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Turning CMYK into Green

Touting your shop's shrinking environmental footprint makes good business sense.

While your machines print in CMYK, what you really are printing is green-the color of money. But now, "printing green" is gaining a whole new meaning. Today, doing business is becoming more and more about being environmentally responsible and producing your products in way that is healthy and minimizes the resources needed-whether you’re in the business of producing Nike tennis shoes or outputting a wide-format building wrap that promotes that footwear.

"Sustainability" is the new buzz word. Companies are sustainable when they "develop a framework, a strategy, to integrate economic growth, social equity, and environmental management throughout the company’s operation," explains Marci Kinter, vice-president for government and business information for the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA). For instance, three companies that are doing just that include:

* Nike is looking for "sustainable product innovation." The shoe company wants to eliminate waste and toxics in its products. It defines "products" to include "shoes, apparel, and equipment, but also our offices and the processes used to generate products."

* In February of this year, Wal-Mart president and CEO Lee Scott unveiled "Sustainability 360-a company-wide emphasis on sustainability extending beyond Wal-Mart’s direct environmental footprint to engage associates, suppliers, communities and customers."

* And Microsoft has developed "corporate policies and procedures that conserve environmental resources at our facilities and in our products, packaging, and supplier operations." Its stated environmental principles include, "Make environmental stewardship part of our business relationships," which includes getting similar environmental commitments from major suppliers.

In all these examples, this basically translates to, "If you want our business, you had better adhere to our sustainable standards." And as these types of policies migrate across industries-and, importantly, down the supplier food chain-you may find that the print provider that can put the greenest foot forward will be the one most likely to get the next job.

Marketing green
What steps does your company have to take to be more green, and then how do you go about marketing that fact to prospective clients?

Eco-aware print customers may require proof of your green-ness. Documentation of your processes, suppliers, and compliance with regulations will become more and more important. In addition, offering an eco-friendly line of products may make the buying decision easier for some customers. Let’s take a look at three print providers that have seen a need and are filling it with their own Earth-friendly programs.

Filmet (www.filmet.com), a print provider with two locations in Pennsylvania, is promoting its line of environmentally friendly graphic solutions: "Eco-Graphic." Eco-Graphic brand manager Andy Bachelder noticed the movement across all industries toward environmental responsibility and he wanted Filmet to lead the charge in the printing industry.

Primarily using its two UV-curable EFI Vutek PressVu 180s for the printing, Bachelder has been working with suppliers to identify green substrates for its Eco-Graphic portfolio. Specifically, Filmet is looking at the substrate contents, how media is manufactured, if the product is biodegradable, VOC production, and more. The company has identified several fabrics from Dickson Coatings and Neschen Americas, wallcoverings from Korographics, rigid boards from FormFlex, and papers from Mohawk.

Filmet is also looking at 100% recycled boards for use on its screen-printing presses, as well as eco-friendly paper stocks that would run on the shop’s narrow-format toner-based printer. Bachelder notes that the company is looking for a "balance between being eco-friendly and meeting the application needs of its customers."

Throughout the process, the company has been working with a customer that has its own Earth-friendly program. That customer wants all aspects of its shop to be environmentally responsible, including its graphics.

"This customer is not just buying one banner; they are buying a graphics solution for the whole store-including wallcovering, banners, and documents," says Bachelder.

Even though Filmet has been working on this project for months, the Eco-Graphic program does not make its official debut until Q2 2007. In addition, the company’s website promotes the company’s recycling program for plastic, cardboard, and paper.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, The BIG Print’s "BioGraphix" designation first began after the Seattle, WA-based company printed a half-million-sq-ft job for a nationwide retailer. Because the graphics were destined to be hung for a single weekend sale, company president Jon Zinsmeyer realized that 500,000 sq ft of graphics would be headed for landfills around the country. Instead, he asked the retailer to ship all the banners back to his shop. While printed vinyl cannot be re-printed, he was able to use the vinyl to make bags to ship billboards in, and generally was able to find uses for it in-house, reducing the need for other materials.

This experience led him on a mission to make his company more Earth-friendly. He worked with vendors to seek out the most environmentally friendly media and cleaning products-not just products that could be re-used or recycled, but products that were produced in a VOC-free manufacturing process. In addition, if a media claimed to be biodegradable, to reach BioGraphix standards it had to degrade at least 90% in 5 years.

