- Publishing & printing
Ed #13 Balance
Ed™ knows balance. Gas or electric? Paper or plastic? Print or digital?
Life is full of decisions, and that’s especially true when it comes to the issue of sustainability and the environment. Today, virtually everyone knows that the earth is experiencing climate change, that virtually all human activity is having an impact, and that to prevent negative long-term consequences, we must find new ways to live and to work.
That holds true for the graphic arts, too. Creating sustainable communications means looking at every step of the process, from the raw materials involved (and how they are processed) to what happens after the project reaches its audience. And the deeper you dig, the more complex the choices are. The only real constant is that everything is a tradeoff. Even e-communications have a significant environmental impact, with the energy required to power the Worldwide Web, manufacture computer equipment and the issues around disposal of obsolete technology. There really are no easy answers.
The bottom line: Designers can take more responsibility for ensuring that their projects are as sustainable as possible.
This is where Ed comes in. In this issue, Ed offers a big-picture view of sustainability in communications. Ed looks at the footprints of both print and electronic communications—their environmental costs and advantages—and ways to make the best use of both. All so you can make a bigger impact on your audience while reducing your impact on the environment.
Ed will never grow old, but some of the information in this issue is out of date.
Working sustainability. We all want to work in ways that reduce our impact on the environment. But how, besides throwing newspapers, catalogs and magazines into a recycling bin? There are many facts to consider and some are a bit of a surprise. Read on. Knowledge is power.
Sparked by widespread worries over climate change, governments, corporations and individuals are all looking for ways to reduce the impact their activities have on the environment. That group includes designers, printers and other graphic arts professionals. Whether specifying recycled paper with certified fiber, paying attention to the whole chain-of-custody, using different inks or purchasing carbon offsets, many in the industry are working to reduce the environmental consequences of communications.
Yet the fact remains that virtually every communications medium has an impact. For designers, the challenge is to find the right media mix for each project that maximizes sustainability. Often, that means looking beyond the obvious answers to compare the complex and related issues of sources, manufacturing, transportation, use, recycling and others.
How about with the paper the job is printed on? Everyone in the paper industry is proud to say that paper is renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. But many inside and outside the industry are also quick to point out that paper uses trees.
While it’s made of a number of fibers, including hemp, sugar cane, kenaf and, of course, recycled paper fibers, the vast majority of the world’s paper is made from trees. This is because trees contain more of the key ingredient, cellulose fiber, than most other sources.
But, for trees, the picture is not as bad as it may seem. In most of Europe and North America, paper manufacturers have long replaced the trees they harvested. And for every tree that is harvested in a managed forest, several more are planted or generated naturally. According to the USDA Forest Service, about 4 million trees are planted daily in the United States, 1.7 million of that total by the wood and paper industries1, and the total acreage of forest land remains stable.
What’s more, paper is one of the most recycled products used in the United States. The total recovery rate for all paper in the United States was more than 57 percent, about 340 pounds per capita, and 38 percent of the fiber used in the U.S. for paper production comes from recovered sources. That’s good, because compared to using 100 percent virgin fiber, paper made with 30 percent recovered fiber requires 10 percent less energy to manufacture. It also produces 25 percent less wastewater and 6 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. And each ton of 30 percent recycled paper conserves about 15 trees.2
Of course, not all paper is created equal. Much of the paper produced in eastern Europe, South America and Asia continues to be made from old-growth or primary forests that are not logged using sustainable practices. The result is deforestation, which results in loss of animal habitat, soil erosion and a number of other problems. To be truly sustainable, forestry practices must protect forest ecosystems and local peoples. Logging practices should minimize erosion and preserve animal habitats. Herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers should be used sparingly, if at all, and no fiber should come from areas that have high conservation value, unless harvesting is done in a way that protects that value.
1 Sustainable Forestry Initiative® Program
2 Environmental Defense Paper Calculator
To ensure that the paper you use comes from sustainable sources, talk to your printer and your NewPage representative. Ask for their recommendations. Look for paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). All three organizations track the chain-of-custody of raw materials, processed materials and products from the forest to the customer, to certify that they are harvested and manufactured using fiber from responsibly managed forests. Certified products are available for use in a wide range of applications, including office papers, books, newspapers, magazines, annual reports, even coffee cups.
Other organizations can also help you make the right choices. The Rainforest Alliance’s Smartwood program sets standards for sustainable forestry. The Green-e logo certifies the use of sustainable energy, including biomass. Green Seal certification indicates products and services, including printing and writing paper, that are produced using sustainable practices. The International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 14001 certification indicates that a company has developed a system to minimize the environmental impact of its operations and has a formal process to continuously improve its performance.
