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New green labels for printers?

Tuesday, 26 April 2016
By Laurel Brunner
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If you wanted to put a green label on a printing company, what would you look for? The usual differentiator amongst printers is compliance and ideally formal certification to ISO 14001. Compliance to this environmental management standard is based on a company’s environmental policy and how well the organisation conforms to that policy. There are requirements for management reviews and documentation, but this may not be enough to certify the overall greenness of a particular business.

Laurel Brunner

If we were to develop such a standard, ISO 14001 would obviously be the reference for environmental management systems. In addition to ISO 14001 companies might also be asked to demonstrate other sustainability commitments, commitments that go beyond managing environmental aspects and impacts, and ensuring quality and safety.

However, the details of what gets included in the environmental policy required by ISO 14001 determines how ambitious and comprehensive that policy is. Within the scope of 14001 it can go beyond prevention of pollution and minimising environmental impacts. The underlying principle for ISO 14001 is one of continuous improvement, so each time a company goes through the audit process it’s measured on the business’s new targets. Those targets, enshrined in the environmental policy, reach ever further into the organisation. Properly implemented the environmental management policy should enhance environmental performance, and fulfil environmental objectives and compliance obligations.

This means that ISO 14001 is enough, if we can assume that companies develop comprehensive environmental policies and live up to them. The trouble is that we cannot make such assumptions, so there may be an argument for a new standard specifying what an environmental policy should cover. And it should be ambitious, because certification to a combined ISO 14001, plus an environmental policy standard would confer the ultimate green status.

Take a packaging company for example, producing millions of filled flexible packages every month. Its environmental management policy would include requirements for accepting bulk deliveries, a process that would have to be managed to be environmentally sound. This might mean route planning which requires cooperation with shipping companies and their other customers. And then there is the loading and distribution process which would also need an environmentally benign process.

This packaging company would also have to consider such things as ingredient preparation and filling. Not only should the processes be efficient and minimise emissions and waste. There is also the consideration of consumer safety, and overall stability of the packaging and contents.

It could all be included as part of ISO 14001, but perhaps there is an argument for a series of ISO standards that specify the environmental policy requirements for different sectors of the printing industry. Such a series would be far from easy to write, but it could improve uptake of ISO 14001 and print’s overall environmental impact.

– Laurel Brunner

Verdigris supporters who make this blog possible: Agfa GraphicsDigital DotsEFIFespaHeidelbergHPKodakMondiPragati OffsetRicohShimizu PrintingSplash PRUnity Publishing and Xeikon

Verdigris is a industry research initiative that examines the environmental impact of print media.

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