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DRUPA 2012: A Watershed Event for Greener Printing & Sustainable Media Supply Chains

The new wave of green sweeping over business in the US is the crescendo of a movement that has been under way for over a decade, and there every reason to believe this wave of change has yet to crest.

Despite the global recession there is overwhelming evidence that graphic arts vendors and suppliers operating in the US will be required to develop an unprecedented new array of sustainable green innovations for the packaging of knowledge and goods over the next five years.

While environmental issues have typically taken a back seat to financial issues and investment during difficult economic times, this time it’s different. Eighty percent of North American corporate sustainability executives recently surveyed by the research firm Panel Intelligence plan to maintain or increase levels of sustainability related spending in 2009, despite the current economic conditions. More importantly R&D and coordination of marketing initiatives for the greening of IT and digital media are growing and outstripping any comparable efforts for the greening of print media.

Business and governmental leaders around the world are grappling with unprecedented and simultaneous economic, environmental and social turmoil that calls for new approaches to decision making in the production and consumption of goods and services. Increasingly, systems thinking, sustainability and transparency are the core principles behind the new approaches being taken to avert disaster and restore confidence. In addition, new standards, sustainability management tools, social networks and web 2.0 capabilities are increasing the ability to detect unsustainable “green” claims.

Not a time for print media to become complacent

Print media service providers, technologists, marketers and their associations should take note of efforts such as the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, The Green Grid, and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). An initiative such as the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership is a good start, but more investment and better coordination of efforts with others are needed. Failure to materially address the greening of print media supply chains may ultimately seal the fate of print as well as the fate of the billions whose media-related needs will not be served by a digital media monoculture. Addressing sustainability is an issue of growing importance that requires us to rethink taking a zero-sum approach to the greening of media. Just a few years ago few people had any idea what the term 'carbon footprint' meant. Soon measuring and managing company supply chain and product footprints may become a global regulatory requirement as well as a pervasive customer demand.

Print has profoundly changed the world since the days of Johannes Guttenberg, but now the printing industry is being challenged to profoundly change itself. Current patterns of production and consumption for print and digital media are increasingly being seen as unsustainable. DRUPA has been a showcase of innovation for decades, and DRUPA 2012 is likely to be a watershed event for “game changing” innovation for sustainable media supply chains that will be of great interest to US graphic arts companies and their customers.

As the world exits the global recession we will simultaneously be transitioning to a low carbon global economy that will change the meaning and value of waste and inefficiency. As we do so print will survive if it reconfigures its supply chains to use energy and materials more eco-efficiently and publishers will survive if they can decouple the message from the medium while meeting the requirement for “triple bottom” line results that are economically viable, environmentally restorative and socially constructive.

Growing demand for sustainable media supply chain solutions

The growing demand for sustainable business practices; lifecycle analysis and environmental product disclosure will impact e-Reader manufacturers and digital media companies as well as purveyors of print media. Sadly, print has allowed itself to be commonly seen as a wasteful, inefficient and environmentally destructive medium, despite the fact that much of print media is based on comparatively benign and renewable materials. This is particularly ironic in that print has incredible potential to be a far more sustainable medium than it is today… and to become the means for printing flexible polymer digital electronics as well!

We need to recognize that our current digital media supply chains are unsustainable before we kick print media to the curb and entrust our future to an ephemeral and uncertain digital media monoculture. The amounts of energy, materials and waste associated with the lifecycles of print and digital media are all too often overlooked, misunderstood or underestimated. There are billions of kilowatt hours of electricity embodied in the paper, ink and digital technologies we use each day, and among our greatest challenges is the need to identify, measure and reduce the amount of energy, waste and greenhouse gas emissions associated with each page or megabyte of information we rely on.

Humanity’s prospects and our better nature will best be served if we strive for the sustainable evolution of both print and digital media rather than allowing or cheering the demise of one or the other. DRUPA 2012 is the one global forum that provides our industry with the ability to come together, rise above the fray and showcase its ability to collaborate and innovate.

