Latest News

Whole world printing

Friday, 24 October 2003
By Print 21 Online Article
Tagged with:

Some years ago, ‘environmental fatigue syndrome’ caused interest and commitment to environmental issues to fade into the background. This happened as much from a reaction to the barrage of predictions of imminent planetary destruction from the enviro-scientific establishment, as from distaste for the radicalism of loony fringes such as the feral greens. There was a sense that these groups were using the environmental issue as a Trojan Horse to push their own anti-business and anti-development agendas. While there were obviously some valid environmental concerns, such as global warming and pollution, the hysterical level of debate turned many people off. Concern about the environment gradually slipped down the list of public awareness, and off the front pages.

Since then the work of environmental activism has undergone a transformation, shedding a lot of its hysteria, adopting more sober and socially integrated strategies, and gaining from the application of solid science. The influence of the Kyoto Protocols brought governments into the agenda – even the Australian government, which refused to sign them. Environmental groups realised that having a share portfolio at the annual general meeting was more effective than a megaphone in the streets, and business started to add up the figures and found that care of the environment could produce solid bottom line returns.

Environmental responsibility became a powerful influence among the major international corporations who realised that a brand can be seriously damaged by allegations of eco-vandalism, or anti-social behaviour. Nike is still suffering from accusations that it exploits Indonesian workers in its footwear factories and UK paper merchants were scared off carrying APPP Indonesian-produced paper by a Friends of the Earth campaign about destroying virgin tropical forests and orang-utan habitats.

The role of the printing and graphic arts industry in the environmental debate has generally been defensive and dismissive. Printed material, newspapers and packaging provide some of the most visible elements in the public’s perception of the environmental problem. Litter swirling around the streets is primarily composed of printed material. And everyone ‘knows’, or thinks they do, that printing paper is made primarily by clear felling old growth forests.

If printed paper is the most visible sign of the sector’s Achilles Heel, the printing industry itself does not have a great record when it comes to the environment. It has long been regarded, with a good measure of fact, as a dirty, polluting industry, producing goods that end up in landfill, from workplaces that reek of carcinogenic solvents and vaporising alcohol, using heavy element inks and coatings that almost defy recycling, and all the while cutting the cost of printing to maximise its commodity value. It is not a good environmental story and as a result the industry has tended to retreat to the bunker, citing the difficulties and the cost of implementing clean production methods as an excuse for doing little or nothing.

The times they are a-changing

But the climate in which we operate is changing and major corporations are leading the movement for better environmental practices. Larger firms commission 80 percent of all printing and these organisations, which often indulge in questionable environmental practices in their own businesses, recognise that their published documents provide a major opportunity to acquire environmental brownie (greenie?) points. The majority of annual reports these days proclaim that they are printed on environmentally responsible paper. It assists in delivering to the triple bottom line of social, environmental and economic responsibility.

The move towards responsible corporate governance is not entirely altruistic; there are sound economic reasons for corporations to polish up their environmental credentials. The Dow Jones and the STOXX Sustainability Indexes list companies with good records for the growing number of fund managers who want to invest in sustainable enterprises with good triple bottom line policies. The DJSI currently has $2.2 billion invested in companies that meet its sustainability criteria. As explained on its website: “Post the technology boom, capitalism is becoming more civil and less arrogant, which will ultimately add to its [own] sustainability.”

It’s not costly to be green

Environmental responsibility has often been seen as an impost, by do-gooders, on the freedom of the business world to make money. However, in recent times it has become apparent that, while there may be extra costs involved in shifting to responsible production, there are very real benefits when the system is in place.

David Fuller of Focus Press, in Sydney, operates perhaps the leading ‘green’ printing company in Australia. Among the many quality accreeditations and eco sustainable practices he ahas instituted is the use of alcohol-free printing with soy inks. (Read David Fuller’s story in this month’s Print 21 magazine – subscribe on the left hand side of this page.)