Soon after Zinsmeyer found Earth-friendly substrates, BioVu inks, from EFI Inkware, were announced. Zinsmeyer’s shop became a beta tester for the BioVu inks and is now running the corn-based bioink on one EFI Vutek printer. The Big Print also has a UV-cure EFI Vutek PressVu 200. Besides its super-low VOCs, Zinsmeyer likes flatbeds because you only print what you need-there is no waste. In addition, he has a customer that brings in his rigid signage every week and the company is able to re-print on these boards.

This marriage of green materials and inks has become the standard The Big Print calls "BioGraphix." The company continues to seek out media (including materials that have not traditionally been used by digital printers) and test prints the substrate on its machines to make sure the media hits their quality standard. The Big Print (www.bigprint.com) also produces VDP mailing pieces on its Xerox DocuColor 5000, using 100% post-consumer paper-the pieces are recyclable and have been printed on "Xerox’s most environmentally friendly printer."

As a result of its BioGraphix designation, many of The Big Print’s customers are looking to Zinsmeyer to help them reduce their bio footprint by supplying environmentally friendly graphics. When images are printed onto biodegradable substrates with inks sourced from corn, Zinsmeyer is confident that the signage that finds it way to the landfill will disintegrate into dust in 5 years.

Also on the West Coast, the Los Angeles facility of Schawk (www.schawk.com) has found another way to promote itself as environmentally friendly. The company has received a chain-of-custody certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This certification tracks timber throughout the supply chain from forest to final user. Final products with the FSC label can be tracked back to the plot of land the tree was harvested from, to the mill, to the final merchant selling the paper.

"This certification demonstrates Schawk’s ability to work with clients to help them meet their corporate sustainability goals as global citizens and stewards of the environment," says David Schawk, company president and CEO. "Our clients may be assured that we are working with our suppliers to ensure the credibility of the products we buy from them."

In addition, Schawk has also been approved for membership in the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), a project of GreenBlue. The SPC group is dedicated to transforming packaging into a system that encourages economic prosperity and a sustainable flow of materials.

"We have noticed increasing demand from print buyers to purchase graphics that are made from green materials," says Richard Bowles, vice-president and general manager for Nazdar. "Exactly what green means is open to considerable interpretation. Green-ness might include efforts to reduce VOCs, recycle waste and/or scrap materials, or print and manufacture using recyclable or biodegradable materials."

Helping push the eco-envelope
Of course, print providers aren’t pushing the eco-envelope all by themselves. As you might guess, many of the products and supplies that operations such as The Big Print and Filmet are using came about as a result of manufacturers seeking ways to truly differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

Last year, for instance, EFI Inkware introduced its aforementioned BioWare-solvent inks produced from corn, a renewable resource. The inks use ethyl lactate as a solvent instead of the heavily regulated petroleum-based chemicals typically used in solvent inks. While still producing VOCs, the BioWare ink solvent is 100% biodegradable and is not listed as an air pollutant or as carcinogenic, reports Inkware.

BioWare solvent inks were developed in conjunction with the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DFE) Initiative. This initiative asks its partner companies to reduce pollution through the development of products that decrease the release of toxic chemicals. If your shop adopts the BioWare inks-available currently with selected Vutek printers and later this year with Mutoh printers-this DFE partnership could go a long way toward providing proof of environmental stewardship to companies with mandates to decrease their environmental footprint.

Other inks are also moving toward more environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients, while still offering the print quality that shops need at production speeds. Examples include:

* Nazdar has produced inks from corn-based, bio-renewable solvents for many years, says Richard Bowles. Its Lyson 372 series is one example of solvent inks developed using corn-based products.

* Jetrion offers HAPs-Free (Hazardous Air Pollutant) solvent ink, an ink formulation that produces less VOCs. The company reports these inks are completely free of chemicals commonly used in solvent inks.

* Agfa’s 4th generation solvent inks for its Grand Sherpa Universal AM printer do not contain high VHR (vapor hazard ratio) solvents such as cyclohexanone or repro-toxic solvents such as NMP.

* Oce’s Eco-solvent inks for use with its CS9000 series printers can be used in a regular office or print-shop environment without the need for an air-purification system.

*Eco-Sol Max inks from Roland, Mutoh’s Eco-Ultra inks, and Mimaki’s two eco-friendly inks (SS2 and ES3 inks) require no special ventilation.

