The carbon impact of printing. A simple guide

1. Paper. Manufacturing of paper stock is the biggest cause of carbon in the supply chain. It accounts for over 70% of the footprint in most printing processes. Reviewing your paper stock specifications to a lower carbon emitting paper is the quickest way to reduce your footprint. Do not be misled by the carbon neutral label. Ask about the energy source.

2. The printing process. ‘Carbon neutral’ does not mean you have a carbon efficient printer. The printing process with it’s electrically driven equipment accounts for another 10% of the carbon. And while it’s a smaller impact than paper, it is the one decision you can influence the most. Ask about audits, measurement and reduction strategies.

3. How your printer deals with it’s waste will have approximately the same percentage impact as the printing process. Newspaper production produces about 10% of it’s emissions from the transport of waste and returns and collections. Commercial print does not have returns and collection but waste is still created if the product has a limited life-span.

4. Distribution of the printed item accounts for about 5% of the carbon. Distance and weight are the factors that affect this area. Review the feasibility of printing locally.

5. Transport of the paper to the printer and the carbon cost of ink production. Imported paper may have a lower carbon footprint but what did it cost in carbon to get it here?

6. Warehousing needs a re-think. Time in a warehouse will cost carbon. While traditional economics of print more and store, or print for pull distribution, were correct historically, in the Carbon Age, print on-demand needs to be looked at again.

7. Obsolescence. While no one sets out to print and destroy, it happens. And the cost has moved beyond the wasted money, the wasted carbon needs to be factored in as well. One approach is to review the re-print triggers to check whether the approval procedures for re-orders need changing.

8. If moving printing requirements offshore consider the carbon factor. Strike a more equitable balance between direct cost savings and increased carbon costs for transport.

9. Beware of the carbon neutral shingle hanging out front. Carbon neutral does not mean carbon efficient. Measured and continuous carbon reduction is what is required.

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About Chris Sewell

Christopher Sewell is a TrinityP3 Business Director specializing in helping companies understand the environmental impact of their marketing spend. He is also the CEO of The Gaia Partnership who is building an on-line application ‘CO2counter’ to measure carbon emissions in all forms of marketing communications. Read his full bio here
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