A call for clarity on environmental standards

Ecoprint 13 June 2012.

During March and April of this year, Print & Paper Monthly and its partner EcoPrint 2012 conducted an environmental survey with UK print companies. The results are incorporated in a new white paper, written by PMC and sponsored by INX Digital.

Research conducted on behalf of EcoPrint 2012, the sustainable print exhibition which takes place in Berlin in September, Environmental2and Print & Paper Monthly magazine, has suggested that print is failing to get its message across to buyers and consumers about its sustainable nature. Another strong message to emerge is that smaller printers are being discouraged from taking the first steps to sustainability because of the perceived cost of adopting standards, and the difficulty in determining why and how to make their leap towards what can be a high bar

The results of the survey have been published in a white paper, entitled Print Sustainability Standards and Communication, produced by Print and Media Certification Ltd (PMC), which is available to download free for those who register to attend the EcoPrint 2012 show. Around 200 print companies took part in the online survey throughout March and April 2012.

According to the paper, print needs to start work now on developing simple and effective ways to communicate the sustainability of the whole print process to buyers. Just 7.3% of respondents said they believed that print is effectively communicating its message about sustainability. It would seem that developing accessible standards focussing on the entire printing process and recognising the value of those taking the first steps, as well as those with the highest standards, is the natural place to begin.

Marcus Timson, director of EcoPrint, said: ‘It’s obvious that a lack of clarity when it comes to sustainability is holding us back. If the industry is to ensure its enduring relevance for the future then it must open up an accessible and frank debate on print’s current strengths and admit where there’s room for improvement – if we clarify the discussion internally, together, then it will be easier to communicate to external audiences.’

The big issue, with regard to standards for sustainability, which this white paper seeks to address, is how the entirety of the print industry can tackle the issue of sustainability, and also address the problem of communicating that sustainability to its customers and to consumers in general.

Key findings

Print’s sustainable message is not getting across to customers in the way it needs to.

The situation with regard to standards for sustainability in the print sector appears to be chaotic – there is a curious lack of ‘standardisation’ in standards in the sector.

The focus of the market, perhaps because of this, has been skewed towards the environmental impact of the substrate, whilst avoiding the print process itself.

There is some really good work being done by printers and by the suppliers of equipment and consumables to the industry. This is having a beneficial environmental impact; however, this is not being communicated to print buyers and customers effectively and simply.

Many smaller printers are being discouraged from taking the first steps to sustainability because of the perceived cost of adopting standards, and the difficulty in determining why and how to make that first leap towards, for them at least, a very high bar.

The industry is plagued by ‘greenwash’ and unsubstantiated, and perhaps even illegal, environmental claims, which undermine the good work of many.


Print should continue to develop an approach to standards that doesn’t seek to impose a single normative, one size fits all approach, but one which embraces the diversity of the industry and the innovation already being demonstrated in standards for sustainability.

However, it is recognised that this approach can lead to confusion amongst print buyers and customers, and so print needs to find a simple and effective means to get its sustainable message across to customers, embracing all the standards it adopts.

The focus of standards should address the whole printing process and its environmental impacts, not just the substrate.

Standards should be designed to be accessible to all printers, including the smallest, and recognise and value those taking the very first steps, as well as those setting the highest standards.

The industry should adopt robust and credible methods for audit and certification of standards to ensure that ‘greenwash’ does not undermine the credibility of the industry’s message. It should encourage accredited certification or verification wherever possible, economic and appropriate to do so.

Jon Stack, director of PMC, believes that the drive towards environmental and sustainability standards is not just growing in the print sector, but that it is vital for the sector’s survival and future development. A previous report from EcoPrint 2012, The Business of Sustainability (January 2012), identified a growing trend amongst print buyers expressing a preference for green printing. There has been an upsurge in interest for a range of standards in the print sector, both existing and new standards, he reports.

We seem to be entering a phase of considerable development across a range of standards, together with new EU Timber Regulations from March 2013, which will have significant effects on products derived from timber in the EU. The timber regulations mean that importers of timber products into the EU will be subject to the regulations and must ensure that product is coming from a legal source. The regulations will not, in their current form, apply to the printed products as such, but this may be added to the list in the future.

As well as this, the EU will be introducing its Ecolabel for printed products later in 2012, which will set a very high environmental standard for printers to aim for. The Ecolabel is already defined and available for a number of other products, including paper products, and there are already paper products bearing this label available.

We are seeing the development of a standard for the carbon footprinting of printed products, ISO 16759, which is reaching the final stages at ISO, and a revision to the ISO 12647 range of standards, as well as the development of other standards affecting printed product quality such as ISO 15339, which is a standard for printing from digital data across multiple technologies. A revision to the BPIF’s ISO 12647-2 certification scheme is also due during Autumn 2012, building on the lessons learned from customers going through the scheme and the audits completed so far, which will also link up with the work being done by the ISO committees. ISO 27001, the standard for Information Security Management Systems is undergoing a revision at ISO and is due to be published shortly.

If you also consider that ISO is likely to update its management system standards, such as ISO 9001, 14001, 27001, into a common framework to enable easy system integration, then the picture is one of significant developments affecting standards in the print sector.’

Further results

When asked, 89% in the research agreed there was a shift to sustainable printing in the industry and 65.4% said there was an increasing demand for sustainable products generally, but not if the cost is too high.

77% of respondents had taken the green route because it was a basic principle of company strategy and good business sense. Additionally 22% did so because their customers were specifically asking for it.

50.4% were certified to an environmental standard, and a variety of reasons were cited for not being certified: 40.5% though it too costly and time consuming; 31% didn’t see it as necessary as customers did not require it; and a further 27% saw no need at all.

54% believed that the costs of implementing and maintaining a standard had been recovered from savings made, while 46% said they hadn’t. However, 63% were convinced that a green strategy would make savings in the long run.

When asked if the print industry was creating a perception of its sustainability amongst buyers, brands, customers and the public in general, only 7.3% said it was getting its message across well. 45.3% thought it was only doing so in certain parts of the industry, and 42.3% felt that the focus had been on the sustainability of paper and substrates, not print itself.

The top three standards which were most quoted as useful for printers seeking to be more environmentally sustainable were ISO 14001, FSC/PEFC and carbon footprint. 56% indicated ISO14001 as useful, 49.2% FSC/PEFC, and 32.6% carbon footprinting.

When asked if a new standard focussed on providing print buyers with sustainable innovation would be a positive thing, 45.2% agreed, 36.3% said maybe and only 18.5% didn’t agree.

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