Economic Conditions are Helping Push Sustainability Forward

By Sean Milmo, Ink World European Editor | 09.24.12

Sluggish economic growth in Europe, with many European countries currently experiencing double-dip recessions, is hampering progress toward greater sustainability

Sluggish economic growth in Europe, with many European countries currently experiencing double-dip recessions, is hampering progress toward greater sustainability in some industrial sectors in the region. The objectives behind sustainability are no longer a major priority for many Europeans, whose big concerns are now economic recovery and the availability of more jobs. There is less anxiety about climate change, with an increase in skepticism about global warming being caused by industrialization and rising living standards.

However, within the European printing sector, enthusiasm for sustainability is as strong as ever. This is reflected in the way ink producers are continuing to introduce a steady stream of new products, which help printers reduce pollution, raise levels of health and safety and cut energy consumption.
Tough economic conditions are, in fact, helping push sustainability forward. There is a growing realization among printers and their suppliers, including ink makers, that sustainability is not exclusively about environmental protection and social responsibility but also about cutting costs and the building the foundations for long-term profitability in a business. Lowering energy consumption, and hence CO2 emissions, is important, for example, because the continuing high level of energy prices,

“Printing has been one of the most effective industries in Europe in the application of environmental and energy technologies in order to bring down costs,” said David Stamp, marketing communications director of PrintCity, a German-based alliance of European companies, including ink producers, in the graphic arts value chain.

“There may be a few companies which are concentrating on more immediate issues rather than environmental matters because of the recession,” he added. “But if you are a lean and efficient business in the printing sector today, you will have to have applied good environmental practice.”

This striving for greater sustainability in printing is evident in the way among printers and other parts of the printing supply chain there is an increasing demand for audits and certifications to show that businesses are adhering to sustainability standards.

“The drive towards environmental and sustainability standards is not just growing in the print sector but (it is clear with printing) that it is vital for the sector’s survival and future development,” said Jon Stack, the author of a recent white paper on sustainability standards in preparation for the EcoPrint Show at Berlin this September.

Over three quarters – 77% – of printers participating in a survey commissioned by the EcoPrint Show have now “taken the green route,” because it is a basic principle of company strategy and makes good business sense, according to the results of the study published in the white paper.

Surveys of public opinion, particularly among the young, show that, for printing and many other sectors, sustainability is likely to remain a key issue well into the future. A recent poll of 16-24 year olds in the UK by the pollster YouGov on their vision for the country in 2020 found that 89% wanted to see people living more sustainably by then. Two-thirds supported the introduction of high carbon taxes to force companies to invest in sustainable development.

Leading consumer product companies, retail chains and other brand owners seem to acknowledge that, despite shifts in people’s attitude due to the current economic crisis in Europe, the ideas behind sustainability will be a force for a long while. Hence, they are expecting their suppliers, particularly the packaging sector, to adhere to sustainability standards.

Sustainability is also becoming a competitive tool as the print media battles to stem the competitive force of its electronic counterpart. Being dependent for its major raw material on trees, which have the capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and reduce net CO2 emissions, the print media has a powerful argument in favor of it being ultimately more environmentally sustainable than the internet.

The Importance of Collaboration

Companies in the printing sector, including ink producers, are realizing that sustainability is not something that can be achieved in isolation. It needs collaboration along the supply chain so that ink producers and other players have to work closely work together on it-- with their raw material providers as well as their downstream customers.

“No single company has the ability to deliver true sustainability on its own,” said Steve Lister, group business development director, Robert Horne Group, Northampton, England, a supplier of printing materials and inks. “The businesses that will thrive and grow in these tough economic times will be the ones which create robust sustainable partnerships with their supply chains.”

Some small producers of sustainable inks have been linking up with suppliers of other consumables and inputs to give printers easier access to portfolios of environmentally friendly products.

“It is not enough for printers just to have a choice of a biological sheetfed ink,” explained Corne van Loenhout, chief executive of Green4Print, a Dutch start-up producer of renewable inks. “Printers also want solvent-free fountain solutions without toxic materials, cradle-to-cradle press cleaners, papers with chain-of-custody certification and sources of green energy.”

