Print is a significant part of design work – and designers’ incomes – yet specifying sustainable paper is an eco minefield. Simon Creasey looks at how designers can fulfil their Green aspirations without compromising quality
On the face of it, Greening your print should be a straightforward process. You find a printer with a Green accreditation, specify recycled paper, and voilà – a Green project. The reality is not so easy, although the good news is that, with proper preparation, designers can ease the burden of going Green.
To ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible, it is important to know how Green you want your final product to be. For example, the benefits of specifying recycled paper could be lost if the amount of lamination used renders the final product unrecyclable. One leading international glossy magazine recently committed the environmental faux pas of using pressure-sensitive glue – incredibly troublesome when it gets into the recycling chain – in its annual Green issue.
Also, although vegetable-based inks are, on the surface, less damaging to the environment than petroleum-based printing inks, they can be manufactured from genetically-modified crops, which solves one environmental problem but raises another.
Once you have set out your environmental parameters, a good starting point for any Green piece of print is the paper, which can account for up to 60 per cent of the total cost of a typical print job. In the UK we consume 4.6 million tonnes of graphics paper annually, yet it has the lowest recycling rate of all paper grades, with 81 per cent destined for landfill or incineration.
Despite such a small amount going back into the recycling chain, there are lots of graphics paper grades available with high recycled fibre content that is derived from either pre- or post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste is typically waste from the printer, such as off-cuts or unused copies, and some take the view that only the use of post-consumer waste should be promoted for recycling purposes.
Historically, there have been concerns about the quality of recycled paper, but day products are up to the job, according to Tim Barker, environmental manager for paper merchant Robert Horne Group.
‘Some recycled products are virtually indistinguishable from their 100 per cent virgin fibre counterparts, and advances in papermaking technology and improved sorting have greatly contributed to the high- quality recycled products available today,’ he says.
Designers concerned that they will have to compromise on texture and colour choices when specifying recycled should fear not, as there are many creative papers available, which have excellent environmental content – some of these are even carbon neutral, such ‹ as Robert Horne’s Revive 75 CarbonNeutral range. A number of carbon-neutral options have appeared in the past 12 months and – although the carbon assessment method applied to these products can vary, which makes a direct comparison between products difficult – they are becoming increasingly popular.
An important consideration when it comes to specifying paper – whether it be recycled or carbon neutral – is evaluating its Green claims. ‘We recommend that when designers promote the Green credentials of the paper chosen on the final product, they ensure that any claims are clear, accurate and can be substantiated to avoid allegations of Greenwash,’ advises Barker.
To assist in this area, schemes are available that provide assurances regarding the source of the paper, the most widely recognised being the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Paper bearing a forest certification logo, such as FSC or PEFC, guarantees that the fibre originated from a forest managed according to the relevant standards.
There are currently just shy of 170 printers on the FSC’s international database, not including those certified under a group scheme, but designers should be aware that there is a common misuse of the council’s logo within the print sector, often through ignorance of the tight rules surrounding the FSC trademark.
‘Many printers are not aware that they need to have FSC Chain of Custody certification in order to use the trademarks on FSC-certified paper,’ says David Gask, managing director of Leicester-based Green printing outfit Polar Print Group. ‘Sadly, there are some printers that are aware of the rules but still try to make claims such as “This paper is sourced from an FSC-certified paper mill”, when the paper itself might not even be FSC-certified, let alone the print.’
But, for every unscrupulous printer, there are dozens that have made substantial investments in technology to ensure that their production processes are as Green as possible. For example, Polar recently collaborated with press manufacturer KBA to ensure that its new press is carbon-balanced.
To avoid getting caught out by bogus Green claims, designers need to think long and hard about the printer they choose. Jo Ragozzino, print manager at London-based social marketing communications agency Forster, suggests a checklist of questions for potential print partners.
‘Are they ISO 14001- and FSC-accredited, do they have flexible print options in-house to avoid unnecessary transportation, and do they back up ethical schemes like charity donations with the basic Green rules, such as using 100 per cent vegetable-based inks and recycling all print waste?’ says Ragozzino. ‘And, of course, you have to ask the ultimate question: does this need to be printed or can it work just as effectively in a digital format?’
Like all sustainable options, Green printing is not always the cheapest or the easiest choice, but to create the mainstream change in behaviour needed, the industry needs to get into a mindset committed to change.
Most designers working with print now think along Green lines. Where possible, they consider sustainable paper sources, they understand FSC standards, and pre- and post-consumer waste is part of their vocabulary. Many also consider the eco-friendliness of spot varnish, pressure-sensitive glue, totally chlorine-free papers, local suppliers and the GM implications of vegetable-based inks. Some are weighing up digital alternatives to both conventional lithoprint technologies (still only an option for short runs) and even print itself (although this may only ever be viable for some applications).
Even those with the best eco intentions may not be able to include all these elements all of the time, but as Sea Design director Bryan Edmondson puts it, ‘We make our best effort.’
Sea Design has recently created the identity and promotional work for a new range of eco papers from GF Smith. The London paper merchant is now offering a variety of weight and colour supplies from the US paper mill Mohawk, a facility in upstate New York with impeccable environmental credentials. Not only does it use sustainable sources, but it is also powered by wind turbine rather than fossil fuels.
The process began back in 2005, when the firm started using 45 million kilowatt hours of wind power annually to run its two mills in New York and one in Ohio. That made it the second largest wind power user, behind only the massive Johnson & Johnson healthcare products group.
Edmondson stresses that even designers committed to the Green cause still need evidence of printabilty on paper projects, something Sea Design has demonstrated with its GF Smith promotional book. Edmondson adds that this project incurred no greater expenditure than most projects, and describes the print costs as ‘average’, although he admits the company has spent considerable time on ‘thinking and planning’.