Observations: Greening Up This Time of Year — The Commercial Point of View
Here we are on the cusp of spring, with the St Patrick's Day holiday imminent and the equinox on its heels. What better time to think about a few things "green" in our industry, even if that term’s usage is a bit metaphoric?
I've been thinking about the continuing "green" trend in our part of the printer industry. The Observer has covered this in its many forms for some time now, with the 2010 Lyra Imaging Symposium devoting a major session to the topic as well. The range of green subjects has included the more environmentally-conscious "reuse, reduce, and recycle" emphasis on the device and supplies side, the energy-savings component with OEM suppliers providing more efficient printers, and the role of software and managed print services (MPS) in reducing print volumes and printing what remains more efficiently.
But what about the folks up-market in the printing business? Are the print-for-pay folks feeling the same pressures from customers, competitors and (at least potential) regulators, to "green up?" Is there harmony and/or conflict between our end of the business, i.e. home and office-oriented printing, and graphics-arts and commercial printing?
To help answer my questions, I had an opportunity to talk with Gail Nickel-Kailing, one of the key opinion leaders in that end of the business, about some of these very topics. As you will see, she provides some great perspective on when and why the high end of printing can be “greener” than our end of the market and why they are concerned about a range of issues we do not cover very often. Acknowledging, too, that the overlap between vendors is quite high (HP and Xerox come to mind), there are some key differences too.
Lyons: Gail, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts with me and the Observer. Can you state some of the biggest elements of the green printing trend, from the perspective of the markets you cover? And can you clarify that last part, i.e. which markets do you cover?
Nickel-Kailing: The market segments in the graphic-arts industry that I follow most closely are equipment manufacturers, production-scale and office equipment, and paper and ink suppliers. Let’s start with paper and ink suppliers because they seem to be most visible across our industry and in the corporate market. I see three key trends in this space.
• Certified and recycled paper: The major vendors have been consistently increasing the amount of recycled content in their papers until the standard is around 30 percent, and we’re seeing a number of brands going to 100 percent. Even coated papers have reached levels exceeding 10 percent recycled content. While merchants and mills may have just one of the three certifications because their fiber comes from specific forests, printers recently have upped their certification to two or three. The major external cost of certification is the auditor, and because the three certifying bodies follow similar guidelines, it is not much more costly to get three rather than justone. Paper mills/merchants are providing many more resources, tools and services to designers to encourage the use of their products, including the certified and recycled papers. Office paper merchants and big-box stores are offering copier/desktop printer papers with 30 percent, 50 percent and 100 percent recycled content.
• Vegetable/bio-based and low VOC inks: Ink manufacturers are beginning to offer more water-based and vegetable/bio-based inks. NAPIM, the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, last year developed a certification program for inks containing high amounts of bio-derived renewable content (BRC). Seventeen ink manufacturers have registered 140 brands of inks with BRC indices ranging from 20 to 90.
• Recyclability of printed pieces: At drupa 2008, the question of recyclability of ink jet printed pages was raised and has been drawing comment ever since. The crux of the issue is how deeply embedded is the ink in the fibers. Toner—both wet and dry—and inks cured by a variety of means, including UV and IR, are considered by some to be more easily de-inked than ink jet inks. The larger issue however is finishing of printed products. Most foils and laminates will push printed pieces from the recyclable to non-recyclable categories. Designers need to “design for end of life” when creating printed promotional pieces.
When I look at printing equipment manufacturers—of printers and presses—they seem to fall into three groups: those who offer production-scale equipment, those who offer office/desktop equipment, and those who offer both. Overall, the key trends appear to be in two categories: production and distribution of equipment and use of the equipment.
“Design for environment” has long been a strategy for manufacturers headquartered in Europe, particularly Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, where environmental laws have been in place for decades. Minimized packaging, recyclability of parts, and alternative energy in production plants—these strategies have been or are now being implemented. Companies based in the U.S., like HP and Xerox are adopting many of those strategies, for competitive and economic reasons.
Office/desktop equipment manufacturers are building double-sided printing options into lower tier models, including energy efficiency such as “auto off”/sleep modes, and offering recycling of all or part of the machine. Take back programs are becoming more popular, possibly reflecting European influences where equipment must be taken back by manufacturers for recycling or reuse.
Lyons: Please describe your publications, their target audiences, focusing (especially) the Going Green newsletter.
Nickel-Kailing: I’ve been an editor and contributor to WhatTheyThink for eight years, since February 2002. And as a journalist and analyst, I write for a range of printed graphic-arts trade publications in the U.S. and Canada. WhatTheyThink subscribers and members are primarily printers (across all processes); equipment manufacturers; paper, ink and consumables suppliers; software vendors; and graphic and package designers.
Beginning in April 2008, WhatTheyThink launched the Going Green blog/Web site to provide more in-depth coverage and more resources for our readers as they look to become more sustainable companies. The weekly Going Green newsletter—a compendium of the top stories from the Going Green site—has been growing consistently since we launched it as a bi-weekly publication in May 2008 and went to weekly in May 2009.
Going Green is much more than a newsletter or a blog; on the site you will find a running list of events across a wide range of subjects (see the Events page). We might have a webinar on paper, a seminar on solar power, and a conference on green package design listed one right after the other. A recent seminar on Water Footprinting and Availability Risk Management was an especially interesting topic.
There is an extensive list of books on the Reading List that is a great reference for companies researching how they should “go green” and learn more about what other companies have done. The list ranges from classics like Natural Capitalism and Cradle to Cradle to newly published books like The Responsibility Revolution and Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. Now that I think of it, sounds like things are heating up!
Lyons: Do you see any conflicts between the world of home/desktop/office/workgroup printing and the graphics arts market in their “green” approaches? What about the idea that “taking away pages” by going short-run and digital helps prevent waste but also takes away volume from the graphics-arts side of things? How could/should the markets be uniting or working together on this?
Nickel-Kailing: Manufacturers that sell both production equipment and office equipment need to be careful that they don’t position one or the other printing process as more “green.” There needs to be a balance between the convenience of having a small office printer in every office and funneling all print projects through a central printing service. Print jobs that can be merged into a production stream, that is, those that are not extremely short and needed for immediate use, can be “greener” as a result of the benefits of scale.
Higher volume production printing can take advantage of more efficient energy use, volume purchases of paper and, perhaps, purchases of paper with a higher percentage of recycled content. Toner and ink delivered in larger quantities is also less expensive. The use of desktop printers is extremely profitable for manufacturers who also sell the consumables. Small volume ink jet ink delivered through desktop printers has been calculated to be one of the most expensive fluids available, selling for hundreds of dollars an ounce. The equipment manufacturers should be partnering with paper companies to encourage the use of hard copy only when necessary. Studies have shown that a vast majority of print coming off desktop printers is “print/view/toss;” the user simply prints for convenience. Printing on both sides is especially important, but “print onlywhen needed” is even more so.
Reflecting on Nickel-Kailing’s remarks, there are definitely some lessons to be learned and cautions to be heeded. Just as she credits European green sensibilities for setting the pace for the rest of the world when it comes to trends in energy efficiency and product take-back, perhaps our end of the industry can learn from the higher end of the market. Two examples include forging closer ties to the office paper providers and higher awareness of which inks and toners on paper lead to the easiest recycling. And that “print/view/toss” paradigm has been a bit of a quiet but volume-building secret of the business and its long-term “distribute and print” usage model— perhaps it’s not such a secret any more?