Large ink companies have the internal capability to bring together sustainable inks and other consumables in their broad portfolios. Another strategy they have been adopting is the development, in collaboration with prime customers, of multi-purpose inks that cut costs and have a low environmental impact.

Sun Chemical recently introduced the SunUno Solimax multi-purpose ink system for flexo and rotogravure applications, and SunLit Crystal, an “all-in-one” sheetfed process ink comprising a high proportion of renewables.

Other sustainability products recently launched by Sun Chemical include an ink dispenser system for the label and narrow web market, an ink/fount emulsion system for publication printers and a wash cleaning technology for heatset printers.

Flint Group’s technical teams for inks, pressroom chemicals and transfer media have combined together to develop its new Libra ink and fount system, which eliminates the need for the wetting agent isopropyl alcohol (IPA), considered to be an environmental, health and safety risk. The technology enables printers to achieve an ink/water balance faster, thus reducing start-up waste. It also requires fewer blanket wash-ups so that waste material and downtime is reduced, according to Nick Brannan, Flint Group’s vice president, product management sheetfed inks and pressroom chemistry.

The company has also introduced a series of dedicated ink technologies for UV light emitting diode (LED) curing under the EkoCure label. Being cured with LED lamps, the inks save energy, are free of mercury and ozone and take up less manufacturing space than conventional curing equipment. They also have renewable resins, which Niklas Olsson, Flint Group’s global brand manager, said is a “new development that will increase in use in future.”

Siegwerk Druckfarben, Siegburg, Germany, a large proportion of whose business is in packaging inks, now has renewable, vegetable-based raw materials in 90% of its inks, with the share of renewables in its products being constantly increased. Its Tempo Nutripack, a sheetfed offset ink series for food packaging, now contains only vegetable oils.

“The topic (of sustainability) is clearly becoming increasingly important,” said Herbert Forker, Siegwerk’s chief executive. In the company’s latest customer survey, 92% of respondents listed sustainability has being relevant or highly relevant to them.

“We consider the issue of sustainability as a whole – which is to say along the entire value-added chain – starting from the selection of raw materials and continuing with our production processes straight through to the finished product,” Mr. Forker added.

New companies like Green4Print that are specializing in sustainable inks believe that they have more flexibility in the development, production and marketing of green products.

“We don’t have the overheads of large companies which have to earn money and may have to be cautious about putting sustainable inks on the market,” said Mr. van Loenhout.

Green4Print’s first product, a biological sheetfed ink series, comprises vegetable oils, bio solvents and additives, cobalt-free driers and halogen-free pigments, giving it a renewable content of 82%. It is produced by Suzhou Bloit Printing Ink, Suzhou, China, which acts as a distribution and marketing channel into the large Chinese market.

The start-up is based at the newly-established Green Chemistry Campus, Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands, where a number of other companies making sustainable ink consumables are or will be based. The objective is that they will combine together to set up a distribution network for green printing products. Green4Print considers one of its big immediate problems to be the higher cost of its raw materials in comparison to conventional raw materials. But in the longer term, like other companies making sustainable inks and other printing materials, a major concern is the lack of widely accepted standards on sustainability.

“There are in printing too many standards, eco labels and different forms of accreditation and certification, which is confusing for consumers, print buyers and printers,” said Martyn Eustace, director of Two Sides, a UK-based organization on sustainable communication, whose members are ink, paper, printing and other companies in the printing supply chain.

One of the main recommendations of the EcoPrint Show White Paper was that the printing industry should adopt robust and credible methods for the auditing and certification of standards so that “greenwashing” does not undermine the credibility of the industry’s message.

“Despite all that been achieved with increasing sustainability in the sector, research shows that 80% of consumers in Europe still think that the print media is damaging the rain forests,” said Mr. Eustace. “We all know nothing could be further from the truth. We now have to concentrate as much as possible on getting across to the public that the print media is a highly sustainable way of communicating.”

European Editor Sean Milmo is an Essex, UK-based writer specializing in coverage of the chemical industry.