Accusing the printing industry of environmental vandalism is a popular pastime. The truth is that few industries can match the printing industry’s environmental record.
I intend to post a number of blogs over the next couple of weeks detailing the industry’s record, and raising a few issues the critics of the industry might not have thought of.
One of the most respected people in the industry in Australia, Phil Lawrence, who has spent a good deal of his life working in the paper side on the printing industry, claims that printing has improved its pollution record by 97% since the Kyoto benchmark year of 1990.
He gives a number of examples.
The industry commonly uses computer to plate technology whereby the plates used in the printing process are imaged directly from computer, rather than being imaged from film. This process has completely eliminated the production of film, and the associated dirty chemicals from the printing process.
Printing is moving away from mineral based inks to vegetable based inks.
These days presses produce up to 90% less paper waste than was the case twenty years ago. Dioxins have been eradicated from paper products. Quoting Professor Ross Garnaut, Lawrence says the introduction of these new technologies means print is now one of the most sustainable and competitive manufacturing industries.
I would add to these factors the growing inroads digital printing is making. Digital printing is becoming more and more competitive, and increasing percentages of printing are now produced digitally — up to around 20% today. Digital presses use vastly less power than conventional offset presses, waste far less paper and require less real estate — which means digital printing companies need smaller buildings with less infrastructure.
There is little logic, therefore, in green activists considering printing to be one of the most environmentally damaging industries. Making such claims disregards the greater energy demands of electronic media.
Stay tuned for further articles on the environmental friendliness of the printing industry.