Ethical Paper Choices

The only way to move ahead in this decade to come will be to see good environmental outcomes as the norm, and poor environmental outcomes need to be seen for what they are; the community continuing to subsidise poor environmental outcomes. Choose a printer that prints green because it is the only way, not the marketing way.

Your printer needs to be transparent in the whole process. Always ask if your pride and joy will be printed onsite and this will give you your first clue as to whether you are in the right place. Most printers will unfortunately be only too happy to take your order only to outsource the work and therefore outsource the environmental responsibility. Ask to do a press check; this will help ensure you are given the correct information on the printing process and the environmental outcomes.

Your printer should be entirely committed to meeting your requirements and aim to provide a very personal service to ensure not just a close working relationship but a successful sustainable print project. Components of quality printing service include comprehensive information and advice on sustainable stock selection.

If you believe the spin it will not be difficult to find an environmentally focused printer because you cannot find a non-green printer in recent times, just do a quick Google and every website for a printer will have something to convince you that they only print in their spare time when they are not saving an eco system somewhere.

The term “greenwash” was coined way back in 1986 when an American environmentalist blew the whistle on a hotel group attempting to save money by encouraging guests to use their towels more than once before asking that they be washed. Twenty years later we find this behaviour has increased exponentially to include all industries including printing.

If you want to ensure that your printer is actually interested in the environment and not just “motherhood” statements, you need to ask the serious questions and visit the premises to see for yourself the working environment. Ask what environmental accreditation has the printer been awarded? How do they measure their carbon emissions? What recycling programs do they have and how much water do they use?

The environmental accreditation of your chosen printer is the first step in actually appraising their environmental commitment. ISO14001 is a system whereby your print company can justifiably claim to be on the starting blocks on the sustainable print run; after all, anyone can claim to be green but to have any credibility you have to have external validation.

Some printers will avoid the question of accreditation by talking about the paper accreditation, while this is obviously important it does not address the full printing process, you could have the highest environmentally accredited paper available but if the printer is not, then you are essentially only looking at half the picture.

The choice seems obvious when it comes to selecting the stock (paper), recycled right? Well yes and no, the question becomes a little more complex when you ask how much recycled content? How do I know it is recycled and where did it come from? How much carbon is used in producing the stock?

Every year, over 15 million hectares of the Earth’s forests are destroyed. In Australia, since European settlement, over 90% of our old growth forests have been cleared.

Logging in native forests has global impacts. It reduces biodiversity, threatens the survival of our native plants and animals, and releases vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, making climate change worse. Woodchipping destroys old growth forests and degrades water catchments, polluting our rivers and reducing water supplies.

Make sure the paper is certified as either FSC® or PEFC, this will help ensure the pulp is from sustainable forestry practices,  secondly make sure it is chlorine free and lastly look for a paper that is produced carbon neutral.

The gold standard is 100% recycled post consumer waste paper that is FSC® certified and produced carbon neutral.

If you have a limited budget or have a glossier aesthetic do not discount stock that is not recycled, in fact the carbon usage, on average, to process recycled stock is more intensive than producing the stock from virgin pulp, so fibre sourced from pulp suppliers who use sustainable forestry techniques can also be a great choice and have less of a carbon footprint than certain recycled stocks. Once again insist on FSC® or PEFC.

Choosing the most environmentally focussed stock is down to the questions you ask, and the first and most important question to consider is the concept of the ‘cradle to grave’ carbon life of the paper.

For every tree cut down, a new one can be planted and later cut down and replaced by a new tree—a cycle that can theoretically happen forever.

Paper is known to sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide, since it is derived from plants, which sequester carbon dioxide by photosynthesis. Paper can, even after manufacture, printing, distribution, and eventual disposal, still carry a significant carbon credit, in some cases equal to 200 kilograms of carbon dioxide per tonne of paper.”

Basically, trees take in water and carbon dioxide, breaking it down in photosynthesis to produce energy and releasing oxygen as a waste product. The trees hold on to this carbon, even after they are cut down and made into paper. So long as the tree and products made from the tree haven’t decomposed or been burned (at which point the carbon joins with two oxygen, becoming carbon dioxide again) the carbon stays trapped inside it, serving as a carbon sink.

‘The paper industry plants more than it harvests and today there are 25% more trees in the developed world than in 1900. Paper is biodegradable, renewable and sustainable. Forestry plantations provide clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.’

This marketing blurb is from the Paper industry but it is essentially correct, though not quite so simplistic; as we all know, to plant a plantation where there was a bio diverse forest is not necessarily a good thing, so we need to make sure we do not obsess about the carbon over all other considerations, however it is generally a good yard stick.

So if you want to print that poster, magazine or catalogue and not have visions of choking on a cloud of carbon from the destruction you have caused the responsibility is yours to ask your printer all the questions you can, remember the more environmentally aware you are the more environmentally focused your printer and paper mill will become.