Greener Print Procurement Guide + Print for Environment

[ 1st online 2006 :: public Launch, World Environment Day, 5 June 06 :: revision 2.5g 22apr18 ] related REAP eco paper guide


The ‘global’ Paris Agreement on Climate Change (12/12/2015) is designed to act on many issues that include halting deforestation and forest degradation. There are many issues related to forest degradation and one area we can make a difference is ensuring all paper has high post consumer recycled content. Communicating in print should not be at the expense of our environment, our climate and our long term future. As the past environmental consequences of commercial printing, paper and its related industries becomes more apparent, so does the need for change. This guide provides information on current best practice and the newer, cleaner print process alternatives. Old practice of highly toxic and volatile chemical usage, high CO2 emissions, VOC’s, high water and energy usage in manufacturing, high virgin fibre content in paper, and disposal of all these items continues to be a huge environmental load that is not necessary. And, where these old practices are still prevalent, the process or usage itself needs to re-designed to ensure the minimum environmental and carbon footprint is achieved.
The print industry is keen to show they are improving in many areas but it’s only through a combined effort from industry, designers, specifiers, and consumers that will ensure best practice is ultimately reached. This combined guide will empower you to make more informed choices if you are in the position of specifying, designing, or ordering print. Your informed decisions will result in positive, flow-on changes and longer term benefits. (you can also decide if this is a one-sided view of the discussion:

Re-Thinking the Design-for-Print Process

Carefully select designers and printers ensuring they have genuine green credentials. Professionals with a full working knowledge of green design principles can make all the difference ensuring your work is produced with best current practice.  PROJECT TYPE  To reach your target market review the best method for delivery, reach, cost and client understanding? Is print the best vehicle? For example, could a web-based file in a PDF (Portable Document Format) be a good alternative? Is there other less resource-intensive ways of delivering the message?
The larger the project is in both the quantity and physical size, the more time and care should go into the production choices. For example, a larger print run of 50,000 annual reports is of significantly greater concern than a small quantity of, say, 200 business cards relating directly to the quantities of resources used. This has impact on each jobs’ environmental and carbon footprint.  PRINT RUN SIZE  Consider the print run size. Can we optimise? Assess the quantity well to select closer to the quantity needed. Gone are the days of “it only costs a few cents to have thousands more” as we know we need to account for environmental cost.
Do we need a movie size poster or will a more modest size serve us well? Many properties should be considered here from printed sheet size, stock weight, print storage to mailing size. Multiple opportunities to save exist here also from lower energy to transport, less space to store and reduced weight of course means lower postage costs. Consider the weight of the ‘stock’. If for short term use, maybe go lighter; if longevity is required, a heavier stock that’s also ph balanced may be more appropriate. Consider the size of the sheet as another job may be planned alongside or a more efficient size may be selected.  PREPRESS  Once it was all film and chemicals with all their associated toxic waste. Now there are several greener options with top results including Direct imaging (DI), Computer to plate (CtP) and Chemical free plates. All are variations of a digital image that’s burned or exposed to the printing plate. Proofing and soft-proofing is a continuously improving area with many options with digital proofs are now the norm. Avoid film separations, chromalin proofs or plastic coated stock if at all possible.
Numerous print styles exist from traditional lithography to waterless to web offset and direct imaging techniques. Several of these may be appropriate, dependent on factors noted in this guide. Proper enquiries should be made into each printers chemical usage such as VOC’s, Alcohol and toxic substitutes in dampening and cleaning solutions that are environmentally hazardous. Add to this the full range of environmental considerations every genuine greener printer should be both aware of and have in standard practice. Seek professional graphic assistance here and always verify if this process the greenest choice available? There are multiple factors that should be considered and asking informed questions is a major part of that process.  COLOUR SELECTION  The less colours you use the better. However, if you’re considering printing with three specials, it may be cleaner and cheaper to print four colour process due to its popularity as some press wash-ups may be avoided. Check with your printer as many machines are 4-colour/cmyk these days.
Greener preference goes to Vege based ink (usually linseed or canola oil based), secondly to Soy inks (you may need to check the ingredients, as some labeled soy may be only part soy based with the bulk being petrochemical based) and thirdly traditional or conventional petrochemical based inks. Essentially, petrochemical based inks have VOC’s, a more chemically volatile make-up, require more toxic cleaning processes and are not made from renewable sources. For similar reasons, also avoid or limit the use of metallic and fluorescent inks.

