Follow the green light
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
20 September 2012
Now's a good time to follow the road to greener practices
People are still asking me whether or not they should go to EcoPrint. I don't have a crystal ball, and nor am I involved in organising the event in any way, but my thoughts are this: if you don't go you won't find out whether or not there is anything to see, digest or learn.
Becoming more environmentally aware means different things to different people. To the man on the Clapham omnibus, his contribution is probably to cut down on the use of carrier bags from the supermarket, and put as much waste out for recycling as is endured by the local council. For businesses, green issues are now becoming ever more topical across all sectors, from emissions through to carbon footprint and on to waste.
Because it is quantifiable and can be handled, used and weighed, the use of print dangles a cogent statistic at which people can point the finger and ask questions about sustainability. Nowhere is this more evident than in packaging, the one area which can't ever be superseded by electronic media, with advertising and promotional materials also ranking high in the visibility stakes. And these three areas of production are common elements where digital print is being used increasingly.
For print service providers who rely on the graphic arts industry for their living, there is a sharp dichotomy when it comes to deciding whether endless day-to-day production is good or bad for the environment. The assumption that using paper or petroleum-based materials can only cause the world more harm isn't necessarily true, but it's associating processes with greater sustainability that tends to cause confusion.
Add into the mix attitudes towards CSR (corporate social responsibility), legislative measures and pressure from consumers and industry at large, and it isn't difficult to see how myths and legends get tangled up with reality. Trying to unknot the facts from the fiction isn't easy; working out your own carbon footprint is tricky and assessing how green your business’s practices are in reality tends to be even more difficult.
But finding somewhere with a congregation of like-minded souls hasn't really been possible until EcoPrint came along. Formerly, PSPs felt perfectly within their rights by proclaiming that no-one really understood the fundamentals of digital print, so it was impossible to attach the right levels of environmental responsibility to their businesses. People might think that they're working to their best of their abilities to be sustainable, but how do they really know? Well, the truth is that they don't; they can only be guided by proclamations from manufacturers and suppliers that their ink is greener, this material can be recycled and that machine uses lower energy levels. What people want, what they expect and what can really be achieved is difficult to define, but EcoPrint gives its visitors a starting point from which to glean information and, hopefully, to adapt working practices in the quest to become more environmentally responsible.
Larger organisations might be in the position to contract in knowledgeable coves who can advise on environmental and CSR issues; smaller enterprises often don't have the resources or, dare I say it, the incentive to find and digest impartial advice that will assist them on the road to sustainability. Eco issues are not down to one aspect of production or management, either; rather they are cumulative so that processes and practices need to be complementary without one environmental initiative cancelling out another.
Encouraged by the shift of the larger brands to take sustainability seriously, along with increased consumer pressure, the effects of greener working should mushroom naturally to encompass supply channels. Printed products have a tendency to rate highly as a sector where the finger is often pointed when blame is apportioned for waste. It's accountable and usually has a finite life cycle so, whether it's fair or not, it's easy for it to be singled out.
Sustainability isn't just down to cost; new technologies are gearing themselves in the right direction, too, just as common sense plays a role. We are learning that print is one industry where opportunities abound for greener criteria with fewer (and kinder) chemicals, a greater choice of recyclable and recycled materials, and inks and printing machines which don't chuck out VOCs and other nasties into the atmosphere.
Ironically, the tough economy is now proving to be the catalyst which is making companies think greener. Hopping on a plane to Berlin won't help your carbon footprint, but what you can discover while you're at EcoPrint certainly will.
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