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It ain’t easy being green

Recently I took the opportunity of a new project to look into greener printing solutions and, being relatively new to orchestrating the whole production process myself, learned a LOT along the way. Now that the project is nearing completion, I thought I’d outline some of the things I’ve learned this round, as well as some resources I’ve come across in the hopes that others might add to or benefit from one small designer’s efforts in being green.

In general, I knew that a lot of companies were looking to at least appear green due to the recent consumer interest (and therefore money) in eco-friendliness. However, standard certifications for actual eco-friendliness are relatively new and vary across the board, leaving it up to the consumer to decipher which company is “greenwashing” vs. taking a real, meaningful stand for eco-responsibility.

To this end, I began with AIGA’s write-up of print design and environmental responsibility and their recommendations to look into companies with ISO 14000 (an international environmental standard) certifications. I also knew to look for FSC certifications in my paper choices. Without getting too much more complicated or wordy, a list of things I’ve learned/considered along the way:

1. Printers can be FSC certified too!

2. In an already economically pinched industry, many great and green printers cannot afford ISO certification. My solution was to see if they were certified by a third party for an equally rigorous environmental standard.

3. I prefer local printers as shipping has an environmental impact which is sometimes not taken into consideration. Alternately, consider only printers that offset the carbon footprint of shipping by purchasing renewable energy credits or other balancing efforts to bring them back to carbon neutral (or carbon…er…minimal?).

4. There are different levels of eco-friendly paper. Make sure to read the fine print! Some receive a green stamp for just 30% recycled content.

5. Eco-friendly paper does not have to be brown, ecru, or dull white. It doesn’t have to be either kraft board or cheap rough paper. I’ve received a wide range of eco-friendlier paper samples, some even vellum or sparkly/shiny! Not that I can really see myself using the latter…

6. Planting trees do not necessarily neutralize impact.

7. There are a lot of other considerations in picking a green printer. Some are active members in their local eco-friendly business chapters, purchase clean wind power, only supply FSC paper, or only use UV, soy-based or vegetable inks.

8. It is hard to be green especially when your print run is small. Green printers try to offer competitive pricing to regular (more toxic) printing presses. However, unless your budget is large, sometimes the only economical way to do a small print run is through the digital process which is not necessarily nor entirely green. Which brings me to…

9. Double-check that your job is being processed green. A generally green-friendly printer may also offer foil or letter-pressing services, which do not tend to be green. Or they may offer cheaper in-house papers that are not FSC certified, or suggest going to their (non-green) sister printer for smaller runs, or purchase RECs to be carbon neutral, but neglect the carbon footprint of shipping to you in their equation for carbon neutrality… Just double–no, triple-check.

10) Finally, and the toughest lesson I had to learn was, as green as I may want to be, sometimes compromise has to occur. Being a designer means that I provide a service. That means I have to make my client happy and meet my client’s needs, and if my green agenda and their budget or vision don’t completely coincide, my ideal solution or personal preferences have to take a backseat.

Due to the difficulty I had in merely finding certified green printers let alone seeing their stats in an easily accessible way, I’ve compiled some resources below for local printers in the Tri-State area and beyond. Please note, I did not have experience with all of the printers listed below, but based on my short correspondence with them I found most to be friendly and helpful, with some minor notes which I will not publish here:

1. Pictorial Offset Corporation, Carlstadt NJ – ISO 9002, ISO 14001, and FSC certified
2. Sandy Alexander, Clifton NJ – ISO 14001 and FSC certified, purchases renewable energy credits (RECs)
3. Capital Printing Corporation, Middlesex NJ – FSC and SFI certified, purchases RECs
4. Monroe Litho, Rochester NY – FSC and SFI certified, purchases RECs
5. Bentley Graphics, Pottstown PA – FSC and SFI certified
6. greenerprinter, Berkeley CA – FSC certified, purchases RECs (to cover even shipping)

For more FSC certified printers in the US, go here. For greener printing and beyond, a green search engine (currently linked to green printer results) which trawls the wide internet for national and international solutions. Just remember truth #9 in picking your results (see above).

Feel free to contact me directly if you have further questions on a particular printer listed above, or leave a comment and I will do my best to respond or figure it out together! I’d also love to hear of any experiences or recommendations you’ve had in designing more responsibly, as this is just the beginning of my journey =). Thanks for reading!

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