Print has been cast in the role of a mature devil of an industry in decline despite its importance to business, government and society. On the other hand digital media is typically cast as the technological savior on the rise. Ironically the future of digital media and e-book readers is likely to be based on flexible polymer electronics manufactured using printing presses rather than silicon semiconductor technologies. In fact, the next generation e-Readers will be digital AND be printed. For example, the soon to be released PlasticLogic e-Reader is a flexible polymer printed electronic device.

Its time to reframe the debate

There is no question that print media can and must do a better job of managing the sustainability of its supply chains and waste streams, but it’s a misguided notion to assume that digital media is categorically greener. Computers, e-readers and cell phones don’t grow on trees and their spiraling requirement for energy is unsustainable. It is also a commonly held misconception that going paperless categorically helps to fight global warming.

Thinking that we can transition from books to eBooks, and satisfy the fundamental needs of all 6.7 billion people on the planet is a fallacy. We don’t have clean water in many countries, let alone 3G towers to feed our Kindle’s today’s newspaper news. 2 billion people don’t have clean water in the world. As publishers, advertisers, and consumers, we have to find ways to encourage development of both sustainable print and digital media supply chain management technologies. We need to reframe the issue.

Today’s prints vs. digital media debates are a zero sum game. Regardless of which media wins the war of words we all loose. The fact is we will need both print and digital media for many years to come and we need them to both become far more sustainable than they are today. Unfortunately, most of us think about the flows of energy and materials associated with print and digital media the way fish think about water. This is despite the fact that large organizations typically spend between 5% and 35% of every dollar spent (exclusive of labor) on paper and printing. Until recently there was little if any disclosure of the lifecycle “back-story” of digital media.

Know how green your pages and pixels are

It is currently somewhat difficult to discover the carbon footprint of a printed product, a digital device or for most products. However, according to information recently released by Apple, the lifecycle carbon footprint of an iPhone is responsible for the emission of 121 pounds of Co2 equivalent green house gas emissions over the course of a three year expected lifetime of use, the same amount of CO2 produced by twelve 100-watt light bulbs glowing for an 691 hours or a car engine burning 603 gallons of gasoline. ((Over 10 million iPhones have been sold to date.)) Though it is not a direct comparison, it is interesting to note that Discover Magazine estimates the lifecycle carbon footprint of each copy of its publication is responsible for 2.1 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, the same amount of CO2 produced by twelve 100-watt light bulbs glowing for an hour or a car engine burning 14 ounces of gasoline.

On average each kilowatt-hour of energy in the US represents the emission of approximately two pounds of CO2. To put that in perspective, consider the Empire State Building’s 37 million cubic feet of space. The combined emissions of U.S. papermaking, datacenters and client energy demand alone would fill over 100 Empire State Buildings with solidified CO2 (dry ice) each year. Each cubic foot of dry ice weighs approximately 100 pounds.

To put the amount of energy involved in context, According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) the US papermaking industry used 75 Billion kilowatt hours of energy in 2006… second only to the petroleum industry. However, digital media also consumes prodigious amounts of energy. During the same period in 2006 the EIA reports that data centers and servers in the US used over 60 Billion Kilowatt-hours of electricity. Electrical consumption by US data centers doubled from 2000-2006 and is set to double again in 2010. Recent analysis by Gartner Research indicates that datacenter energy consumption is expected to double by 2010 and its growth is unsustainable. This is one of the factors spurring investment in Green IT.

According to David B. Struhs, Vice President of Environmental Affairs for International Paper “The US papermaking industry produces approximately 55 percent of America’s alternative energy supply. That is five-times more renewable energy than is generated by all of the installed solar cells and wind turbines across the country combined. In the United States, the electricity required from the grid to run just internet servers is more than double what is purchased the pulp and paper industry. To put it another way, a single vertical rack of high-powered servers consumes enough energy in a single year to power a hybrid car back and forth across the U.S. – 337 times”!

