Last time we checked there were almost five hundred different eco labels around the world. Most of them applied to food and coffee, or soil or some such. But a handful, such as the Nordic Swan, apply to any type of business, including the graphics industry. The Nordic Swan label is amongst the most internationally respected and it is also special because it has specific guidelines for printers who want to achieve certification.
But the current guidelines only apply until December 2017. Nordic Swan’s owners are working on a new version of the ecolabel. It is hoped that the 2018 edition will take into account a more nuanced set of criteria for printers, especially when it comes to digital printing. Currently the label is not consistent with industry realities. It is for example heavily biased in favour of an outmoded deinkability test, stating that only test methods consistent Ingede Method 11 can be used. Unfortunately Ingede Method 11 is a single loop deinking test that the industry is rapidly outpacing.
In order to gain the Nordic Swan certification, printing companies must meet various optional and mandatory requirements for which they are awarded points based on their compliance. They get points for each printing method used and the number of points available varies with the printing method. The highest number possible is 90 awarded for coldset newspaper printing. This is because newspapers are generally printed on recycled paper, which the Nordic Swan favours. The lowest number is 56 for offset printed packaging, which is curious since most packaging uses corrugated and board made from recycled papers. There are also no points awarded for printing forme production method. Despite the obvious environmental benefits there are no points for direct to plate production, the use of processless plates or printing direct to press.
It’s clear that the label does indeed need a facelift and we are hoping that some of its more egregious anomalies get sorted in the next version. For instance the Swan rewards production processes that facilitate recycling of print, but it doesn’t reward companies whose production processes minimise waste in the first place. Nor can you get extra points for process efficiencies such as colour management that optimise production or result in reduced transportation. There are no prizes for producing print close to its point of use which cuts emissions associated with transport or on demand which cuts waste production.
The Nordic Swan ecolabel prioritises the ease of turning printed papers into raw materials for recycling. It excludes process control and awards just a single point for print that complies with ISO 12647’s quality requirements. This is too low, since compliance to this standard requires tight process control and colour management, both of which cut waste through efficiency improvements. There are also no points awarded for use of ISO 16759, for calculating the carbon footprint of print. This standard can provide printing companies with benchmarks for different job types so that emissions can be better controlled. Let’s hope the Nordic Swan stewards accept industry input for an improved version in 2018, one that reflects the reality of today’s printing industry.
– Laurel Brunner