How To Become a Green Printer

What is sustainability? According to the World Commission on Environment & Development, it is “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines sustainable development as a marriage of two important themes: that environmental protection does not preclude economic development and that economic development must be ecologically viable now and in the long run.

The EPA website has very useful information on the subject. It is a good resource for ideas that can improve sustainability efforts.

Consumer product companies now are beginning to manage a triple bottom line: social, economic, and environmental. To do this successfully, their suppliers must do the same and show objective evidence of this. The current movement was initiated by Wal-Mart with simple and straightforward environmental goals:

  • To be supplied 100% by renewable energy;
  • To create zero waste;
  • To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

Converters are faced with a new challenge of proving to their customers they are, in fact, “green” and have programs in place to become greener. The term “carbon footprint” has been suggested as an absolute indicator of greenness. Defined in the broadest terms, this is said to be a measure of the global amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by a human activity or accumulated over the full life cycle of a product or service. Testing some carbon footprint calculators available online reveals huge variation (three times — low to high), so more practical approaches are required with accepted performance metrics, preferably those already in place.

It seems to me that a process-based approach designed specifically around our converting industry would be the best way to put a program in place. The amount of information available is overwhelming for the converter just getting started.

Fortunately, a group of industry experts has put together a very good framework that should be validated by consumer companies. The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) has been established to define sustainable green printing and identify steps that help converters establish manufacturing practices and products that are more environmentally sustainable. To make the endeavor manageable and relevant, boundaries have been established around the converting process as follows:

  • Product

    Design aspects and input material management to create the product;

  • Process

    All manufacturing steps (prepress, press, and postpress) involved with converting raw materials into a finished product, including process byproducts that have an environmental, health, and safety impact;

  • Envelope

    All the manufacturing support activities, including the building, grounds, utilities, employees, and other functions at an individual site.

Green printers are expected to comply with an extensive list of best practices. To show environmental improvement, at least one relevant project must be achieved each year.

Status of a SGP printer is granted upon an audit of all areas of compliance by a trained SGP auditor. Those converters with ISO structure in place will be well-positioned for this program. Performance measures must be in place for showing objective evidence of compliance and improvement. Each facility will be responsible for establishing its own metrics, and these will be held confidential since they are competitive property.

For more information about the SGP Partnership, visit the website www.sgppartnership.org.

In next month's column I will describe some easily implemented green projects for the converter, along with performance metrics.

Process improvement expert David Argent has 30+ years of experience in process analysis with particular emphasis on ink and coating design and performance. Contact him at 636-391-8180; djvargent@sbcglobal.net.


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