Bear in mind, the environmental cost of paper goes beyond the trees used to make it. Paper production has the single biggest environmental impact of any step in the print production process, mainly because converting logs into paper requires large amounts of energy. Often, that energy comes from coal-fired power plants—one reason why the paper industry emits the fourth-highest level of CO2 among all manufacturers.3
However, some paper manufacturers, including NewPage, also use hydroelectric power and large amounts of biofuels—bark, harvest residuals and byproducts of the manufacturing process. In fact, 54 percent of the energy used in NewPage mills is derived from biofuels, far more than the percentage used by society as a whole. And because a tree that dies and decays in the forest releases its CO2 just as if it were burned for fuel, the use of biofuels is considered climate neutral by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Over the past generation or so, paper mills have dramatically improved their environmental performance. One of the most significant changes has been the elimination of elemental chlorine from the bleaching process, referred to as elemental chlorine free (ECF). Findings showed that elemental chlorine reacted with organic compounds in the wood, which in turn led to trace dioxins in the mill’s effluent. Today, virtually all modern paper mills produce pulp that is ECF or EECF (enhanced elemental chlorine free). In addition, some mills have elected to eliminate all chlorine-containing compounds from the bleaching process by going totally chlorine free (TCF) and using other chemicals such as oxygen, peroxide or ozone. Since 1988, total North American paper industry dioxin emissions have been cut by 92 percent.4
3 U.S. Energy Information Agency
What goes into your paper is important, and so is what goes on it. Printing inks also leave environmental footprints of various sizes. Until recently, almost all inks were made from petroleum. As these inks dry, alcohol and petroleum evaporate and release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), adding to air pollution. To control VOC emissions, many printers have switched to different ink technologies.
Vegetable-based inks replace petroleum with soy, corn, walnut, linseed or coconut oils, or other materials. Vegetable inks reduce or eliminate VOCs and allow presses to be cleaned with water-based cleaners, which further reduces environmental impacts. They are also easier to de-ink from paper than conventional inks.
Today’s vegetable inks compare well with their petroleum-based counterparts in terms of rub-resistance and drying time. However, vegetable inks still require the use of fossil fuels and agricultural chemicals to grow the plants used to make them. And it’s important to look at the contents of each specific ink to make sure that it uses a high percentage of vegetable oil. Some only contain a small percentage of vegetable oil and are not much better than petroleum-based inks.
Ultraviolet, or UV, inks are dried by a beam of ultraviolet energy. UV inks score high in ink holdout, which makes them well suited for use with uncoated stocks and coated stocks with non-glare finishes such as dulls and mattes. But while their environmental impact is relatively low, the cost of UV inks is high, and not all printers have the specialized experience or equipment required to use them.
Ink manufacturers continue to introduce new and environmentally improved inks. Some new process-color inks can provide the same performance as conventional four-color inks with no petroleum solvents or VOCs.
Like paper and ink manufacturers, printers have also improved their environmental footprints. Much of the improvement comes from the use of advanced ventilation systems that capture the VOCs released as conventional inks and varnishes are dried.
Many printers have done much more. They are recycling solvents, collecting paper waste for sale to recyclers, recycling the aluminum found in printing plates and improving their processes to reduce spills and waste. There has been growing interest in the use of clean or renewable energy and in carbon offsets, which help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Some printers have obtained FSC or SFI certification. A number have earned ISO 14001 certification for their environmental management practices.
Another key issue in using paper is logistics. Transporting goods, especially heavy products like paper, requires significant amounts of energy, which should be factored into your sustainability decisions. Using a recycled paper is good, but not if it has to be transported halfway around the world. A typical ocean-borne container ship produces 1,190 lbs. of CO2 to transport one ton of cargo 7,000 miles.5
To be truly responsible, you should be looking at every aspect of the transportation associated with your project, from paper shipments and distribution to photo shoots and press OKs. Keep in mind that aircraft account for about 12 percent of all CO2 emissions in the United States, and ocean-borne ships are responsible for approximately three percent of all emissions worldwide.6
5 Philip White, Okala Manual
Surprised that the world hasn’t switched exclusively to e-communications? After all, electronic communication methods seem to promise to carry words and images to any location anywhere in the world with none of the environmental costs of print communications.
Yet while e-communications have grown over the past decades for a number of reasons, they have not made paper obsolete. In part, that’s because the electronic medium carries significant environmental impacts of its own, both in terms of the hardware needed to produce and process the communications, and the power needed to transmit and store them.
Let’s start with the desktop computer. Most are made of ingredients that are increasingly scarce, such as many used in flat-screen and other newer technologies, not to mention a host of materials classified as hazardous that have the potential for negative environmental impact. And the manufacturing of desktop computers involves energy-intensive production processes. One study says that the manufacturing of a computer and monitor weighing 53 pounds requires 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 50 pounds of chemicals and 3,330 pounds of water.6
The National Safety Council estimates that more than 63 million computers were disposed of in 2005, generating about three billion pounds of e-waste. When you take into account the fact that a computer monitor can pack up to seven pounds of lead, it’s not the kind of thing anyone wants to see going to our landfills and potentially leaching into the water table.
