The forgotten branch of green consumables

Jenny Roper
Thursday, October 4, 2012

From inks, to plates, to wash-up systems and pressroom chemistry, sourcing sustainably makes environmental - and business - sense

It sounds like a health and safety nightmare: a print buyer poking their nose into chemical drums, dipping their hands into vats of non-hazardous ink, and peering into industrial sinks once toxic chemicals are poured away. But this, if many printers had their way, is exactly what an explanation of their eco-credentials would involve. For going green, for some printers, is now not just a matter of sourcing paper responsibly and investing in the latest low-power press, but, thanks to a recent raft of green consumables releases, a matter also of using eco versions of inks, plates, wash-up systems and many other pressroom products besides.

Of course, the likelihood of a print buyer having the time and inclination to have even a detailed conversation about how every element of these trailblazing printers’ pressrooms is now doing their bit for the planet, is pretty slim. In an ideal world, buyers would have plenty of time to get to grips with the intricacies of plate washing and chemical disposal and their environmental impact. And in an ideal world, printers would be able to put the environment at the top of the agenda, above cost considerations and the risks involved in switching from tried and tested ways of doing things.

But of course, neither of these scenarios is the case. And so printers, keen that any investment or switch should not only benefit the planet but also their reputation and ultimately bottom line, may well question the incentives for going green.

Certainly Matthew Parker, founding director of Print and Procurement, has seen little buyer interest in the specifics of how a printer is doing their bit for the planet. "I think I’ve had one customer who has cared about green consumables this year," he says. "There are some customers who want to be environmentally friendly, but I don’t think they understand which areas they can do this in when it comes to print. They never get as far as the consumables. And the vast majority of customers don’t care, but would quite like a little logo to stick on and are happy with FSC and ISO 14001."

Badges and benchmarks
And, apart from where paper is concerned, switching to greener consumables won’t actually help printers in the majority of cases achieve these much sought-after but arguably limited array of badges. "ISO 14001 is not an environmental benchmark, it’s purely a tool," clarifies Clare Taylor, print environmental consultant,  explaining that the nature of the ISO accreditation, where printers have to demonstrate that they are continually working to achieve environmental goals appropriate to their operation, does not mean certain aspects, such as using greener consumables, necessarily have to be factored in at all.

However, there are some who would counter that in most instances, upgrading to an environmentally friendlier version of an ink, fount solution or cleaner won’t actually cost the printer any more, and so going green is a perfectly feasible step to take for its own sake.

"Generally, green consumables don’t come at an increased cost," reports Sean Lane, product manager of offset solutions at Fujifilm. "Generally it’s not so difficult to make a product green without significantly increasing the cost. So maybe in the past certain minerals were used because they were cheap and available, but now we realise they’re not so environmentally friendly, we’ve found an alternative that performs a similar job but has better environmental credentials."

And printers should see no sacrifice in performance he says: "There is nothing to say that if you go green you will have maybe a narrower tolerance or worse performance, not at all. The analogy is cars – you can have a greener model that is actually better than the last model too."

So, even if customers aren’t demanding greener consumables, it seems sensible that in some instances a responsible printer should opt for a more eco-friendly product. And in fact, there could be other benefits in doing so.

One of these, says Fuji’s Lane, is reduced insurance costs. "By removing alcohol from a pressroom, which is quite a nasty volatile substance that can be dangerous to handle, printers may benefit from a financial gain through reduced business and personal insurance," he says.

Another, says Chris Murley, co-owner and director at PBL Print, is reduced hazardous chemical disposal costs. "We have chem-free plates, so we’ve dispensed with all of the processing waste that we had with the old plates," he says. "Business sense comes into it because obviously otherwise we’ve got these harmful chemicals that we have to pay to be removed from the premises."

And in fact, sourcing exactly the right consumables for the presses being used and the jobs being printed, whether these consumables are explicitly labelled as eco-friendly or not, will help printers minimise their environmental impact while also cutting costs, says Andrew Pang, director of consumables operations at KBA. "Investing in the most appropriate consumables for your press by working closely with a team like KBA’s Approved Consumables Division who will carefully analyse your needs, will lead to the elimination of errors and the need for reprints. That will reduce outgoings, give long-term consistency and quality, and create a highly sustainable printing process."

But while most switches to a more effective and so greener, or overtly eco-labelled consumable won’t end up costing the printer more, there are some instances where it could.

One of these, admits Fujifilm’s Lane, is where the printer is switching to processless plates. "There are great environmental benefits to removing all of your chemicals, your power requirements and your waste chemicals, but these plates are more expensive," he admits.

So a printer will need, says Clare Taylor, to carefully consider whether the extra expense of the plates will be mitigated by savings made, and if they are willing to foot the bill. "With processless plates you aren’t buying the water or chemicals for the plate processor, you’re not spending the time doing the cleaning of the processor and you’re not having to dispose of the used chemicals," she says. "But you need to balance it out compared to the cost of the plates, so you need to do all of the sums. For some people it will work out a definite benefit, for others it may not. It depends on what your run lengths are, how many plates you get through – all those different variables that change from printer to printer."

Invest to impress
But even where processless plates or other consumables do end up costing more overall, there are those who say making this investment will still be worthwhile because it will in fact impress some prospective customers. There are those who say that the situation, as reported by Taylor and Print and Procurement’s Parker, where print buyers never get down in a tendering process to the nitty gritty of consumables used, could be changing, and that green consumables could soon hold more sway.

Peter Banks, sales director at Presstek, says that he has seen a recent shift in the level of detail print buyers are interested in when it comes to a printer’s green credentials, which means more will be interested to hear about, for instance, Presstek’s plateless DI presses and processless plates. "We have customers who do absolutely gain business because of their environmental credentials, no question," he says. "Their sales approach will be an environmental one where they show they are making the right choices and going the extra mile. And there’s no doubt that this movement is gaining momentum."

This is a shift in buyer mentality, reports Heidelberg’s head of consumables Peter Tix, which Heidelberg too has witnessed, launching the Saphira Eco range in response. Tix concedes, however, that marketing just how environmentally friendly all the different consumables a printer uses can be a tricky business, which is why the company has also launched the Saphira Eco label, awarded to businesses using only Saphira Eco approved consumables.

"We have noticed a trend of print buyers becoming much more interested to work on their environmental image, but they typically do not have a deep enough knowledge to ask the right questions so need a clear stamp of approval for the consumables," he says, explaining that this Saphira Eco stamp can be used to achieve a range of certifications, such as the EU’s EcoLabel.

While UK printers may not currently be seeing huge interest in the greenness of their consumables, then, they may need to bear in mind that, as badges specifically denoting green consumables catch on, with perhaps more suppliers starting to offer these, they could in future become another de rigueur badge to hold. The level of interest the Saphira Eco label has generated suggests this may become the case, claims Tix. "It’s a domino effect: one printer has it, and buyers start requiring it of other printers before they place work."

Kodak’s product stewardship manager, Greg Batts, agrees. "I predict in a few years time people will only choose suppliers that have green initiatives," he says.

Future gains
So overhauling current systems and perhaps paying a bit more now could certainly be a wise move in ensuring future success. And if time is given over to sitting down and working out the predicted savings made on chemical disposal, insurance costs, power savings and cleaning time, it may well emerge that going green could in fact be a wise move for the present as well.

This is certainly the conclusion that PBL’s Murley has come to: "You can actually save money by being greener – it affects the bottom line."

"And from a director’s point of view you’ve got more peace of mind – we do a bit of a messy job in print, so if we can minimise our impact, it does make you feel better," he adds. "It makes you proud of what you do."


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