In addition to the energy required to power servers, desktop computers, cell phones and e-books, manufacturing a computer requires the using plastics, corrosive gasses and aromatic hydrocarbon solvents, plus the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals including tantaulum, lithium, gold, silver and palladium. Additionally at the end of their all too short useful lives electronics have become the single largest stream of toxic waste created by man… a stream that is expected become a veritable tsunami of toxic e-waste as people turn in their analog CRT TV’s and buy large screen digital HD sets.

Be sure your green is sustainable

Over the next 5-10 years we need to transition from making paper in outmoded papermills mills built by our grandparents to producing paper, fuels, energy and renewable chemical and pharmaceutical feedstocks in a new generation of integrated biorefineries. Likewise we need to transition from printing methods that employ wasteful and inefficient mass production methods to those which employ leaner greener digital printing, printed electronics and “digitally augmented print” that supports social media integration, mass customization and dematerialization.

By the time DRUPA 2012 rolls around US printers will be expecting to see a new range of sustainable and “media agile” print solutions that will help them transform the flows of information, energy, materials and labor required to meet changing customer requirements, increased competition and growing regulatory pressures. Sustainability, energy security and climate change are challenging issues that are compelling every business, every government and every individual to rethink the ways in which they employ energy, source materials, manage waste and to redefine what it means to be “greener.”

According to John Grant, author of the “Green Marketing Manifesto”, the new interest in greenness is not likely to fade because it is now so strongly linked to a climate change agenda that has global scientific and political support. Grant maintains that on top of climate change there are a related set of issues: “water shortages (not just from low rainfall, but because we have seriously depleted underground aquifers), deforestation, seas holding only 10% of the edible fish stocks they did 100 years ago, soil erosion, storms, spreading diseases. Add war, political unrest, economic turmoil, food shortages and social disintegration and you can see why some call the impending (climate) crisis a global Somalia.”

While there is still interest in familiar topics such as the use of post-consumer recycled content, paper chain of custody certification and use of soy-based inks, new topics coming of growing importance to advertisers, publishers and print supply chain professionals are energy efficiency and management of the “carbon footprint” associated with paper, printing and print-related logistics as well the broader issue of ISO 14040 Lifecycle Analysis and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for substrates, inks, coatings, solvents and adhesives.

Welcome to the new normal

Sustainability, energy security and climate change are becoming mainstream corporate governance priorities among the largest corporations in the world… and supply chain sustainability is now the focus of a growing number of companies that are also dependent on print for the packaging, promotion and advertising of their products.

For many of companies in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and consumer packaged goods the greening of supply chain practices began over a decade ago with a focus on their “tier one” suppliers. Despite the fact that printing can represent 20% or more of every dollar spent by most corporations, it is not typically considered a “tier one” supply chain function. As a result, printing has only recently come under scrutiny now that the “lean and green” sustainability initiatives directed at “tier one” supply chain purchases have matured. In response to initiatives from organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, The Carbon Trust and the Climate Group, corporate and publishing giants like Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Time Incorporated and NewsCorp are beginning to press their supply chains to reduce their carbon footprints and reconfigure their products and services to measure, manage, report, verify and continuously improve their “triple bottom line” performance.

For a myriad of reasons a growing number of large corporations and publishers are now under pressure to manage the sustainability and climate change impacts of their supply chain practices. As a result, many are rewriting their vendor qualification scorecards, putting new environmental management and greenhouse gas emissions information requests in their RFIs and putting new sustainability reporting and verification provisions in their RFPs. Organizations such as the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and the Sustainability Purchasing Network have developed sustainable purchasing initiatives and increasingly printers in the US are being asked:

  • How they measure, manage and report on your company’s environmental performance and its carbon footprint.
  • How much time senior management spends guiding their company’s environmental performance strategy.
  • If they company have attained or are seeking ISO9002/ISO14001 certification.
  • If their company documents the environmental lifecycle impacts of the products and services that that it buys.
  • What strategies and tactics for continuous improvement they require of their suppliers in addressing climate change and sustainability.

