Minimum impact

Printing and paper are central to the working lives of many designers, but both are unavoidably polluting. What can be done to ensure collateral environmental damage is kept to a minimum? Caroline Clark provides a guide to best practice

‘It’s hard to escape the fact that print is, fundamentally, a pretty mucky business. Trees are chopped down and treated with all sorts of nasty chemicals and turned into paper, then that’s covered in ink and transported to the client – and all that before the stuff’s thrown away and the whole process starts again.’ So said Josh Brooks, writing in Print Week almost two years ago.

If you’ve looked at all the options, and print is the only effective solution, then following this guide to Green paper and print will make a difference for your project.

Like many industries, printing uses enormous amounts of energy and chemicals. It also consumes vast amounts of water, paper, aluminium and plastics. The environmental issues are:

Collectively, printers consume a huge amount of energy, contributing to global warming

Print uses large quantities of water, the only exception being water-less printing

Print generates high levels of waste, from toxic chemicals to wooden pallets. Much of this can be recycled, but still ends up in landfill

Chemicals and solvents are used mainly for cleaning and for film and plate production. Environmental concerns centre around their safe use and disposal


Don’t take your printer’s word that it’s Green – look for the following:

  • EMAS sets the highest standards in printing of all of the environmental management schemes
  • ISO14001 is the main scheme used by printers. It centres on ongoing monitoring and continual improvement, meaning that the longer a printer has been on the scheme, the more progress it should have made
  • Forest Stewardship Council certification is based on tracking fibre from forest to printer, thus ensuring that there is no contamination between FSC and non-FSC material. It is not about environmental standards maintained within the factory
  • Carbon neutral is not necessarily an indication of environmental performance. It can simply be bought through offsetting schemes without the printer actually doing anything to reduce its carbon footprint


How many inks can it run?
An eight-colour job on a five-colour press means two press runs, doubling up on resources used and waste created

What inks does it use?
All sheet-fed litho printers use vegetable-oil based inks, so this isn’t an indicator of how Green a printer is

Does it use CTP (computer-to-plate) technology?
This eliminates the need for film and, therefore, the chemicals used in film processing

Does it use process-less plates?
These go straight to press without any intermediate steps, eliminating chemical processing

Does it use low- or no-alcohol products?
Alcohol evaporates, releasing volatile organic compounds which can affect the health of workers and contribute to smog

Does it use water-less technology?
This eliminates the need for water and alcohol Does it use renewable energy?


Involve your printer at the beginning of the project. It can advise you on the most cost- and waste-efficient formats

Avoid reprints – make sure your job is properly proofed, checked and overseen throughout, and that includes the finishing processes. Dummies are essential, however simple the job


Paper takes many forms, and the chemicals and energy used in its manufacture, and the by-products it creates, all vary

Ancient forests are still logged for paper, destroying entire natural eco-systems and even causing flooding and soil erosion. They are sometimes cleared to make way for intensively managed plantations, which are no substitute for ancient forest which has been shaped by natural events over thousands of years. The UK is the world’s third largest importer of illegal timber, according to the World Wildlife Fund

The pulp and paper industry is the world’s fifth-largest industrial consumer of energy, according to the Worldwatch Institute Water

Paper production uses large amounts of water, but it uses less if it is recycled within the factory

Pollutants and waste
While waste treatment has improved in recent years, many mills still release a variety of pollutants. Some of these are greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. Others affect the immediate surroundings that local people and wildlife rely on, contributing to air pollution, acid rain and the degradation of freshwater and marine ecosystems

The Local Government Association says that ‘unless the ways of people and business change, then the UK will run out of landfill space in less than nine years’. That was two years ago


This is when the end product has reached the consumer, been used and then recycled. It has had at least one useful life and is, therefore, the most environmentally beneficial

Also known as post-industrial waste, this describes printers’ waste, such as off-cuts and unused copies which may have been over-ordered

Although not 100 per cent watertight, the Forest Stewardship Council is widely agreed to be the best certification scheme available. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification Schemes is also a good scheme, but is said to be less stringent. Treat anything else that claims to be from sustainable forestry with caution. Please note that to use the FSC logo on your product you must also use an FSC-certified printer

Use 100 per cent recycled paper (preferably post-consumer waste) to be sure your paper has not harmed any forest environment.

Otherwise, a mixture, or, if using virgin fibre, FSC certification ensures that your paper doesn’t come from illegal sources.

Recycled paper diverts waste from our overflowing landfill sites. It provides a market for paper waste in the UK and encourages recycling. In general, its production requires less energy and fewer chemicals than virgin fibre

Paper weight

Avoid specifying heavier paper than is necessary. It may seem obvious, but 200gsm paper uses double the amount of wood fibre as 100gsm paper For a list of Greener papers, see paperfinder.htm

See the WWF Guide to Buying Paper for a detailed guide


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