Paper (Stock) Selection :

Consider these simple steps (and if they don’t look so simple, contact your greener graphic professional).
If possible, as a first choice select an Uncoated stock. For all stocks generally, for better recyclability, the less coating the better. The coating of stocks are not readily recyclable so the more physical coating(s) the lesser the proportional yield of recycled fibre.

Ensure the stock selected contains as much Post Consumer fibre as is available for the task. *100% PC is the greenest option though 85 to 90% PC plus 10 to 15% PRE content extends the recycled fibre value. Check the REAP guide for great Free comparative input here.  HIGH PRE-CONSUMER FIBRE CONTENT (PRE) Second choice that it contains as much Pre-Consumer fibre as possible so the combined recycled content is the highest available. (Please note: For this guide the ‘PRE’ classification does NOT include Mill Broke. Be aware that Europe uses different standards and some of their paper labeled PRE-consumer FIBRE content may be only Mill Broke or fibre that has never left the manufacturing cycle and as such is NOT really recycled at all. Tougher Australian and US standards specifically disclude this misleading claim).  CONSIDER TREE-FREE OPTIONS  Though less readily available, there are many tree-free alternatives that include kenaf, hemp, bagasse (sugarcane fibre), even banana and other combinations that are all fully recyclable or will nicely decompose in your garden compost or worm farm as well. (Be aware that use the term “Tree Free” is specifically to avoid confusion with the term “WoodFree”. This is yet another misleading term that we need to encourage to be changed to the more accurate “Lignin Free” label as this is actually 100% fibre from trees).

A recent development is paper with some Carbon Life Cycle Analysis assessesment for which offsets are purchased to promote the product as Carbon Neutral. Like any offset process, this is far from an end by itself and also requires comparative evaluation. Watch for several factors such as where it is “CO2 Neutral to …”, usually only within the mill itself and then only to the Mill front gate which ignores many related carbon losses and is well short if the mill is literally 12,000 nautical miles away. Firstly, care needs to be exercised to ensure a full tally of all carbon released from the logging, forest disruption, log and or pulp transportation, all manufacture processes and transporting to final port destination is included. Then, look how it is offset to ensure they are with clearly beneficial projects as yet more marketing claims abound. Beyond Carbon offsets, there are still multiple benefits possible from all the other positive criteria combined to reach best practice that is needed to balance all the harm already done to our environment over many decades. We do welcome full and accurate carbon accounting with proper offsets.  BLEACHING  Bleaching should be in order of priority (least environmental cost first): PCF, that’s Process Chlorine Free for recycled fibre. Often of an unknown bleach origin but at least it’s not bleached again. TCF is Totally Chlorine Free. As it’s name suggests only non-chlorinated methods are used. ECF or Elemental Chlorine Free is less expensive to produce than TCF but yields around 2% more fibre. Papers bleached with Chlorine or chlorinated compounds should be avoided entirely as their associated dioxins are highly toxic to marine and terrestrial life. Most chlorinated paper production has been phased out since the 1990s.

The Forest Stewardship Council is the independent body globally recognised as capable of accurately determining fibre origin by tracking it from forest to printer called Chain of Custody (COC). The FSC has significantly raised the bar in sustainable forest resource management. Many companies around the world now support FSC Chain of Custody directly : search them at FSC online. So look for the FSC mark but ensure you check what percentage is FSC content and also what type as they label both Virgin and Recycled wood fibre. The two grades of most interest are “Recycled 100%” and “Mixed Sources” as only these may have PC recycled content. The first is self explanatory and the highest standard available however the second “Mixed Sources” may have good forest checking but only contains Post Consumer recycled content if specified.
SUMMARY: Naturally we first want highest possible recycled content. So, FSC Recycled 100%, High PC%, then High PRE and then FSC Mixed Sources with high recycled content, then high FSC virgin content, then plantation, then managed forest then unspecified origin, in that order. Please check fibre content properly as many marketing claims often make it hard to define.

