When it comes to so-called “green printing,” a subject near and dear to his heart, “perception is not reality,” asserted Don Carli, senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) in New York, who has tracked print-related green advancements for more than a decade. After all, the print and paper industries are not what tree-hugging conservationists would have us believe (think dark, dirty visions of desecrated virgin forests and overfilling landfills). But here’s a marketing tip for wide-format shops: Save your breath. That was the conclusion of some highly animated dialog at a pre-drupa PrintCity Alliance event near Munich in February.
Explaining how paper is a crop that is farmed and highly sustainable falls on so many deaf ears. For those who might be listening, arguments against anti-environmental accusations sound so defensive. It reminds me of a wise Chicago football coach who advised his young, emotive high-school quarterback (me) that the only time you can objectively complain about poor officiating is when you win the game. “If you’ve lost, no one will listen to your ‘sour grapes,’” Mike Hughes explained.
An interesting question, though: What’s the use of our highly fragmented printing industry trying to fight the powerful tech/IT lobby in Washington? It’s not like we can match dollar for dollar the deep-pocket combination of the Big 8: Amazon, Apple, Dell, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Yahoo! (Apple Inc. alone spent $1.3 million on lobbying efforts earlier this year, according to First Street. Last spring, it opened a $1 billion, 500,000-square-foot iData Center in rural North Carolina and is planning another in central Oregon, the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting.)
Incidentally, IBM ranked #1 and Dell came in at #5 among US firms in Newsweek’s annual Green Rankings last fall. Weyerhaeuser cracked the top 200 (#165), categorized under “real estate” (not paper), while “materials” companies Domtar, International Paper, and MeadWestvaco were #331, #333, and #416, respectively. RR Donnelley, the only printing firm represented on the list of 500, placed at #299. Much higher up, HP (#2), Adobe (#14), and Xerox (#46) help to bridge the tech-print gap somewhat. Rather than dwelling on muddy green statistics, however, our marketing focus should be on what print is, not on what it is not, recommended the PrintCity dinner crowd. Tout the features and benefits of what print can do—and does, quite well.
Much More Than Product Innovation
So, what is new in environmentally sustainable, wide-format printing? For one, pressure is mounting to eliminate polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic from packaging and, now, billboards, noted Carli. 3M’s Commercial Graphics division, for example, is one of several large-format suppliers now offering non-PVC film options. We are beginning to see substrate developments such as woven and bio-based materials that extend far beyond FSC paper certifications and recycling initiatives now commonplace among US print firms, Carli added.
He also points to a new company called Novus Imaging. Founded by two former EFI heads, Mike Mills (engineering) and Kevin Sykes (sales), Novus has developed the Synergia H, a 3.2-meter hybrid printer that produces true grayscale at speeds up to 1,000 square feet per hour. Its technology is based on binary epoxy ink (AquEpoxy), explained Carli, who first saw the equipment demonstrated at the SGIA show in New Orleans last October.
“It’s water-based, so the photo initiators cure without UV,” he said. “They just need a little IR [infrared] kick. Getting rid of energy and solvent issues is a pretty big deal,” he added. (MyPrintResource.com agreed, proclaiming Novus Imaging as one of our Top Three Things of Interest at SGIA) But innovative products like the Synergia H UV-alternative printer are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg, according to Carli, who also has guest lectured in the M.A. program in Graphic Communications Management and Technology at NYU-SCPS. Print/media buyers are the key to increasing the demand for greener print, he contends.