Green printing is a movement that has been gaining a steady momentum over the last few years. Until recently, the practice was mostly undertaken by activist groups as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that wish to do well (Makower 2006). Today, however, green printing has captured the attention of large companies and some government agencies. Among those that have begun eco-friendly practices are Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computers, all known industry leaders in the field of technology (Cascio 2006).
While activist groups promote green printing as a matter of principle, it is often a different matter for businesses. Aside from the moral aspect, green printing can be the cheaper alternative for businesses aiming to reduce operational costs and to make do with limited capital.
But what is green printing? There is no exact definition for green printing, just as there are no set standards or guidelines to determine which printing company are green and which ones are not (Makower 2006). Some companies market themselves as green printers but in actuality are not. In the same light, there are others that practice green printing but do not necessarily sell themselves as green printers, nor make it public knowledge that they are green.
Despite the lack of set standards, guidelines or definitions, there are a set of generally accepted characteristics and standards ascribed to green printers. Some of these are as follows, as listed by the Bay Area Green Business Program website (2004):
Many environmentalists and advocacy groups have decried the deteriorating condition of forestation throughout the world as a consequence of industrialization and the need for society to expand its habitats in order to accommodate the growing population.
The fact is that according to estimates made by the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, a single ton of virgin paper makes use of three tons of wood as well as around 19,075 gallons of water (Cook, 2005). It also leads to the creation of over two thousand pounds of solid waste. These figures represent 90% of the printing and writing paper produced in the United States alone. It does not end there, however. The production of virgin, uncoated paper requires a bleaching and chlorination process to make the paper a brilliant white, as well as to make it stronger and more durable (Benson 2006). The process unfortunately releases toxic materials back into the water supply.
Numerous toxic substances are typically associated with the traditional printing process. Cook has noted that the inks used by a large number of commercial printers are petroleum-based, which is a non-renewable fuel source. Furthermore, petroleum-based inks have high VOC contents that are leaked back into the air and the water supply. The presence of high VOC in water and air can lead to cancer as well as defects in newborn infants.
Cook also wrote that the solvents and chemicals used in printing presses are also toxic and hazardous, increasing the risk of people working in printing presses to chronic and deadly health problems including kidney and liver failure.
Clearly, the use of virgin paper and the process by which it is produced is dangerous to the environment. For this reason advocacy groups have been pushing for green printing and bringing it to the awareness of the general public.
Green printing: A Better Solution
Green printing is seen to be the better, safer alternative that will allow the printing industry to become friendlier to the environment. There are many ways by which green printing can help alleviate the environmental crisis.
Reversal of Forest Denudation
Green printing forces companies to look for other sources of materials to produce paper aside from pulp processed from trees. As stated above, the creation of virgin paper is a huge contributor to the denudation of forests.
Through efforts of advocacy groups, other sources have been found for use as raw materials for making paper. These sources are more environmentally sustainable. Moreover, they yield paper products that are as durable and as high in quality as virgin paper. Among these new sources of raw paper materials are hemp, synthetics and reclaimed blue jean cotton (Hart 2005).
And then, there is always recycled paper and post-consumer waste (PCW) paper. Benson defines recycled paper as: "paper that contains different grades (10-100%) of recycled paper fibers. On the other hand, PCW paper is "recycled after used by a consumer and thrown away."
Reducing dependency on Petroleum
The second benefit is that green printing reduces dependence on petroleum which is a non-renewable resource. Petroleum is almost everywhere in the traditional printing process. It is used to power the printing presses and other equipment used in printing and in producing paper. Inks used in printing are often based on petroleum. The glues and adhesives utilized in binding paper are also derived from petroleum (Cook 2006).
Green printers are now making use of computers and equipment that are more energy-efficient. A few have even come to use wind-powered or solar-powered presses. Soy-based ink is also becoming a staple among companies that make use of green printing practices (Hart 2005).
Reducing Toxins and Waste materials release
Third, green printing reduces the levels of toxins and waste materials being released back into the environment. With green printers veering away from materials that release toxic chemicals and VOCs to the environment, which lead to health problems among workers in printing presses and the general populace, there is hope that these problems will eventually go away.
While the solutions that green printing poses are not as dramatic at first glance as one might expect them to be, their impact over time indeed promises to be fruitful. What is needed, however, is a conscious effort to practice green printing continuously and consistently.
Companies and Individuals can both benefit from Green Printing
As great as green printing may sound, what benefit does it actually hold for companies and individuals? Are these benefits enough to entice them to practice green printing?
The concept of green printing has been around for a number of years now, and while an increasing number of companies are embracing the practice, there still exist a number of myths and misconceptions about it.
One misconception about green printing is that recycled or PCW paper is not as good in quality as virgin paper, nor is it as durable. That is certainly not true. Not all recycled or PCW paper products are brown in color. There are types of processes that can make them appear as white and as durable as virgin paper (Cook 2005).
Another myth held by the majority of the public is that the usage of recycled or PCW will not yield high-quality printouts, unlike those made with virgin paper. Again, this is not true. A printout made with recycled or PCW paper can be virtually indistinguishable from a printout using virgin paper.
A third myth about green printing is that it is more expensive than regular printing. While it is true that green printing can sometimes cost more, the reason for this merely has to do with supply and demand (Cook 2005). Presently, the demand for recycled and PCW paper is not as high as the demand for virgin paper is. When the demand for recycled and PCW paper becomes higher than virgin paper, a lowering in costs can be seen, because producing recycled and PCW paper costs less and consumes less energy.
Moreover, printing companies that are dedicated to green printing take the time to educate their clients about the merits and cost-efficiency of green printing. They even go so far as to suggest how to decrease the cost of the printing jobs commissioned from them.
Besides being environmentally conscious, going green can help to reduce printing costs. It should be noted; however, that green printing is not just about the paper being used but also how the paper and the equipment for printing on paper are used.
A common practice in green printing is reducing the margins and spaces on printed documents, as well as compressing or eliminating filler pages like title pages or the table of contents. Using both sides of the paper is also desirable in green printing. In doing so, less paper is consumed, and thus, a decrease in the cost of maintaining a paper supply is seen.
Makower asserted that the best practice in green printing is no printing. Digitalization, the creation of portable document files (PDFs), and paperless communication through emails and instant messaging are still the most environmentally-sustainable and cost-effective practices that people can adopt.
But inasmuch as people and companies still cannot totally eliminate paper from their daily usage, green printing presents itself as a viable alternative. Green printing is not only an exercise in environmental responsibility, but it is also an effective means of bringing down costs of office supplies. If people and companies cannot worry too much about the environment, then the cost-effectiveness of green printing will at least get their attention.