Thoughts on the sustainability movement: Going Green versus Green Washing

By | September 30, 2010

Sustainability is a key priority for many of our customers who are looking for ways to improve their earth-friendly quotient. As a “green advocate,” I’m always on the lookout for tools, processes and programs that can help them achieve their green goals. Whether it’s adopting cool innovations like bamboo USBs, switching to FSC-certified or recycled papers, or strategies for diverting products and output from the waste stream, there are plenty of ways to help reverse negative environmental impacts.

Clearly, many companies are taking sustainability seriously and looking for ways to do business in more environmentally responsible ways. More and more manufacturers and business partners are offering programs and solutions to help them do just that. And in most cases, those programs and initiatives are launched in good faith.

That said, as the sustainability movement gathers steam, the risk of “green-washing” is always a concern. So it’s important to invest due diligence in making sure the products you buy and the programs you subscribe to are legitimately green. When evaluating sustainability claims, the same principle applies to “going green” that applies to commerce in general – buyer beware. It’s important to look beyond the hype, to steer clear of unsubstantiated claims and demand credible proof of sustainability from prospective technology partners.

Want to be sure a potential partner really is green? Challenge them to demonstrate truly green manufacturing processes. How are they heating and cooling their production facilities? How do they deal with waste? Is sustainability designed into the products? Do the printers support recycled papers? Are they energy-efficient – or better still – ENERGY STAR certified? Do they emit ozone – and if so, how much? What about heat and noise? Has the technology partner taken steps to reduce the use of toxic materials? Because if there are no toxic materials in the device, there won’t be any toxins entering landfills. Are the products manufactured using bio-friendly or recycled materials? Does the vendor offer any programs to help you achieve your goals of becoming carbon-neutral? Or programs to keep products from landfills?

These are all key considerations if you want to make an informed and responsible purchasing decision. By all means, choose a partner that reduces, recycles and re-uses materials. Ask if they have sustainable processes for handling waste and emissions and transporting materials. And ask for evidence that sustainability is being incorporated into strategic planning cycles. A prospective partner may not satisfy every criterion, but it’s safe to say that if they meet several, you’re in good hands.

For example, Océ has a dedicated Asset Recovery Facility and has implemented programs to keep products from entering the waste stream prematurely. Through remanufacturing policies, Océ sent only six percent of industrial waste to landfills and reused or recycled 89 percent. Océ has also developed an online eco-calculator and launched the Eco-Start program, which gives customers a huge head start in achieving carbon-neutral operation by planting trees to offset new products’ energy emissions for a year.

Beyond ensuring that the production device you’re considering buying is manufactured in a environmentally responsible manner and built to reduce environmental impact, there are things print providers can do right now to make a difference. These include:

  • Reduce, re-use, recycle & promote two-sided printing within your organization
  • Whenever possible, use recycled papers
  • Understand the chain of custody associated with paper and use virgin fiber sourced from well-managed/sustainable forests or pulp farms
    (FSC-certified or Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified)  
  • Only engage with vendors and partners who can demonstrate that they maintain green business practices.
  • Explore ways to become more carbon-neutral and request an energy audit to calculate your carbon footprint
  • Look for vendors who offer programs that offset carbon or energy emissions produced by their production devices.
  • Determine if you’re compliant with regulatory agency guidelines
  • Promote two-sided printing
  • Discuss “green” and digital print-on-demand options with your customers

And don’t forget to track, report, market, promote and publicize your green efforts.

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on the sustainability movement: Going Green versus Green Washing

  1. Bruce

    Do you discuss new wash technologies for the industry? I am involved in testing and selling washes in the 4 counties where the SCAQMD have forced the printing Industry to use “On Press Cleaners” that are less than 100Grams per liter. Both traditional wash and this year UV wash in Southern California have been mandated to use these products and as you mention in your article there are several wolfes in sheeps clothing. Many of the wash manufacturers are creating washes using Acetone( EXEMPT Ingredent) to speed drying on the blankets and rollers while the owners don’t realize how much damage is being done to their rollers and blankets as a results of using these products. And don’t get me started on what these products do to an automatic blanket wash system, the point is there is a great article here an no one has approached it yet.

  2. SFI Program

    Thank you for listing the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) as a credible certification standard. For more information, please visit SFI’s website at sfiprogram.org.

  3. Paul England

    Bruce: Yes, the lingering issues regarding washing up materials in the SCAQMD (and a few other AQMD, such as San Joaquin and Bay Area) are a cause for concern. The revised materials and procedures are often specified from a somewhat draconian, myopic viewpoint and sometimes present a greater hazard than the methods they intend to replace (for example, the acetone-based methods you describe). I’ve heard some pretty good reports from people using Micro-90 in press washup. While not as aggressive as some solvents, it is approved by the SCAQMD and is serviceable for that use.

    The best thing we can do as a printing community is to become involved. Share your concerns with your government officials, participate in events, write letters — it’s up to us to help them find environmentally improved solutions that both function and don’t drive us all out of business!

    SFI: Absolutely! Much talk surrounds the use of recycled fiber, but of greater importance (in my opinion, of course*) is the growing consumer preference for media that has both certified sustainable fibers and an unbroken CoC. If we treat trees as a well-managed crop that is sustainable, efficient and from lands that support biodiverse replanting we will be much better off. Of course, that mouthful isn’t as easy to quip as “save a tree”, so using SFI (and of course, FSC and/or PEFC) as identifiable brands for such papers makes great sense.

    (* To explain: the growth of consumer demand and preference for PCW in writing and printing papers is mostly a good thing, but it’s causing paper mills to seek this fiber on the open market. Long story short, if we aren’t careful we may well end up sending virgin fiber to corrugated mills to fill the void from higher demand for PCW in writing and printing grades — not the intended outcome! We still must have PCW in fine papers, but only as it makes sense. Perhaps it makes better sense to look for papers with a mix of some recycled content AND sustainable, managed virgin pulp and save the bulk of the PCW for use in paperboard, newsprint, pulp grades and the like? It just doesn’t make sense to truck NYC recycled paper to Vermont to make fine papers and sending VT virgin fiber to Staten Island to make corrugated, right?)

    The important thing here of course is Jodie’s bulleted list of things you can do. Fix the easy things first, and continually work on the rest. Seek business partners who will commit to improving their footprint. Believe it or not, Walmart is setting the standard for selecting sustainable partners. Check out their sustainability index: http://walmartstores.com/Sustainability/9292.aspx and work on developing something similar for your business. Remember, doing the right thing for the planet makes good business sense on top of being the right thing to do.

  4. Buzz Tatom

    Liked the article and I think one of the ways to tell whether someone is green washing is how many steps have they taken or is it just one thing they are doing so they can say they are green. As a company we have chosen to be FSC & SFI certified as well as purchasing carbon credits to help offset our footprint in the printing business. This is on top of recycling all paper waste, ink and press solutions and plates. Are we perfect? No, but being able to point to the number of things that we have done most people feel comfortable that they have a pretty good partner and we feel we can answer honestly that we are green.

  5. Jodie MacLellan

    Thank you for the comments. It’s discussions like these and others that raise awareness and provide ideas on how we can we can be more environmentally responsible.

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