What Is Real Green Printing?
Most printers waving their “green” banner talk about paper, ink and organizations they support, but really that’s what paper and ink companies do to be green. For a printer, being green means focusing on water, avoiding chemicals that pollute, carbon offsets, using real green materials, educating our clients and recycling.
What We Do to Make Ourselves Green
We looked at our machines and all our departments and asked, “What can we do to make these departments green?” One hugely important factor in making a printing plant green is water. You never hear anyone talk about it. Presses use water to put ink on the plate; that water gets a little paper dust and ink in it. Most printers dump the water weekly and steam out their lines because they don’t want the dirty water sitting all weekend. But Earth Enterprise is a zero-water-dumping plant. We have invested in a filtration system for our press water so we can use the same water over and over again; all we have to do is add water to replace what’s lost through evaporation. Another important investment is a plate maker for our prep department that is process-free—we don’t use chemicals or water to make our plates—unlike 99% of printers. The only water coming out of our plant comes from human use: water fountains, sinks, and toilets.
Our press wash and blanket wash are VOC (volatile organic compounds) and solvent free. The truth is, many of these washes take a little longer to clean the press, just as green cleaning products for the home sometimes take a little longer to scrub a pot than the more toxic stuff, but we feel the planet is worth it. Also, our coatings are solvent free and VOC free.
We calculate the carbon footprint of every one of our jobs; once we know that carbon footprint, we are able to offset it by planting useful trees in Central America. A useful tree is a tree whose product has a value four times greater than the timber itself, making it much less likely to be cut down. We’re planting these trees in indigenous Mayan communities, generating economic development in some of the poorest areas of the world, a worthwhile side effect of getting real carbon neutrality out of our projects. We have hired one of the largest accounting firms in Central America to go out yearly and count, not just this year’s trees, but last year’s trees and those from the year before that. Any tree that does get cut down or dies gets replanted.
Why did we choose this particular road to carbon neutrality? The Kyoto Accord allows four methods to offset carbon emissions. The first way is to convince a big production plant to lower their carbon footprint. If a huge power plant is putting out one ton of carbon a day, and a million-dollar filter would cut that in half, they can sell for a million dollars that half ton of carbon a day, essentially selling shares in their carbon reduction. The second way is by investing in renewable energy plants.
The third way is methane capture. Methane is 21 times more dangerous to the environment than carbon. Big industrial farms can install very expensive methane capture systems that are paid for by other people. We invested in methane capture, but my father, Michael Hort, just didn’t get it because, again, it’s a credit system, buying a share in someone else’s change. We here at Enterprise make carbon. And Dad didn’t understand how these credits were making us carbon neutral, and he was right—we weren’t taking carbon out of the atmosphere, all we were doing was convincing someone else not to put carbon or methane into the air. That’s not quite the same, even though the Kyoto Accord allowed for this.
The fourth way is reforestation. But when we investigated reforestation, we found problems. The vast number of reforestations happen in the Third World and how can we guarantee that a tree planted in Chad is going to still be there in 20 years? Balancing a carbon ton takes one tree, but it isn’t instantaneous, that tree has to live 20 years to sequester one carbon ton. Number two, many reforestation projects result in monocultural forests, in other words, a tree plantation. We wanted something closer to what Mother Nature would do. Dad was really bothered by this whole idea that we weren’t really taking carbon out of the atmosphere. He’s the one who found this project that we wholly support that helps us plant useful trees. Even though we’re not planting a multicultural forest, we’re planting useful trees that we know are going to be there in 20 years, and we’re supporting economic development.
And while green paper and ink are the primary responsibility of the paper and ink companies, we do our part by doing business with those companies that are truly green. At Earth Enterprise we make it a point to find out, not where the paper is made, that’s an easy question, but the source of the pulp. That’s the question no one asks: Is it recycled pulp? Virgin pulp? American pulp? Brazilian pulp? Once the pulp hits the paper mill, it’s exactly the same. Some American paper companies try to buy their trees within 50 miles of their mill, an area they refer to as their wood basket. But there are also mills that buy imported pulp. We investigate and we ask questions. We buy paper that comes from local mills using local pulp from local, multicultural forests, forests comprised of many different types of trees of varying ages.
The ink we use is a vegetable-based ink, made from China Tree seed–that’s just the name of the tree, it has nothing to do with China; it’s also called Tung oil. Our inks are forty to sixty percent vegetable based, compared to soy inks, which are usually 8 percent soy based. The inks we use have no VOCs, no heavy metals, no solvents, no petroleum, and are completely biodegradable. That’s a green ink.
And the final piece of our green picture is one everyone should be doing: we recycle everything we can.
So what is real green printing? We think Earth Enterprise is a good example of what it should be. And as new methods come to light, we’ll investigate those as well, because “green” is in our name as well as our philosophy.