Efforts to improve the environmental footprint of print take many forms. However the only ones likely to make a difference generally coincide with commercial interests. Owners of such efforts are in a slippery position in that they potentially lay themselves open to charges of greenwashing and exploitation, no matter how sincere their offerings. But even if greenwashing is often the case, it’s not necessarily a bad thing because it can still encourage debate and interaction. This helps break down perceived barriers separating commercial interests and environmentalism. The two are not mutually exclusive, wherever you sit on the environmental spectrum
There are plenty of organisations offering to sell you an ecolabel of some description. But many of these are self-certified labels that actually have little meaning. Their adjudicators are happy to take your money, but do little to make any real difference to the environmental impact of products and services. It’s only cosmetic and it’s the worst kind of greenwash, because the monies paid are rarely invested into developing the tools to improve environmental impacts. Apart from FSC and PEFC chain of custody certifications for wood based products, there are no sector specific labels for graphics products and services. However the major ecolabels for the most part specify requirements for print.
Working out if it’s better for the planet to communicate in print, or to do it digitally just got easier, sort of. ISO standards developers working on documents for graphics technologies, have written a document for calculating the carbon footprint of electronic media. ISO 20294 is moving into the final stages of its development and is expected to be with ISO to ready for final publication by the end of the year. This is by no means a definitive piece of work, but it is hoped that it will encourage better appreciation of the environmental impact of digital media. At best it’s a start, but you don’t get anywhere without making a start.
By all accounts the textile printing business is set to explode, thanks to digital printing technologies. For instance Fibre2fashion, analysts for the fashion industry, reckon that in 2017 the amount of fabric printed digitally will be more than one billion square metres and reach 2.5 billion square metres by 2020. They estimate that CAGR from 2015 to 2020 will be 28%, with 5% of that printed digitally, up from 2% in 2016.
The problem is not unique to digital presses, but how do you measure energy usage and the overall energy efficiency of a machine? With cars the most usual method is the miles per gallon, or how many litres of fuel it takes to travel 100 kilometres. Just in this example we can see how slippery the actual values are, how subjective. For instance do the calculations accurately take into account traffic, hills, darkness or temperature? The problem with energy calculations is that there are so many variables involved. The data on which the averaged result is based is likely to be deeply buried, so using the result in a meaningful way won’t be easy or convenient.