But going into our landfills they are. The United States now dumps between 200 and 300 million electronic items per year, and less than 20 percent are recycled. E-waste represents an estimated 25 percent of waste in U.S. landfills and 70 percent of toxic waste found there. It’s easy to see why—because computer processing power doubles roughly every two years, many old computers are simply being abandoned. In 2005, only two percent of the world’s discarded computers found their way to a second user.8
In addition, large amounts of e-waste are sent to China, India and Kenya, countries where environmental standards for disposal are lax. Unprotected workers in these countries, including children, are exposed to hazardous materials like mercury and lead in the process of burning electronics in search of copper and aluminum to resell.
8 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Keep in mind too that all communications media leave a carbon footprint. Making a CD or DVD, both of which are difficult to recycle at best, generates around 300 to 350 grams of CO2 per copy9, while printing a 100-page four-color annual report releases about 80 grams.10 Even Web-based communications have a carbon impact—both in terms of the electricity needed to power the computers involved and the metals, plastics and other materials that go into their construction.
Then there are data centers built to handle the rising flood of e-communications around the world. The power needed to heat, cool and power a data facility is enormous. According to the New York Times, data centers around the world consume more energy in one year than the entire country of Sweden. From 2000 to 2005, the use of electricity by data centers doubled, and the increase shows no sign of abating. Expansion of Internet businesses, along with new data retention and compliance agreements, new accounting standards and other trends, fuel the demand.
There are other, less-obvious drawbacks, too. E-communications have not really created the paperless office as many would assume. In fact, it often seems to promote the spread of paper use. Even in today’s age of the Blackberry® and iPhone, people like to print things out—many just find it easier to read and easier to navigate on paper. But converting e-communications to print is often very inefficient. Imagine the number of times a 50-page PowerPoint presentation is printed out and distributed, when the information would probably be better boiled down and produced as a print-on-demand brochure.
Electronic media have no tactile feel, and communication materials residing there continue to draw electrical power as long as they are in the system. And even today, not everyone is computer savvy or has access to a computer. For example, if your a local arts center, you may see enrollment drop off if you replace your paper catalog of course offerings by an on-line only version—because the older members of your client base are not used to operating that way. An integrated marketing strategy that includes both print on-line components spans preferences and generations, allowing all to get the message.
Then there’s spam. It’s not just a nuisance—many see it as a major source of global climate change. It is hard to measure, but some calculations say that each spam message, including the energy required to delete the message, represents the energy equivalent of driving three feet. Multiply that by yearly volume and it is equivalent to driving around the world 1.6 million times.11
11 Source: McAfee, The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report
In the end, the best solution isn’t to eliminate paper, but to use it well, and more wisely.
One of the most important things designers and other communicators can do is what they do best: Communicate. Talk to your printers. Ask what they can do to help you reduce your footprint. Find out what kind of environmental programs they have in place. See if they have chain-of-custody certifications, or follow ISO 14001 standards. Ask what inks they use, and the origins and content of the papers they recommend.
And ask your printers about digital printing as an option. Digital quality is now starting to rival offset printing, and it has many advantages over offset in terms of sustainability. Print-on-demand technology offers a number of major pluses—elimination or dramatic reduction of inventory issues, reduced shipping costs, much less waste overall, and when combined with targeted marketing is even more efficient—often with surprisingly little compromise on quality impression. Take a look at Ed #16, Digital Possibilities, to see what's possible.
Remember what Ben Franklin said, too: Haste really does make waste. If you allow plenty of time to order paper, for example, you can sometimes reduce the extra charges and environmental impact of delivering by truck, by using rail (depending on point of origin and delivery locations). Taking the time to proofread a job carefully will eliminate the need to reprint it when you see that the CEO’s name has been misspelled. Which, of course, also avoids the negative impact on your economic footprint that an angry CEO can have.
You also can save by design. More than ever, it’s important to find the right balance between the environment and aesthetics. Using less white space or reducing margins can shrink page counts. You can log onto papercalculator.org to compare the environmental impact of different papers.
Consider all of your creative options: Creating full-bleed images requires printing on oversize stock and then trimming to the finished size, which creates waste. Do you really need to go full bleed? Heavy laminates and foils, along with wire and plastic bindings, can make recycling more difficult, although metal elements can be removed with a magnet during the process. This is not to rip all the fun out of design—no need to totally abandon these techniques, but you should consider them knowing the potential for negative impact on the environment. Is there another way to make it great? More times than not, there is. And remember the mailing container—a decision like using bubble-wrap envelopes can cancel out all the environmental considerations you put into the piece itself.
Use technology to reduce your environmental impact. Soft proofs that you review on a computer monitor require less time, less paper and less energy than conventional paper or film-based systems. If you’re working on a project with a relatively small print run, you might want to consider dry toner-based digital presses, which produce very little waste. Maybe you could skip flying or driving to your next meeting and have a teleconference instead.
One last bit of advice: If you really want to make a difference, encourage your clients to purge their mailing lists of outdated or duplicated recipients. A clean, targeted mailing list with customized messaging is much more productive in terms of return on marketing dollars—and reducing the wasted materials that flow into our mail boxes by just a small amount would have a big positive environmental impact.
And help make the paper—and energy—that went into this Ed worthwhile. Read it. Use it. Keep it for future reference. Go out there and make a difference.