Nailing down what makes a system sustainable or not exercises some of the best brains on the planet. Mostly this is in response to the threats of climate change, but the graphics industry’s sustainability credentials are mostly based on responses to existential threats. The industry has been blessed with two life threatening events: digital technology gave us electronic prepress and typesetting; the internet wiped out whole sectors of publishing and production. Both events forced many businesses to the wall, albeit for different reasons, but the net result has been positive. We have seen huge innovations in production software and hardware and in applications. More importantly we have a far more environmentally sustainable industry. Waste continues to be forced out of print media production systems and process control cuts energy usage and the associated emissions. Printing close to the point of use reduces transport emissions too.
It’s the graphics industry’s most anticipated show. It’s the lynchpin show that has for years dictated research and development schedules, marketing budgets and contract signings. Attendance has been in slow but relentless decline since Drupa’s 1980s heyday, but this does little to diminish the show’s power to focus minds. Drupa 2020 takes place this June and hopes are high that there will be some loud shouting about the sustainability of the printing industry, along with some sort of leadership.
Important as they might be to us as individuals, environmental impact mitigation and sustainability concerns have much lower priority when it comes to most businesses. Say what they like, but if supporting environmental initiatives means adding cost or inconvenience, most firms are unlikely to take them up. It’s a terrible thing to admit, but sadly that reality is the case in the graphics industry. And yet supporting sustainability and environmental impact mitigation in graphics production can save money and help process automation. This should help overcome perceptions of inconvenience too and yet it doesn’t.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is following the European Union (EU) in committing to phase out single use plastics. The NDRC has announced a number of bans including of plastic bags and a cut of 30% in single use plastics in restaurants by 2025. Hotels must have stopped offering single use plastics by 2025 too, by when it will also be illegal to make and sell plastic bags that are less than 0.025mm thick.
Everyone in the graphics industry depends on Microsoft and Apple to provide the software infrastructure so vital to prepress and workflows. Apple’s commitment to environmental impact mitigation is extensively publicised but we hear relatively little from Microsoft on the matter. That changed with Microsoft’s recent announcement that it aims to be carbon negative by 2030. Even bolder, by 2050 Microsoft will “remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975”. This is quite extraordinary, not least because calculating “all the carbon” is a Herculean task on its own.