How To Find Green Projects

One of the sad responses to the sustainability movement has been bogus compliance, sometimes known as “greenwashing.” This involves invalid claims, no proof, hidden tradeoffs, etc. Too many companies are attempting self-certification. Some are doing so because there has not been a third-party way to be recognized for their sustainability efforts. But some use self-certification as a way to make claims that cannot be authenticated. For more information on greenwashing, visit www.terrachoice.com.

The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) allows consumer product companies to rely on a third party to ensure sustainable printing claims are monitored and meet minimum levels. CPCs now are requiring objective evidence that suppliers are in alignment with their sustainability initiatives.

Look at it this way: Packaging is an input to the CPC process. To achieve their goals, use of greener packaging certainly helps. But it has to be meaningful, measurable, and certified. At the same time, it has to be within the bounds of producing material that meets performance and cost criteria. Some press manufacturers are marketing software that calculates the carbon footprint for each job produced, but the concept seems to be too abstract and controversial in calculation to find wide acceptance at this time.

It has become essential for converters to take on projects that support sustainability goals of their customers. Leading global retailers such as US-based Wal-Mart and UK-based Marks & Spencer have very similarly stated goals about packaging. These include using less packaging and reducing waste. In last month's column, the SGP was introduced as an entity to recognize a printer's sustainability efforts. One of the requirements is to validate and audit green projects. Now comes the question: How do I find such projects?

On package construction, I have found a useful software program that allows the packaging engineer to look at many possibilities of web construction before going to manufacturing. A demo can be found at http://kramerassociates.com. It allows material substitutions and downsizing to be reviewed quickly, and although the software is not geared specifically to environmental impact, it does automate cost calculations along with construction constants and some performance attributes. In this way, users are able to focus on packaging design decisions, rather than stumbling over math constants and equations.

There are many places in the pressroom where waste can be eliminated. Here are some suggestions, some of which will need buy-in and support from the consumer company. All will reduce ink and substrate waste and decrease downtime.

  • Use expanded gamut process ink sets to replace spot colors and reduce substrate and ink waste due to fewer changeovers.
  • Consolidate color standards: Do we really need all of those subtle variations?
  • Run larger orders: Why does the same job repeat several times a month?
  • Replace white ink with white extrudate.
  • Print thinner ink films. For colors, you will need stronger, more expensive inks, but there is a net savings in applied cost.

For gravure and flexo solvent inks, thinner ink films will yield savings in VOC emissions and reduce energy consumption because less drying is needed. In my January 2008 column, the opacity of white ink was reviewed. The chart here offers another look.

A one- or two-point opacity difference is not perceptible, and providing the lower number is still in spec, this reading has environmental benefits. It should be noted the range of opacities cited fit into a typical specification (i.e., 48-50), so the issue is not running out of spec to capture this savings but to reduce variability and run to the low end of the specification. This meets the customer's current requirements and significantly reduces costs and environmental impact. You use less ink and less solvents and reduce applied cost. Not only are overall VOCs reduced, but there is less to be captured and reprocessed. In the example shown, the two-point drop in opacity saves 28% VOCs and 19% in applied cost. Similar savings can be made for colors.

So, in many ways the green movement can be a win-win scenario for converters and their customers and not just another onerous task to be endured.

Opacity 50 49 48
Pounds of fresh ink as purchased/ream 1.72 1.54 1.36
Pounds of fresh ink solvent/ream 0.48 0.43 0.38
Pounds of reducer added at press/ream 0.40 0.32 0.25
Total pounds solvent in press ink/ream 0.88 0.75 0.63
Total cost/ream $3.81 $3.45 $3.09

Ream = 3,000 sq ft

Process improvement expert David Argent has 30+ years of experience in process analysis with particular emphasis on ink and coating design and performance. Contact him at 636-391-8180, djvargent@sbcglobal.net.


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