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.”

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: dcarli@sustaincom.org or on  Twitter: @dcarli