Green Printing, Sustainable Printing…

…call it what you want, it's here to stay!

Right-wing pundits love to position environmentalism and eco-consciousness as a sort of left-wing conspiracy, or worse, as a fad topic that will pass as quickly as it came. According to these trend-forecasting geniuses, environmental stewardship is totally 2006, and is going the way of the dodo as fast at Leo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour is hitting the DVD racks.

Not so in the printing industry, friends, not so.

Being ecologically concerned and committed is anything but a fad. Turning printing into a sustainable industry is synonymous with developing sustainable solutions for our planet's future, which is why Hotcards is constantly looking for ways to reduce its environmental footprint. Until now, we haven't talked about it a lot here on the site, mostly because we just considered it another part of everyday business, but from now on, we'll be spending a lot more time on the subject.

This is a difficult subject, because the printing process may never be 100% environmentally friendly. The fact is that all uses of the earth's natural resources are taxing. However, by constantly working to reduce our footprint, we can make an enormous difference, and when it comes to developing greener, more sustainable printing methods, there's no shortage of areas in which to make a positive impact.

It is key to the success of green printing that we consider every aspect of what is know as “the product life cycle.” During any product's life cycle, it uses up water, electricity, and raw materials, while generating air pollution, water pollution, and other forms of waste. This is not just true for printed materials, but also for building materials, technology, clothing, food, and just about everything else that we consider to be the necessities of life.

Some of the environmentally impactful steps in the life cycle of a printed product are:

  • Harvesting wood, whether from natural forest or tree farms.
  • The paper milling process.
  • The shipment of paper to printers, stores, and businesses.
  • The design of print advertising.
  • The handling and storage of printing materials.
  • The platemaking process.
  • The use of inks in the printing process.
  • Cleaning and maintaining print machinery.
  • Processing waste from the printing method in use.
  • The shipment of printed materials.
  • The disposal of printed materials.

As the green printing industry grows, we are constantly developing new and better methods for dealing with every stage of this life cycle responsibly. As of yet, there is no etched-in-stone standard for what qualifies as 'green printing,' but maybe this is for the best, as it keeps printers innovating and competing for the title of industry leader.

Just a few of the major challenges facing green printers today are:

Recycling vs. Reusing: Sometimes, a printer has to have materials shipped across the country, or even from companies in the much more enviro-conscious European nations, in order to get that 100% recycled or chlorine-free paper. Great for the image, but what about the high environmental costs of shipping? Using paper with less recycled content, milled and shipped locally, considerably reduces the heavy environmental impact of transporting materials. Which of these strategies, then, is for the greater good?

Designing Green: What, exactly, is green print design? Is it design that encourages the use of recycled materials? Is it design that reduces the amount of material required for execution? Or is it design that creates a reusable print product that will be kept and enjoyed by recipients rather than converted into waste? Green design is all these things, but all these things are not always compatible, so which should we prioritize?

Cost vs. Benefit: The champions of green printing are always quick to say that the cost is only pennies more than the cost of conventional printing. However, this applies only when comparing eco-printers to the most costly conventional printers. As the price of green printing drops, so too does the price of regular printing. The question, then, becomes not one of how green printers can lower their prices, but how cheap printers can get green. Unfortunately, it's often the case that those who care the most about the environment are also those with the least money to make expensive eco-choices.

These issues may seem daunting, but at Hotcards, we like to think of them not as problems, but as challenges. Let us know what environmental challenges you see as impacting the printing industry, and we can work together to come up with creative, positive, and inexpensive solutions.


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