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Towards a sustainable printing industry – magazine article

Wednesday, 15 August 2007
By Print 21 Online Article

The term ‘environmentally sustainable’ is one being used increasingly by governments, lobby groups and scientists as reports on the ‘human’ impact on the earth are discussed. So what does it mean to become environmentally sustainable? In the workplace it means using business practices that minimise adverse impacts on the environment, often following the adage reduce, reuse, recycle.

Many print businesses have changed their practices. They are sourcing organic inks and recycled paper from suppliers that are increasingly promoting ‘green’ products. Many printers are implementing environmental management systems that promote cutting back on all kinds of wastage, including electricity and water.

Pictured on right; Joan Grace at this year’s Apprentice Awards in Christchurch

In New Zealand, Landcare Research, a Government agency, has a tool called Enviro-Mark which provides a step-by-step process to help businesses reduce their environmental risk, increase resource use efficiency and improve their status with stakeholders by demonstrating environmental commitment. At least 12 print businesses have achieved Enviro-Mark accreditation while another 15 are working towards achieving an Enviro-Mark endorsement.

Many print customers are asking what companies are doing to become more environmentally friendly and the answers they receive can influence their decision on which printer they choose.

Waste levy not wanted

Governments around the world are also starting to take a hard look at global warming. In many countries their first interventions focus on reducing waste but it is debatable whether, given the voluntary efforts of industry to reduce waste, that this should be the primary focus. During 2006, for instance, New Zealand paperboard packaging manufacturers recycled almost 210,000 tonnes of paperboard packaging in a voluntary effort to reduce their impact on the environment.

The New Zealand Government is currently looking at introducing a Waste Minimisation Bill. Amongst other provisions, the Bill proposes the introduction of a waste levy, meaning those people disposing of residual waste at a disposal facility would pay a fee for every tonne of waste dumped. Penalties would be imposed on those not following the correct disposal rules.

PrintNZ, the NZ Paperboard Packaging Association, NZ Paper Forum, Business NZ and other business groups have spoken out on the negative business impacts of the proposals in the Bill.

The Government has already introduced a sustainable procurement policy (Govt3), meaning all of its departments prioritise procurement, including purchasing print, from businesses that have environmentally sustainable processes in place.

Miles off target

New Zealand promotes itself around the world as a clean, green country. Two of our biggest income earners, tourism and dairy exports, rely heavily on this image. Given its location at the bottom of the world, New Zealand faces certain environmental issues. These include food miles, which refers to the distance food travels from the grower/manufacturer to the consumer and how much carbon is emitted during this journey.

The Stern report, published in the UK late last year, counts the cost of climate change on the world’s economy. Following the publication of this report, British MP Stephen Byers called for import taxes based on food miles, giving New Zealand kiwifruit as an example. He stated that every kilo of kiwifruit imported to the UK produces five kilos of CO2 through air freighting. Kiwifruit is actually shipped, not air freighted, just like the majority of New Zealand exports.

In another case, UK dairy company Dairy Crest embarked on an £18m advertising campaign last year which compared New Zealand butter to their locally produced product. A newspaper advert depicted a rusty looking container ship sailing through a polluted ocean carrying New Zealand dairy products to the UK next to an image of young ladies churning fresh cream against a local picturesque background moments before the product hits the shelves. The campaign asked the question: Why choose Anchor butter that’s shipped frozen when you can choose Country Life?

However, it has been estimated that over 50 percent of the UK’s food transport emissions occur during the trip home from the supermarket. Shipping goods has been found to be significantly more environmentally friendly compared to air and road freight.

Accentuate the positive

Negative comments and advertising campaigns like those stated above have the potential to damage New Zealand’s image. This could hurt local print businesses who supply packaging and promotional material for exporters and the tourism industry – a big purchaser of print advertising.

So how can we counter negative publicity?

It is important that wherever possible, print businesses take steps to demonstrate that they include environmental sustainability in their business practices.

At an individual business level you can take some very simple steps right now to make a difference. Sharon Jereb from the Packaging Council recently addressed the PrintNZ Management Advisory Group and some of the steps she outlined are as follows:

  • Use natural light wherever possible – when replacing roofing convert to panelling that provides natural light.
  • Replace light bulbs with eco light bulbs.
  • Use sensor lighting in low use areas.
  • Repair leaking taps.
  • Separate all waste – not just factory waste.
  • Conduct a waste audit.
    If you are not looking at these things, why not? In most cases, these actions will both improve the environmental impact of your business and your bottom line.

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