The European printing industry and its suppliers are having to become much more active on the issue
For ink producers, the swing in public opinion could trigger a radical change in their strategies, especially in the packaging and publishing sectors. Instead of selling inks on the basis of their cost and printing qualities, ink companies could also now have to take into account the level of CO2 emissions or carbon footprint resulting from their manufacture.
“Businesses (will be) starting to compete on their carbon footprint as much as on their price,” said Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, London, a UK government-funded organization promoting the transition to a low-carbon economy.
An experimental plan for carbon labels, organized by the Carbon Trust,
has already been introduced in the UK, with the objective that the labeling system should be widely applied throughout the country within two to three years. The labels show the amount of CO2 emitted to make a product and its packaging.
The main focus of the project will be on the product within the package and the quantities of CO2 discharged not only in its manufacture but also in the growing and making of its raw materials. But it will also include carbon emissions from the production of the packaging and its inks and additives.
The idea behind the plan and variations of it which will almost certainly
emerge across Europe is to encourage consumer goods manufacturers and their packaging and raw material suppliers to cut CO2 emissions by consuming less energy.
If carbon labeling, as expected, becomes prevalent across most of Europe, ink makers will have to put an even greater emphasis on ecologically friendly products. More ink companies could switch, for example, to raw materials made from vegetable instead of mineral oil derivatives.
They will increasingly be obliged to show their printer customers that they are complying with voluntary environmental codes, such as ISO standards and European ecological initiatives such as the Eco Management Audit System for Accreditation (EMAS).
Ultimately the impetus for greater environmental compliance in the printing and other sectors will be coming from public opinion on which polls show a mounting concern about global warming. Political measures in Europe regarding climate change will also have a considerable influence.
Soon after the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in a report issued in February that human activities are “very likely” the cause of global warming, the leaders of the European Union’s 27 member states committed themselves on binding targets on energy and CO2 emissions.
By 2020 the EU is now aiming to achieve a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions compared with levels in 1990.
The EU governments have also pledged to substantially increase the use of renewable energies, such as solar and wind power and biomass, so that by 2020 they should have a 20 percent share of total EU energy consumption.
In the wake of the commitments on the EU level, individual member states are already setting themselves even tougher goals. The UK government disclosed in March proposed legislation giving the country the objective of a 26 to 32 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 and a 60 percent cut by 2050. An independent panel will draw up a “carbon budget” every five years in line with the emission reduction targets. If future governments miss the budget figures they could be taken to court.
Within a few days of the publication of the proposed new UK law, the Carbon Trust was revealing details of its trial for carbon labels. The participants will be Walkers Snacks Foods, Reading, England, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc.; Boots the Chemists, a UK retail chain; and Innocent Drinks, London, a maker of fruit juice smoothies.
Walkers Cheese and Onion crisps has been the first product to appear on shelves with the new label, which shows that 75 grams of carbon dioxide have been emitted to produce 34.5 grams of crisps as well as the packaging.
“Walkers Crisps has already reduced its energy per pack by a third since 2000 and we are committed to reducing the carbon footprint of our products even further,” said Neil Campbell, Walkers’s chief executive.
Boots has been planning to apply the label on a range of shampoos while Innocent has been aiming initially to display on the its website the label for all smoothie recipes.
On the basis of an agreed methodology, Carbon Trust will be closely analyzing the supply chains of products whose manufacturers want to use the carbon label. The organization says its research demonstrates that 66 percent of UK consumers want to know the carbon footprint of the products they buy.
The European printing industry and its suppliers – especially ink producers – are reasonably well positioned to respond to the new trends in public opinion on global warming, as the sector has become more environmentally conscious.
By 2010 manufacturers of paper and board in Europe are aiming to reach a recycling rate of 66 percent compared with a level of 55 percent in 2005, which was the highest in the world for a regional economy.
Some environmentally aware printers are supplying customers with figures on their emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and energy and water consumption. UK printers like Beacon Press, Uckfield, East Sussex, have embarked on a project for cutting carbon emissions along lines proposed by the Carbon Trust.
Role for Ink Manufacturers
Ink producers in Europe have been supplying inks which are helping printers to achieve higher environmental standards and ultimately reduce their carbon footprints.
Following extensive market research, Sun Chemical decided approximately four years ago to switch most of its sheetfed offset inks to vegetable oil. Around 80 percent of sheetfed offset inks supplied by Sun Chemical in Europe will be based on vegetable oil, accounting for 20 percent of volume sales in the segment in the region.
In February this year it introduced the world’s first vegetable oil-based metallic inks for the sheetfed offset market. The inks were developed in a joint venture with Wolstenholme International of the UK.
“Vegetable oil inks not only help compliance with regulations on heavy metals in recycled materials and on biodegradability but also to reduce energy consumption,” said John Adkin, Sun Chemical’s sheetfed product director for Europe. “They keep down transport costs by printing more reliably on lighter weight paper and board. They also enable printers to start up their presses faster because of their quicker rates of adhesion. There will be more and more pressure across Europe on printers to show they’re cutting energy consumption levels and hence their carbon footprints.”
For the moment, however, CO2 emissions are only a peripheral issue for the vast majority of printers in Europe. The ripples from the new policies on the matter being adopted by brand owners and retailers have yet to reach them.
“The main queries we are getting from printers on environmental questions at the moment is about recycling and biodegradability of packaging materials,” said Kenny Boyd, environmental services consultant at Fujifilm Sericol, Broadstairs, Kent, England. “It is quite possible that we will soon start to get questions about carbon footprints. These sort of queries are driven not by the printers themselves
but by their customers. The impetus is going to come initially from the big players in the market.”
Printers already are seeking more comparative data on the environmental performance of inks, which is an indicator of the sort of information to be required in the future for choosing products on the basis of their carbon footprints.
“We’ve recently had printers asking whether solvents made from renewable resources were as eco-friendly as UV inks,” explained Mr. Boyd. “We’ve had to point out that UV inks are substantially more environmentally compliant than solvent inks, only a small percentage of which is actually printed while UV inks are 100 percent solid.”
Making comparisons becomes more complex when analyzing rates of energy consumption. This is not only the case with comparisons of energy use during the printing process – for example between UV curing and heat drying – but along the supply chain where life cycle analysis may be necessary.
The methodology which the Carbon Trust requires to be applied to carbon
labeling involves an analysis of internal product data, including a company’s own manufacturing processes, methods of waste disposal, storage systems and transport. It also covers the production, distribution and disposal of raw materials.
“Ink producers like ourselves have already made our businesses as energy efficient as possible,” said Chris Whitehead, product innovation director at Flint Group. “A proper investigation of carbon footprints has to be done on the basis of life cycle analysis which are not easy to do. We have to go right back along the chain to the manufacturers of pigments, resins and other raw materials.”
A broad approach to the issue of carbon emissions will be needed because
direct comparisons between different inks at a specific points during a printing process can be misleading. The drying of waterborne inks, for example, can use more energy than that of solvent-based inks.
“The various associations representing the producers of inks, pigments, resins and other raw materials, as well as printers, packaging converters and so on will have to get together to tackle the whole issue in an holistic way,” said Mr. Whitehead. “Otherwise there is a danger that by concentrating on the carbon balance in one part of the chain, a lot of good environmental work done in another part will be lost.”