Special Report: Sustainability & the Environment
The ever-so-common phrase “going green” means taking the three basic principles of sustainability and applying them everywhere you can in your organization. These principles, of course, are: Reduce — lower your waste and consumption; Reuse — using items multiple times for the same thing; and Recycle — giving something a second life.
Environmental stewardship is especially important because our industry is too often viewed as a culprit. The single biggest thing you can do is to better educate yourself. Ask questions about your production process and the materials that are being used. How much do you know about your paper? Where it came from and how it was made? What are your choices? How much do they cost? Do they achieve your objectives? Let’s look at the catalog production process and some ways to go green.
Know Your Fiber Sources
Paper can be made from either virgin fiber sources or recycled sources. When it comes to virgin fiber, you should understand the origin and be able to confirm that it comes from operations that practice sustainable forestry. Such techniques ensure there will be trees available for harvest at a future date, and also that the forest ecosystems will thrive.
There are several different forest certification programs, each with different requirements and objectives. While that makes it difficult to compare paper options, the fact that there are multiple organizations raising the issues may help increase compliance with one method or more. Asking questions communicates to your suppliers that you’re serious about considering these factors when deciding on paper.
Recycled paper is produced by adding recycled pulp to virgin pulp. (Because fibers wear out, it’s always necessary to supplement recycled pulp with virgin fiber.) There are two broad types of recycled material: preconsumer and postconsumer.
● Preconsumer material is collected prior to reaching its final user. A good example of this is printing waste. This type of material is easiest to recover and the least expensive to recycle because of the limited number of contaminants.
● Postconsumer material comes from products that have fulfilled their original purposes. If they’re not recovered, they’ll head for landfills. Catalogs, direct mail pieces and undeliverable mail are all examples of postconsumer waste.
Environmental Protection Agency guidelines on recycled paper require a minimum of 30 percent postconsumer content for uncoated printing, and a minimum of 10 percent postconsumer content for coated sheets. The higher the percentage of recycled components, the less use of virgin fibers.
Beware of Bleaching
Your next questions should relate to the method used to brighten the sheet. Here, you want to find the method that uses the least chlorine, as the toxins and pollutants from chlorine bleaching have been associated with adverse effects on wildlife and the environment. Ranked from best to worst:
● processed chlorine free: recycled paper that’s processed without any chlorine compounds;
● totally chlorine free: virgin paper made from pulp that’s bleached without any chlorine compounds;
● elemental chlorine free: paper that’s been bleached using oxygen, chlorine dioxide or other chemicals rather than pure chlorine; and
● chlorine gas: paper brightened with chlorine gas — the most harmful to the environment.
Consider Soy Ink
Most printing is still done with petroleum-based ink. With your printer, explore whether your catalog can be printed with an alternative ink that has a less volatile organic compound. Per Wikipedia, volatile organic compounds are organic chemical compounds that have high enough vapor pressures under normal conditions to significantly vaporize and enter the earth's atmosphere.
One possibility is to consider a vegetable-based ink, such as soy. Ask your printer what percent of its ink comes from vegetable oils rather than petroleum.
Offset vs. Digital Printing
Is it time for you to explore printing your catalog and promotional materials via digital printer? Offset printing is clearly superior for image resolution, speed and the diminishing cost per piece as the run size increases. But for jobs that have smaller run sizes and don’t require superior images, digital printing presents a viable alternative.
The lack of make-ready waste for digital printing makes it an environmentally favorable option. Waterless printing is another alternative to the traditional offset that’s beginning to see an increase in availability.
Reduce Your Paper Needs
Once you’ve selected your paper, determine if you can reduce the amount of paper needed through trim size and basis weight.
First, find out from your printer how well the trim size of your catalog matches its press equipment. Are you at an efficient size that produces very little waste, or is significant excess paper being trimmed to produce your catalog?
Talk with your printer about what press options are available, and work together to get your job printed on a press that minimizes waste.
Next, see if you can reduce the basis weight for your catalog and cover. The lighter the basis weight of the paper, the less fiber used in production. As an added bonus, your postage costs will be lower, as well.
A Sticky Matter
Now that you’ve taken some steps to improve the environmental friendliness of your catalog, there’s one more thing to consider: What happens to your catalog afterward? Any cataloger’s goal should be to have it recycled, of course. But one of the difficulties with processing paper for recycling is the presence of adhesives. Adhesive materials complicate recycling because some adhesives can’t be fully removed. This sticky residue hampers the process and the reusability of the resulting paper pulp. The main culprits are pressure-sensitive adhesives found in address labels and postage stamps.
There are many more ways to reduce your environmental footprint. The more you know, the more you can identify other opportunities for change. To learn more about recycling, visit the Direct Marketing Association’s Web site and request a free copy of a publication called, “The DMA Environmental Resource for Direct Marketers.”
Kathy Hecht is senior vice president/general manager of AG.com for American Greetings Interactive. She’s held past positions with OfficeMax, Current, Coldwater Creek, Discount School Supply and Freund Container. You can reach her at (216) 889-5254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.