Due to rising competition from alternative media and due to the prodigious volumes of energy and materials required by print, the graphic communication industry is being challenged to reinvent and reconfigure its workflows and the lifecycle impacts of its offerings if it is to play a significant ongoing role providing essential services and benefits to business, government and society.

Shrink your carbon footprint or be prepared to pay for it

After close do a decade of governmental inaction in response to the challenges of climate change and sustainable development, the US government appears to be making up for lost time with passage of a sweeping portfolio of legislation and regulatory reform that will radically change the costs associated with business as usual and create new incentives for the adoption of clean technologies, renewable resources, energy efficiency and greener low-carbon business practices.

Among the most significant legislative and regulatory changes on the horizon are Federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, and regulation of green marketing claims by the US Federal trade Commission. The US Environmental Protection Agency has filed an “endangerment ruling” providing for the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by the EPA and the US House of Representatives passed the landmark “American Clean Energy & Security Act of 2009” which would institute a federal cap and trade require the US to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that can lead to climate change by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050. The Obama administration is now placing intense pressure on US Senate to introduce, voted on and pass a similar bill prior to the December Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen as an example of leadership to China and India.

In addition to supply chain and legislative action on climate change the rapidly increasing number of brands making unsubstantiated and confusing “Green”, “Environmentally Friendly” “Sustainable” and “Carbon Neutral” product claims has caused concern on the part of US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC has recently conducted hearings and is expected to press for eco-labeling standards, increase its enforcement activities and issue a new and more stringent set of “Green Marketing Guidelines.”

Print as if your life and the lives of future generations depend on it

In combination, these factors are providing companies in the print and digital media supply chains of business and government with a clear and unambiguous call for radical innovation and significant change. Mature industries that re-invent themselves create opportunity by embracing change and finding common ground with adversaries. There are fortunes to be made by companies who adapt and change to meet the challenges and the opportunities presented by the growing importance of alternative media and growing need for sustainability and climate change action.

Members of the digital generation might not know enough to care if print goes the way of the slide rule, but they are unlikely to welcome arguments for reinventing print and keeping it in the mix if they are confronted by righteous indignation about the inherent greenness of print as it is today. Better to acknowledge the negative aspects of print’s current footprint (such as its carbon footprint) and work with print’s critics to understand and reduce the metastizing carbon footprint of digital media, or the bane of e-waste, and encourage them to envision a near term future in which both print and digital media supply chains collaborate to become more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. (Did you know that Google bought a paper mill last year?)

Business, government and day-to-day life depend on both print and digital media to a far greater extent than is commonly realized... but neither is without its pluses and its minuses. As discussed, both have significant carbon footprints and lifecycle impacts that are seldom addressed today… but they will have to be addressed going forward. At DRUPA 2012 the graphic communication industry has an opportunity to come together and demonstrate how print and digital media supply chains can and must work together to ensure the sustainability of our common future.

Don Carli is Senior Research Fellow with nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) based in NYC and has attended 5 DRUPAs. ISC was created to raise awareness, build capacity for the sustainable use of print and digital media and train the next generation of communication supply chain professionals. ISC carries out its mission through various education and outreach initiatives such as the Sustainable Advertising Partnership (www.SustainableAds.org) being developed in partnership with Ad-ID (www.Ad-ID.org) as well as through our Students of Sustainability (www.SOSReach.org) programs. ISC also supports the SustainCommWorld LLC Green Media Conferences which were created to provide advertisers, media planners, media buyers, creative professionals, publishers and suppliers in the print and digital media supply chains with real world and virtual world forums where they can network, explore and forge sustainable print and digital media supply chains solutions. In addition, ISC is working with Fortune custom publishing to produce a special section to Fortune Magazine in the Fall of 2009 focusing on the ways in which sustainable print and digital media supply chains can be a powerful force in the effort to address our global economic recovery and the challenge of climate change.

Don can be reached at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or on Twitter: @dcarli