Green Printing

Green Printing: Defining Sustainability for Print

A survival skill for successful printers.

When the mid-00s' brought 'green' everything into vogue, one of the buzzwords du jour was 'sustainability.' And it's a term that still gets thrown around a lot, but it's rarely properly defined.

People first started to talk about sustainability in regards to environmentalism in the 1950s and 60s. It was that long ago when experts in ecology started to say, “hey, we can't consume as much as we do, and create as much waste as we do, and continue to live comfortably on planet Earth.”

Sustainability, then, became the core of an idea that we had to manage our resources in such a way that life could go one, so that future generations could have a good – or ideally, better – quality of life than we have today. As Wikipedia says in one of its more poetic moments, “Sustainability, in a broad sense, is the capacity to endure.”

While sustainable living isn't entirely about adopting practices that are good for the environment, the two are very closely linked. We can succeed – as people, as business, as nations – only insofar as we can continue to supply ourselves with the resources we need to maintain our health and livelihood. Even those who most firmly reject the claims of environmental alarmists should be able to agree that a growing population and diminishing resource pool requires some planning and action on our part.

How do all these lofty ideas apply to the printing industry? It's simple. For the last fifty years, printing, and pulp and paper, in particular, has been under serious fire for being one of the most environmentally taxing industries on the planet. The chemicals used in, and waste created by, printing has heavy environmental consequences, and the more we print, the more severe those consequences become.

And so the industry had to ask itself: how can we transform ourselves into the kind of business that's going to be a vital part of the new millennium?

The answer was to start thinking sustainably, and that meant thinking about how we could learn to get along with the environment. In order to ensure a steady supply of the resources required for the printing process to endure indefinitely, we had to begin to consume thoughtfully, and to reduce and manage waste carefully.

The results of this decision have become apparent over the last decade. Printers began to work with paper manufacturers to use recycled paper, and paper from farmed trees planted specifically to replace what was being used. We also began to focus on removing chemicals from the printing process, replacing them with water, as well as soy and vegetable-based compounds. We began to look at ways that printing houses could save energy and cut down on fuel costs through the use of alternative energy technology, and by working with local suppliers.

Many printers even focus on reducing their environmental footprint in other areas of life in order to offset the impact of their profession. Arranging our lives mindfully today to ensure prosperity in the long run has, particularly since 2006, become standard printing practice.

The funny thing is that many people who see the words 'sustainable printer,' automatically connect the term to a flaky hug-a-tree agenda, or assume that sustainability in printing is just another 'green' sales pitch. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For the printing industry, sustainability is synonymous with smart, tough, future-thinking business practices. And it doesn't just apply to our relationship with the environment, it applies to every aspect of how we keep our printshops running – through changing technology, through economic recession, through the rise of the blog and the banner ad – we endure.

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