Beyond inksets, printers will want to search out substrates that can be re-used, recycled, or are renewable. One of the first such products to broadcast its bio-friendly features is Ultraflex’s BioFlex. When dumped in a landfill, the coated PVC begins to break down within a week and completely biodegrades into non-toxic sodium powder in 3 to 5 years, the company reports. The first BioFlex product, a 13-oz coated frontlit billboard/banner product, is now shipping and is compatible with solvent, UV-curable, screen-printing, and dye-sub inksets. Its first big splash was a billboard (printed by Image Mill in Seattle) for Nike’s 10th anniversary of its NikeTown store in San Francisco.

Look for more BioFlex products in the near future, including BioMesh. And, soon, BioFlex will be manufactured by extrusion coating, making it less expensive. "One-by-one, Ultraflex expects to convert all of its short-term specialty products to biodegradable products," says Lorna D’Alessio, president of Ultraflex Systems.

Walk the walk
When print providers begin looking at their overall environmental footprint-from integrating environmental health and safety into the business decision-making process to the impact that the company and its products has on its community-and develop a framework to improve, they move toward "sustainability."

The challenge every company faces, however, is how to keep production levels high, while conforming to those environmental goals as well as the environmental demands of your customers. While protecting the environment is important, so is your bottom line. If your company becomes green but fails to make a profit, it could all be for naught. Everything is a balancing act.

Peggy Middendorf is managing editor of The Big Picture.

Ink Issues and Ventilation Solutions
Printers use inks-whether those inks are of the solvent, low/eco-solvent, or UV-curable variety. Consider these ink and ventilation points as you move toward making your work environment even greener.

Solvent inks-Many of the vapors released by drying solvents-the organic solvent fumes (called VOCs when they reach the outside air)-are hazardous to employees that breathe them in during their 8-hour shifts. Heavy-duty ventilation systems are a must when using these ink systems. Beyond simple ventilation, regulations regarding safe exposures to each ink will be different, depending on its specific ingredients.

The chemicals contained in inks are listed on the OEM-provided MSDS sheet. Make sure your ink provider furnishes your shop with an MSDS sheet written in English and with US health and safety regulations in mind.

Each regulated chemical has an OSHA-established 8-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL). Periodic air sampling must be done to determine employee exposure; samples are gathered via sampling badges (available through major safety-supply houses) worn by employees during their shift, and the sample results help shops determine if the current ventilation system is effective. Keep in mind that even if your shop is in compliance with OSHA standards, there may still be a solvent odor in the area-the odor isn’t necessarily an indicator of a hazard.

Low- and eco-solvent inks-Don’t think that you are off-the-hook if you print with low-, mild-, or eco-solvent inks. The key word here is "solvent"-these are still solvent inks, which will be apparent from the information on their MSDS sheets. Some producers of these inks state that shops don’t need an industrial-level ventilation system when using these inks-but be sure to check that your PEL levels are below the allowable limits. And some of these inks still "stink," so you may need to increase your air circulation to minimize the odor.

UV-curable inks-While UV-curable inks contain virtually no solvents, other health issues have been raised including: ozone ventilation, chemical sensitivity, skin irritation, and eye protection. UV-cure printers are typically equipped with mercury-based arc lamps that emit high-intensity light to cure the inks. The intense light causes the generation of ozone that must be vented, which is handled by most in-machine venting systems. Shielding of the light is typically included in UV-cure printers because the light can damage a human eye (for those printers without shielding, protective glasses or goggles are the way to go).

Employees won’t typically come in contact with the UV ink itself, but if they do, the fluid that is the UV-initiator for the ink can become a skin irritant. The misting of the jetted inks may cause an inhalation issue, although a well-maintained and well-ventilated machine will generally handle this. In addition, some people can develop a sensitivity or allergic reaction to the chemicals in UV-cure inks.

A developing alternative to mercury-based UV-curing is an LED UV-curing system. Phoseon’s SLM (Semiconductor Light Matrices) technology, for instance, uses an array of light-emitting semiconductor devices. This LED-based curing of the inks eliminates the generation of ozone and does not emit the intense light that can damage eyes, Phoseon reports. Phoseon’s SLM array is already integrated into the wide-format Luscher JetPrint.

Ventilation systems: Many US and European manufacturers are now including ventilation or filtration systems with their printers or offering these as an option. Some are also suggesting systems or processes to minimize employee or environmental issues. The Captiv-Air system, for instance, is optional on most of Mutoh’s Toucan and Falcon printers, while Oce offers an optional Air Purification System with its CS9090. And the Duratex SP-64x from Charrette offers a CaptivAir air purifier or Island Clean Air Duster room scrubber as optional equipment. HP offers an integrated carbon-filter-based air filtration system as an option with its Designjet 10000s printer.