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First Do No Harm

(April 2011) posted on Wed Mar 23, 2011

As printers, we are one step ahead of most industries already—we’re quite good in chemistry, after all.


By Gail Flower

In the beginning of the green movement, each segment of industry struggled to see how they could run a business in a more eco-compliant way and what the requirements were to do just that. Printers sourced green products from their suppliers, and print buyers wanted to know whether the printer followed sustainable practices. Solvent-based inks gave way to UV-cured and latex ones. Recycling, biodegradability, compostability, low-energy consumption, and other sustainable activities became normal operating procedures.

Roots for early green issues can be seen many years before today’s activities. Some of the impetus for joining the green revolution started as far back as the Montreal Protocol beginning in 1987, which was an attempt to retain Earth’s ozone protective layer by cutting down on the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and eventually hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). This was an international initiative, and it broad-brushed every type of business operation.

Next in 2006 came the European Union’s effort to legislate environmental compliance in the electronics industry. The Restriction on the use of certain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment Directive, commonly referred to as RoHS, restricted six substances—lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, cadmium, and poly-brominated biphenyls, and poly-brominated biphenyl ethers. If you wanted to trade with EU, your firm needed to buck up on chemistry in general and match products with this RoHS Directive.
In 2008, the EU introduced the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Registration of Chemicals Regulation (REACH), with a list of substances that more than doubled the number in the RoHS Directive. We learned even more chemistry with this one. Restrictions just keep increasing.

In our industry, the SGP Partnership provides a check of operations and a way to keep sustainability efforts going. Each printer company sets goals, benchmarks progress, and identifies and selects continuous improvement in sustainability areas. Each company establishes a sustainability policy that includes environmental, health, and safety regulations. It’s easier to self-regulate first with guidance from SGP, than to be left out of the marketplace later by outwardly determined laws and directives. The list of SGP Partnership printers has increased over time.

ISO technical committee 130 (TC 130) encourages the print industry specifically to take part in developing environmental green standards as well. TC 130 has launched a Working Group (WG11) to develop a set of standards to cover the environmental impact of print. The purpose is aligned with those of the Verdigris Project (www.verdigrisproject.com). Verdigris is all about providing the graphic arts, printing and publishing industries, and print buyers with information about print media’s environmental impact. It can improve market perception of print and its carbon impact. Anyone can join Verdigris. The Verdigris Project produces regular articles covering environmental subjects relevant to the print industry. Sharing stories of how various printing companies improved their carbon footprint is one way that Verdigris leads the way.

Aligning your business with the green movement can be a daunting task. It involves knowing governmental and customer requirements and expectations. The first step about any project is to know what’s going on. The next step is to take an audit and see where your firm stands. At that’s where sustainability planning begins.

Whether you’re a printer with thoughts on applying for SGP certification, a supplier that wants to deal with international sales, a leading member of a sustainability committee looking for leadership ideas, the task is somewhat similar. And, as printers, we are one step ahead of most industries already—we’re quite good in chemistry, after all.


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