Understanding planet-first design for print

A new book with detailed information on suppliers and techniques for sustainable printing has been released by Park Communications.

Environmental printer Park Communications has released a sustainable print guide for the industry, drawing on its 30 years of experience as well as consulting with relevant suppliers.

“We felt that there isn’t really a reference guide out there on how to make print sustainable, and therefore there was a real opportunity”, says Alison Branch, managing director of Park Communications.

Park, which is part of the Graphius group, works with a wide range of magazines – such as i-D, Kinfolk, Dropped and Port.

The guide was designed by Somerhill Studio using sustainable processes, and written with frequent collaborator Navigate B2B.

The company has been developing its sustainable practices for some time – winning Print Week’s Environmental Printer of the Year award “9 or 10 times out of the past 12 or 13 years”. Branch notes that she has been fielding increasing requests from customers and saw a “real opportunity” to provide further advice.

Aimed at “anybody involved in print design and production”, from “agencies, publishers, independent magazines”, Branch explains that Park also conceives of it as a “reference guide that designers take out to their clients”, as well as being useful for students and education. “We get a lot of interest on sustainability from those areas, so we’re anticipating that some of the university libraries will be very interested”, she says.

How was the information compiled?

Branch explains that Park’s knowledge on sustainable printing has been built over the years, and that even its name is a nod to emphasise this element of its work.

“We wanted to be sustainable, so we have a facility that is carbon neutral, runs on green energy and we recycle all our waste. The next logical step for us was to share some of our experience with our customers”, Branch says.

Park has previously shared this knowledge on its blog, providing advice for customers “on how they could make their products more sustainable” as well as “how some of their competitors were using sustainability”, she says.

In order to ensure the published guide was comprehensive, however, the team also went out to wider suppliers such as paper manufacturers, foiling, ink and binding specialists, as well a recycling company Park works with, compiling their knowledge and products for the guide.

In addition, to “understand what might be appreciated by customers “, Branch consulted with Jeremy Leslie, founder of London-based specialist magazine shop Magculture, where the guide will also be sold, Branch explains.

What are the main issues?

When asked what the main issues in making print sustainable, Branch demurs slightly. “I guess the first one is that actually it’s not so straight forward, there are a lot of different choices you can make”, she says.

To demystify the process, the publication has a section titled Anatomy of a sustainably printed product, featuring an infographic as a “quick-reference guide for the key design choices made in every print production, and how they impact on sustainability”.

Inevitably, cost remains a challenge when tackling sustainability, particularly for indie publications, Branch explains. “If you wish to have a recycled paper, even a standard one is 30% more expensive than a normal SSC paper, virgin fibre”, she says.

Alternative fibres and recycled paper

One of the prompts for the project was the interest expressed by clients in a list of recycled paper options. Park decided to include a “paper finder tool” at the back of the book, comparing the qualities of different papers in one table.

“We went out to talk to all of the paper suppliers, like Fedrigoni, G. F. Smith, Denmaur, and Antalis, and asked them to provide all their interesting materials to give summaries” Branch says.

Sorted into standard, mid-range and premium price brackets, the tool compares different paper’s qualities, both in terms of aesthetic and feel. It lists factors such as colour availability, coating, the feel of the paper from rough to smooth, and whether flecks of impurities from the recycling process are visible, against sustainability factors, such as the percentage of recycled or non-paper content and the materials involved.

In addition, the guide also focuses on some of the materials, such as G.F. Smith’s paper made using seaweed-based material Notpla. or papers from Favini that variously reuse food waste, wool and leather residues.

On the other hand, growth in the virgin fibre paper industry over the last 15-20 years, Branch claims, “has resulted in an increase in forest area and that’s the size of Switzerland. So there’s all that carbon being absorbed and all that oxygen being emitted”.

Creative sustainable solutions

However, there are a number of options to choose how you balance cost and sustainability, Branch explains. “You might choose not to have the recycled paper but enable yourself to have a creative choices [elsewhere], such as an emboss, which doesn’t use any plastic”, she adds.  Overall, Branch says, the right choices can mean designers can be sustainable without added costs: “that’s the important thing we wanted to convey”, she says.

The paper finder tool was informed by conversations with the involved suppliers.

The book looks to correct other misconceptions, such as the fact that the process known as foiling “are not actually metallic… they’re actually a very thin layer of plastic”, Branch says. It also offers suggestions for more environmentally friendly alternatives to popular design elements, such as substituting a cellulose-based translucent paper for a plastic overlay, and aqueous coatings for hydrocarbon-based varnishes and seals or using embossing or die cutting.

“It does require an understanding of a range of choices, which is where the guide and hopefully a proactive printer, will come in”, she says.

Remaining informed and transparent

She notes that an added challenge is that “processes are changing all the time”.

Meanwhile, “each customer has their own priorities”, she says, with some preferring to focus on reducing plastic use, while others will be more concerned with the carbon footprint, she adds.

“We are wanting to be better and better, so we need to have suppliers who share our commitment to the environment and are transparent and are constantly looking for improvements”.

Being informed and able to offer transparency is also important for Park’s clients to offer their own customers in turn she explains, as “for a credible, sustainable brand, there needs to be transparency”.

According to Park, the guide was produced using a variety of sustainable practices. It was manufactured using 100% offshore wind electricity from the UK, printed with vegetable oil-based inks and uses Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper. 95% of the press chemicals will be recycled for further use and 99% of any waste associated will be recycled, with the remaining 1% used to generate energy.

The guide is available to buy in printed form and can also be downloaded for free from Park Communications.











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