THE IDEAL PAPER from the greener perspective would be locally recycled 85+% Post Consumer content with the balance fresher PRE consumer fibre to allow continuing quality in recyclability. Minimum or Zero virgin fibre content and combine this with minimal bleaching and thus higher in Process Chlorine Free with maybe some TCF bleaching and with minimal or NO other additives, optical brighteners, coatings or finishes. The paper mill should have good ISO and Environmental Management Systems plus FSC accreditation. Add to this complete LCA assessed and fully CO2 Neutral to your country, but don’t expect to find this all just yet. Still we need to know what to request and what heritage a theoretical best practice paper would have. (Contact SRD if you need help with any of this)

Greener Communication is rarely by accident …

What are the greener methods to enhance, protect, project an image or style or achieve a special effect? Simply water soluble coatings, products or processes are far less toxic than other processes and will ultimately compost better as well. Consider whether an embellishment may reduce it’s recyclability, or even worse increase it’s landfill life?  Embossing, for example, creates far less impact than the addition of petrochemical based lacquer coatings or metallic finishes that have landfill life many generations beyond our own.

P R I N T   ideas

Wherever possible, select an uncoated paper as first preference : : CTP (computer to plate) processes avoids film and uses less chemicals. Ensure “No Process” plates are used to avoid nearly all chemicals in Prepress : : Water based varnishes are much safer than petrochemical based : : Request vege based inks that have minimal VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and low toxicity : : For short run printing some digital printers may be the better option whilst for runs over 1,000 the waterless offset or alcohol free print methods has numerous advantages including not being solvent based, prints cleaner colours and superior results especially on uncoated stocks and overall uses less water and energy : : Always check these details with your graphic designer as projects, paper and printers vary greatly : : Print paper name, enviro qualities and print specs. on each job to help others see best practice : : See for more.

Good Environmental Choice link GECA. Good Environmental Choice Australia. Shows the list of environmental labelling standards used by the Good Environmental Choice program. Core performance benchmarks that products are verified against for compliance in order to receive the Good Environmental Choice Mark. At website, View PDF via link PRINTERS AND PRINTED MATTER


Find comparative listings for a wide range of paper, listed in four major categories. These groupings plus specified percentages to much better define recycled content are major considerations toward greening any print project. Together these multiple factors help to define each papers ecological footprint. Information for distance travelled and the relative additional carbon footprint is based on the perspective from Australia and New Zealand. The REAP eco paper guide

As processes and products are regularly improved, information on this page may be incomplete. We encourage further research and comparisons and we welcome your feedback. Feel free to promote this guide and it’s concepts encouraging greater appreciation of natural resources beyond commercial values while also requesting more sustainable, responsibly produced products. Further notes and references will be following onsite soon. Suggestions / comments or requests for assistance with the maze of terms, print and paper types to the GPPG creator, Greg Campbell : gppg [AT] : : DesignOz © 2006-2018. Usage for study purposes is encouraged and all commercial usage must include copyright notice with credit and Disclaimer : all information supplied as suggestions only with suitability to be confirmed independently for each job, see other site disclaimers and end of SRD home page. E&OE. Further input from other greener suppliers is welcome. The first version of this guide included collaboration with the SRD, AGDA and GECA. Many thanks go to those that have assisted with their time and input including Warren McLaren (SRD), Austin Rolf Buchholtz (SRD), Petar Johnson (GECA), Melissa (GECA) and the AGDA NSW council. The Greener Print Procurement guide : last update 22apr18 revision 2.5g