While soy inks cost more than regular petroleum-based inks, in his experience they go a lot further, with the result that his ink cost is actually decreasing, while he is getting the benefits of cleaner production and better reproduction. With his cleaner environment, safer factory conditions and savings in waste, he is producing for the triple bottom line of social, financial as well as environmental responsibility.

Focus Press is but one example of the push by leading printing companies to meet not only quality assurance requirements, but also to gain IS014001 environmental credentials. In the first place it means that large corporations and their buying agents, in dealing with accredited companies, have no concerns of being ambushed by activists on account of their publications – a solid marketing differentiation. There is also a growing realisation that these standards are integral in running efficient, high tech printing operations.

The ‘green’ debate has moved on from simply protecting the natural environment to sustainable development, which includes protecting our standard of living while cleaning up our methods of manufacture, and the social impact of our activities. Corporations may want their annual report printed on environmentally responsible paper, without necessarily wanting it to be any less white and glossy than before. The companies that are able to provide these sustainability guarantees are leading the way into the new greening of industry.

Public Eco-Efficiency Report

This is the so-called eco-efficiency reward that informs the Australian Paper Industry Council’s Public Eco-Efficiency Report. The local paper industry, one of the most capital intensive manufacturing industries in Australia with nearly $4 billion of assets and with plans to invest another billion over the next five years, is also one of the most visible eco-targets for activists. Addressing itself to this reality it is promoting its environmental responsibility, applying the principles of eco-reporting, “recognising that operational costs can be reduced through improved environmental performance”.

Improvements in the potentially hazardous process of bleaching wood fibre, are cases in point where Australian Paper has introduced ways of reducing the use of chlorine, the primary cause of dioxin concern. No elemental chlorine is used at Burnie, Wesley Vale or Shoalhaven mills, while Maryvale uses a much-reduced amount. The report maintains that “there are no detectable dioxins in the discharge of Australian Paper’s four paper mills”.

All six members of APIC (Amcor, CHH Tissue, Kimberley-Clark, Norske Skog, PaperlinX and Visy Industries) operate under ISO14001, based on an Environmental Management System (EMS), which involves better data collection on risks and incidents, better employee awareness of environmental issues and more formalised reviews of issues, risk and opportunities in management reviews.

Responsibility is good marketing

Environmental responsibility is not only good common sense; it also provides a point of differentiation for savvy marketers. Raleigh Paper is currently positioning itself as a major supplier of environmentally responsible paper, with the publication of research that shows the demand for such paper is growing due to corporate and government pressures.

It is upfront in the claim that it will not handle paper from producers that fail to meet its tests of forest certification or the chain of custody scheme. These are part of the Forest Stewardship Scheme under which timber for paper must come from forests that are certified and audited to ensure they comply with environmentally sustainable practices and principles. The company has on occasion knocked back paper that did not measure up.

Another sign of the growing influence of environmental policies on the industry can be seen in the detailed Heidelberg Sustainability Report 2002/2003. The 96-page publication gives a detailed insight into the company’s business processes. “As the leading supplier to the print media industry, Heidelberg is committed to establishing a balanced relationship between profitability, ecological responsibility and social stability. In its report, Heidelberg takes stock of the economic situation, ecology and social responsibility, evaluates its progress and sets itself new goals for the next few years.”

There are many reasons why the printing and graphic arts industry is moving towards taking up its share of the burden, not least of which is the prospect of saving money in the production processes. But more importantly, unless we take responsibility for conducting our businesses and living our lives in an ecologically responsible manner, the problems left for the next generation may impose an unpayable price.

Today, Friday Oct 24, is your last chance to register for a free Whole World Printing Ecological Seminar that can improve your bottom line, reduce wastage and improve the environment.

The seminar, at Printing Industries Sydney office on Monday 27 October, features a money making case study from David Fuller of Focus Press, and a PMP case study illustrated by PMP Engineer Mark Tannen.
Contact Joe Kowalewski

Ph: (02) 9248 7300

Comment on this article

To receive notification of comments made to this article, you can also provide your email address below.