One of the ways you can make more eco-friendly decisions with your business is through sustainable printing. This doesn’t mean you have to print on Kraft paper or forego beautiful printing options. You can even print on glossy paper if you want to (yes, it IS recyclable)!
Sustainable printing is about a number of different decisions that don’t always involve paper type. If you would like to reduce your marketing carbon footprint, consider these ideas.
Who You Print With
It all starts with who you work with. Often, if you’re picking the lowest bidder and the fastest turnaround, it’s not going to be your most eco-friendly choice. Think of it like Amazon Prime. Yes, shipping is free and that product will arrive in 6 hours but Amazon is famous for high profits and very little concern for their workers. Low-cost prints use cheaper paper and fast and loose printing processes that utilize the cheapest materials. The cost ends up somewhere and I’m assuming you’re reading this post because you care whether it’s a human or environmental cost.
Start by asking: Is your printer FSC-certified? FSC is the Forest Stewardship Council who certifies printers who observe responsible chain of custody from sustainable sources. You can download a full list of FSC-certified printers to find one in your area. Then, ask your printer what sustainable solutions they have. Do they carry 100% recycled paper? Do they use soy-based inks? What do they do with their paper waste? Do they purchase carbon offsets for the energy they use? These are questions you can absolutely ask any printer. If they get annoyed and don’t want to bother, you may not want to work with them. Printers who practice sustainability are proud of it!
What You Print: Size, Pockets & Extras
When a printer sets up your job, they are figuring out how they can get as much as possible on a sheet. When you include “extras” like an additional pocket (that maybe no one uses) or utilize large prints, they need more paper to account for that. It is important to really think about what you’re printing and the economy of space you need. You can still create beautiful pieces with lots of breathing room. But, I’m suggesting you balance the desire for a lavish piece with the inevitable probability that it will eventually go in the trash (or recycling). Recycling is great but we also need to curb our overall consumption of what can be an endless supply of marketing materials.
Talk with your printer about how you can adapt the size of your piece to print it most efficiently. You can ask a question like: “If I adjust the size or shape of my piece, how will it affect the overall price?” Printers are used to getting questions about how to save on cost so this would be a more familiar question than “How can I reduce printed waste on my piece?”
How it Gets Printed
Many printers are jumping on the sustainable wagon, which is good news overall. However, be careful about the language they use. They might have a tab on their website with a leaf that says “sustainability” but be sure to read it. Do they make statements like “we use recycled paper whenever possible”? What does that even mean and how can you assess what they feel is “possible”?
Printers who are focused on sustainable printing utilize many tactics aside from recycled paper being available as an option. Here are a few:
As mentioned above, this means their paper is sourced responsibly. However, it does NOT mean that the paper is 100% recycled or even 50% recycled.
Providing ONLY Recycled Paper
There are paper mills, like New Leaf who produce 100% post-consumer recycled fiber. Printers such as Greenerprinter use New Leaf as their main paper source. Some printers might offer a recycled option, but sometimes that means only 30% or even just 10% of the paper is recycled content. It could also be recycled from mill waste as opposed to post-consumer recycled fibers. When selecting your paper for printing, make sure it is 100% recycled. Plus, recycled paper has come a long way–you can find it in matte, satin, glossy or uncoated form.
Low VOC Ink or Vegetable-Based Inks
It’s not all about the paper. What goes ON the paper is important, too. Standard, large-scale printers use inks that produce high VOCs that can cause skin and eye irritation as well as a host of other problems. Low VOC or Zero VOC inks are better for the people who print your product, better for our air quality and ultimately better for you.
Packaging and Shipping
Maybe you’ve received those orders from an inexpensive online printer. Groups of 50 postcards are all individually shrink-wrapped in non-recyclable plastic, surrounded by layers of bubble wrap. Companies concerned about sustainable printing are paying attention to all aspects of sustainability and utilizing miles of bubble wrap isn’t part of that vision. Sustainable packaging has come a long way with recycled and recyclable paper, smaller boxes and more efficient packing practices.
Many sustainable printing and other e-commerce companies are also focused on reducing their carbon footprint by buying carbon offsets. While some feel that carbon offsets don’t actually keep you from producing carbon, it DOES have the effect of investing money further into renewable energy. This provides much-needed funding in developing infrastructure and setting us up for a less-polluting future.
That You Print At All
Finally, ask yourself if you really need that printed piece after all. As we’ll cover in a future blog post, digital media has changed how we communicate. While we might be in the habit of creating a big catalog or brochure, it’s good to step back and ask: “Is this really being utilized?” or “What is the cost-benefit of having this large printed piece?” A client of mine had been producing a yearly 400+ page catalog. It was a beautifully-printed centerpiece but we wasted thousands of pages on:
- Customers who never really looked at it
- Information being outdated almost as soon as it was printed
- Leftover copies taking up warehouse space and eventually being recycled
Instead, we decided to stop producing this piece and focus more energy on making their website the focal point of information. While websites DO consume energy, they, and other digital media solutions like video, social media or shareable digital files, require significantly less resources. Coming up, we’ll cover how focusing on and enhancing your digital presence can also be an eco-friendly decision.
So Many Decisions!
It can seem like a lot to take in but making sustainable printing decisions is one significant way you can green your business. The big takeaway from this is to stop and take a moment to consider the best option for your company that aligns best with your values. We are full of ideas on how you can make more sustainable decisions with your marketing. Use our contact form below to tell us more about your company!