Prints sustainability – is it as bad as we think?

 In Print Is Not Dead

During my masters research, an area of print that I looked at in great detail was its sustainability and impact on the environment. While there will always be haters saying how bad print is, there is equally as much damage – if not more – to the environment with the increase in our digital usage. From materials through to manufacture, there are pros and cons to both print and digital. But is print really as bad as it’s made out to be?

When we think of sustainability the term environmentally friendly comes to mind. The definition however is twofold. According to the Cambridge dictionary the term sustainability means: a) the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do now damage the environment; and b) the ability to continue at a particular level for a period of time. (Cambridge Dictionary, 2017) To understand how paper and print can continue it’s important to look at the resources used for printed periodicals to determine whether they are as detrimental to the environment as digital portrays it to be.

There are positives to being digital friendly when it comes to periodicals. What if we flip the scale and look at the negatives, would our opinions on the physicality of print change? Are paper and printed publications as much of a threat to the environment as assumed?

The process of recycling causes less harm than the production of brand new materials. When it comes to choosing digital over print, the production of your printed periodical should not be a factor. Paper is indeed an option that, in theory, creates less emissions and uses less energy than their digital alternatives.

Sustainability is one of the greatest myths that haunts the print industry. For years it has been argued that paper is damaging rainforests, crucially harming the Earth’s natural resources. Yet in 2014 it was reported that “the European recycling rate for paper reached 72% … that amounts to 2 tonnes of paper being recycled every second” suggesting paper to be an ecological viable option. (Twosides.info, 2017) Over 50% of raw materials for the paper industry in Europe is paper used for recycling. Paper can only be recycled so many times before the fibres lose their strength and therefore fresh fibres will be required. “Overall, 52.6% of the fibres used in new paper and board products are sourced from the ‘urban forest’ of used paper-products” with the ability for paper to be recycled up to six or seven times. (CEPI Sustainability Report 2013, 2013) “Paper recycling uses a renewable resource that sequesters carbon and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” (International Council of Forest and Paper Associations Statement on Paper Recycling, 2015) Regardless of injecting new fibres from sustainable forests, the process of recycling causes less harm than the production of brand new materials. When it comes to choosing digital over print, the production of your printed periodical should not be a factor. Paper is indeed an option that, in theory, creates less emissions and uses less energy than their digital alternatives

For obvious reasons, digital periodicals do not have an impact on wood resources. But the myth that paper is not sustainable can be found a false claim. Rather it is one of the most sustainable products available. “Paper is a uniquely renewable and sustainable product” yet it is discouraged. (Twosides.info, 2017) Computers and internet usage with cloud services are far less sustainable with Greenpeace noting in 2014 that “if we compared the electricity demand of countries in the same year, the cloud wold rank 6th in the world, with demand expected to increased 63% by 2020.” (Twosides.info, 2017) For now, print is a viable option. Being sustainable is important to readers of periodicals and its creators. These digital findings however suggest that being digital friendly is counterintuitive and may have detrimental repercussions in the near future.

In Germany ecology is incredibly important, especially for the print industry. Lokay printing based in Frankfurt, Germany, use environmentally friendly inks and papers with the Kodak Sonora XP printer – promoting zero chemistry, less water and energy usage with less maintenance and waste. In the 2016 YouTube series with Kodak, American designer Tad Carpenter discovered Lokay to have an 80% less carbon footprint. Thomas Fleckenstein, Marketing and Environmental Officer for Lokay, suggests print sustainability to be a change of mindset as sustainable print does not have to compromise on the quality of print itself. “Sustainability is in process; we are still in the beginning. It can go two ways. You can believe in print, invest and be a part of It or you drop and you go off. Lokay believe in the future of print.” (Eastman Kodak, 2016) This is just one example of how print can be defined as sustainable in terms of resources.

Sources

CEPI Sustainability Report 2013. (2013). 1st ed. [ebook] CEPI. Available at: http://twosides.info/includes/files/upload/files/UK/Myths_and_Facts_2016_Sources/12-13/CEPI_Sustainability_Report_2013_Full.pdf [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].
Dictionary, C. (2017). sustainability Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. [online] Dictionary.cambridge.org. Available at: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sustainability [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].
Eastman Kodak, (2016). #PressOn with Tad Carpenter. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZIFV0v8Qps [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].
International Council of Forest and Paper Associations Statement on Paper Recycling. (2015). 1st ed. [ebook] ICFPA. Available at: http://twosides.info/includes/files/upload/files/UK/Myths_and_Facts_2016_Sources/12-13/ICFPA-statement-on-paper-recycling.pdf [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].
Twosides.info. (2017). Electronic communication also has environmental impacts. [online] Available at: http://www.twosides.info/Electronic-Communication [Accessed 4 Apr. 2017].
Twosides.info. (2017) Paper is one of the most recycled products in the world. [online] Available at: http://twosides.info/Recycled-Products [Accessed 13 Feb. 2017].
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