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Jan 10

Green Ways to Print

In the internet age, physical printing risks falling from grace as the less environmentally-friendly option. What can you do to make sure your printing is as green as possible?

Physical printing isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. Although the rise of the internet and e-readers appears to threaten paper versions of the same things, there is no real evidence that books, leaflets and other materials will become extinct any time soon. People just like holding real paper too much, and for some reason physical flyers and memos have an impact that virtual ones do not.

Paperless or wasteless offices?
Having said that, the environmental impact means that ‘paperless offices’ are an aspiration for many companies and that waste paper has become a more acute issue. The problems with paper are very real. Illegal logging and deforestation are two issues that have gained notoriety in recent years, but they aren’t the only ones. A lot of paper uses bleach and other chemicals that are then washed into the environment, and printing processes themselves aren’t always very environmentally friendly. Fortunately, there are several ways to make your printing greener, including adopting digital printing where possible and using companies that are members of the World Land Trust or Forestry Stewardship Council. Beyond these, the obvious solution is to make every sheet of paper count: it is not paper that is the problem, but waste paper.

Choose the right company
One of the biggest problems with printing is that you don’t always know where your paper is coming from. Whether they’re providing you with a handful of booklets or a huge run of flyer printing, most companies don’t specify their ethical standpoint on this. Unless they have thought carefully about it, there’s a good chance they have just gone for the cheapest option, all things being equal.

If you want to make sure your company supports sustainable logging and printing, look for a World Land Trust accreditation or Forestry Stewardship Council membership in their statement of values. Both of these organisations support the conservation of rainforests and other areas of environmental significance, ensuring that the paper that member companies use won’t affect these habitats. You can probably pay to use ethically-sourced paper with a regular company, but you should bear in mind that this will usually be a part of a wider strategy of sustainable energy use and other ethical practices, rather than simply a bolt-on extra offered to satisfy some environmentally-minded businesses.

Consider digital printing
Digital printing uses a different process to conventional printing, and doesn’t employ so many harmful chemicals (including aluminium, alcohol and VOCs). It is also possible to carry out smaller and more economical print runs, rather than having to produce huge runs of books or flyers, many of which will ultimately need to be thrown away or pulped.

Target your materials
As stated, the problem isn’t physical printing itself but waste paper. If every piece of paper printed was considered useful and retained, there wouldn’t be an issue. We just need to be more judicious in what we do print. The answer isn’t necessarily a paperless office: it’s one where paper is valued. Use emails instead of letters where you can, but don’t write off print altogether – just make sure each sheet has maximum effect. When undertaking a flyer printing campaign, for example, research your demographic and hone your material to reduce waste – and to give better ROI on your marketing budget.

These ideas are really just a starting point to working towards a greener printing policy. Digital printing, sustainable sourcing and careful targeting of resources are only first steps to transforming your company’s environmental and ethical impact. You will need to consider your relationships with suppliers, energy usage and flexible working practices and many other areas to complete the process.

This article was supplied by, suppliers of unbeatable quality digital printing, and a shortlisted company for this year’s industry leading Print Week Environmental Company of the Year 2011 award.

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