If the right choices are made the printed product is truly sustainable
The shrinking commercial printing industry
One of the plus points of the recent difficult and transitional times for the UK printing industry has been a process of culling: the industry is now leaner, more modern and efficient and its environmental performance and, therefore, the environmental impact of the product is much improved.

The accepted wisdom on shrinking print volumes, with the knock on effect of a shrinking industry, is the impact of electronic publishing. While this, of course, has had an impact, it is not the main reason or the only reason. The main reason for shrinking print volumes is the huge advances in printing technology. In 2007 a typical set up of a litho press - to achieve the desired colour - would take around 90 minutes and during this time use associated quantities of paper (measured in hundreds of sheets), ink and press consumables...all of which then needed to be disposed of. Now press set up takes around 20 minutes and used greatly reduced materials and consumables.

Printing companies that have invested in the latest technology are able to achieve the desired colour in around 20 minutes, with paper waste measured in tens of sheets and minimal ink and consumable use and waste. Running speeds for litho presses have approximately doubled during the same time and the ability to ‘perfect’ – to print both sides of the sheet at the same time – is now not only more common but a wider range of materials and print projects can be ‘perfected’.

Additionally, more targeted mailings, facilitated by data management techniques and associated print technology such as inline personalisation and variable data printing, have impacted on print volumes. Simple, and much needed, improvements in procurement techniques (an end to over-ordering, for example), should not be overlooked as their impact has been significant. And, of course, all of the above has resulted in reduced print costs.

Drivers of environmental improvement

• Client expectations and pressure
• Technology
• Legislation, landfill taxes and rising energy costs
• Increased awareness: environmental improvements reduce costs

In a majority of cases printing companies have not embraced environmental actions per se: environmental progress is often a by-product.

A thriving company will be able to invest in latest technologies to adapt to a changing market place and improve performance…and new technologies bring environmental benefits.

Thriving companies will tend to have a larger percentage of clients that require assurance, in the form of environmental certification that effective environmental management is in place.

Client pressure – kick started the changes and remains a main driver of environmental improvement 2007 Saw the beginnings of client pressure…manifested as an increased interest in environmental schemes, mainly ISO 14001.

From organisations with environmental policies to use only EMAS registered printing companies to enquiries about an aspect of a company’s environmental performance, client pressure has many forms and the sum has been – and still is - the most effective driver of environmental status improvements. Tender forms usually now include an expectation of ISO 14001 and companies that have gone further may well score more highly when evaluated for tendered work.

Environmental legislation for all industry sectors is now much stricter than in 2007 and has forced printing companies to improve their performance in compliance.

Rising costs – landfill and energy costs, especially – have stimulated innovation and a number of companies currently reap the ongoing benefits of a little time and initial investment in, for example, alternative heating sources and recycling streams to divert waste from landfill.

Making the right choices – Greenwash is still a huge problem

In the undignified scramble to use environmental issues as a sales tool, a huge amount of misinformation exists – and it’s all aimed at buyers and designers.

There is no doubt that client pressure has been a significant driving force behind some of the recent environmental progress and printing companies are well aware of the concern of many buyers and designers over environmental issues. A majority of printing companies pay at least some attention to these issues but in many cases it amounts to lip service and / or claims that may influence the less knowledgeable buyers and designers. Buyers and designers need to understand the potential environmental impacts of the printing process, place their work appropriately and in doing so drive further improvements in the environmental performance of the UK printing industry.

There is an obvious correlation between a company's approach to environmental issues and its environmental awareness and knowledge: gaining an environmental certification, such as ISO 14001, will increase environmental knowledge and eliminate, or at least reduce, the inaccurate claims
The profile of a progressive company

All companies featured on this website are progressive...and progressive companies will prosper in a difficult market.

Environmental certification as a framework for action to improve performance and reduce costs, is innovative. Devote efforts to reduce energy use, rather than just complaining about rising costs Spend a little time on research to increase recycling and reduce waste sent to landfill, instead of merely complaining about increasing landfill taxes

Investment in the latest technologies to improve performance and adapt to a dynamic market place, offer a more diverse product range…and reap the environmental benefits new technologies always bring.