked (bleached) before being made into pulp?
Some bleaching methods are terrible for the environment and super expensive to boot. Traditionally, elemental chlorine was used in bleaching, but because of its negative environmental impact, most bleaching processes are now Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF). Is the recycled paper appropriate for the project?

For instance, specifying a job with 100% solid ink coverage on a 100% PCW paper stock might backfire in terms of environmental responsibility because recycled papers use up to three times the ink of a virgin sheet when solid coverage is required. What kind of paper is it? A cardboard carton? The page of a magazine? A paper grocery bag? All those objects require much less energy to recycle into that form than a sheet of fine writing paper or the page of a coffee table photography book. Most wood pulp fibers can be recycled about eight times before they lose the structure needed to be a strong sheet of paper and wind up in the sludge at a paper mill.

Virgin paper is important for introducing strong fibers into the paper-making stream and complementing the mix of recycled pulp. It is also important for that coffee table book you want to pass down to your children. Let’s assume the paper comes from a state-of-the-art U.S. mill and was chosen by a very environmentally conscious recycler in a city where all the paper is sorted close to the mill. If all of these conditions are met, then the resulting recycled paper is more environmentally friendly.

Recycling is great so let’s all do our part! Buying recycled paper and specifying recycled paper creates demand. Just don’t specify recycled when you really need virgin, and remember, we need to add virgin paper to the recycling stream.

The two most common names heard in printing are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustained Forestry Initiative (SFI). If you, the designer, or print buyer specify an FSC-certified sheet, then the printer must purchase from an FSC-certified paper merchant and print on that sheet. If printers are caught substituting other paper, the FSC can revoke their certification.

Print Misinformation, What You Need to Know About Printed Media and the Environment
Misinformation about the environment and printed media is abundant. “Save a tree—don’t print!”; “Print is bad for the environment!”; or “Print is killing the forests!” We’ve all heard statements such as these. The truth is print is recyclable, renewable, and responsible. Let’s examine the facts.

Print and Recycling
87% of all Americans have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs. Of all printed materials in the U.S., 63% are recycled, and this number keeps growing as recycling becomes more popular. Print is renewable and sustainable Trees are a renewable resource; we are not going to use up all the trees for paper. Most of the trees used in paper are grown on “tree farms” as a crop, just like corn or wheat.

Print is Responsible
Only 11% of the world’s forests are used for paper. “Waste products,” such as wood chips, sawmill scraps, and recycled paper, provide the bulk of the fiber for making paper.

More Factoids
Print isn’t going away. It’s not a matter of turning on your iPad instead of reading a magazine. Both the magazine and the iPad are going to be around. Considering these facts, listed below, about the effectiveness of print, you can be environmentally responsible while making print.

  • Seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to receive mail for new product announcements or offers from companies they do business with compared to 18% who would rather receive e-mail (International Communications research survey).
  • A catalog lead costs $47.61 while e-mail comes in at $53.85 per lead, and, furthermore, the response rate to direct mail has consistently been three times higher than the response rate from e-mails (Direct Marketing Association 2011 Statistical Fact Book).
  • Nearly 90% of consumers say they want to receive sales and promotions via direct mail and find offers in the newspaper (Nielsen Research). Consumers in the 18–34 year-old demographic prefer to learn about marketing offers via postal mail and newspapers rather than through online sources such as media sites (Finding the Right Channel Combination: What Drives Channel Choices, icom, a division of Epsilon Marketing).
  • Seventy percent of Americans enjoy reading printed magazines even though they know they could find most of the same information online (State of the Media Democracy, Deloitte Research, March 2011).
  • Seventy-five percent of college students prefer a printed textbook when taking a class, and 53% of college students would not consider buying digital textbooks even if they were available (Student Watch 2010, National Association of College Stores).

You can tell pretty easily if your printer is green. She is up to your standards if she operates like you do. For instance, do you recycle paper, metal, and plastic at home or at your job? So should your printer. When it is time to get rid of old electronics, do you take them to a designated recycling place? So should your printer. Do you work in a leed-certified building? Your printer doesn’t either, I bet. Responsible choices are easy to make. Confirm your printer and all your vendors are doing their part.

Certifications
Environmental certifications are a way to display the environmental practices a company follows. Some of these certifications refer to a Chain-of-Custody (coc). You can look at the websites of each of these organizations to get more information. It’s easy to take people’s word that they are “the best” or “the leading” or “the largest.” What’s more important is deciding whether what they do is in line with your clients’— and your — values. Bear in mind that in some of the more obscure certifications, the foxes are watching the hen house, so to speak.

chain_of_custody

Chain-of-Custody Certifications
Forest Stewardship Council (fsc) (printer must be certified) “The Forest Stewardship Council mission is to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests.” There are several types of FSC logos, one if 100% of the product comes from FSC sources, one for 100% recycled paper that contains at least 95% fiber that is Pcw (Post-Consumer Waste), and various Mixed Source logos. (Mixed Source is when a product contains one or more of the following: FSC-certified fiber, recycled fiber, or controlled wood fiber.)

You must use the logo of the printer who will print the piece to maintain chain-of-custody, and the logo must be printed in 378 green or black. The printer’s FSC number is visible on the logo. Positive, negative, black, white, portrait, and landscape versions of each logo are available. The FSC label cannot be used with another label. Your client must choose which system he is following. www.fscus.org

Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) “SFI Inc. is a fully independent, charitable organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management.” Your printer must be certified to the SFI standard to use an SFI label. SFI has two main types of product labels: SFI Chain of Custody (includes certified forest content) and the SFI Certified Sourcing.

Sustainable Green Printing Partnership “The mission of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership is to encourage and promote participation in the worldwide movement to reduce environmental impact and increase social responsibility of the graphic communications industry through certification and continuous improvement of sustainability and best practices within manufacturing operations.”

This organization is relatively new and has a limited number of members. www.sgppartnership.org

I hope this information makes you more confident about advising your clients about environmentally friendly choices. If you’ve got a story about recycled paper or certifications and logo usage, please share it with us!

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