Eco printing

Having had a long-standing interest in environmental issues I’m very conscious of making environmentally responsible choices for my new business.

I figured it might be useful to others if I shared a little about some recent decisions relating to printing – what I chose and why…

Printing cards

Just this week I booked in my business cards to be printed. There are a number of environmental factors that I consider when printing.

The first is do I need to do a print job at all? In this case, can I get away with not having a business card? (I obviously decided that it was important enough in my case.) But on other occasions perhaps it’s possible to not print and use alternatives (like websites etc.) instead.

The second question is stock – which paper to use:

  • Is the stock recycled (or FSC certified)? Recycled is the best option if possible – and I look for the maximum percentage of post-consumer waste as possible. If I can’t get 100% recycled, I try to use stock that contains FSC certified virgin pulp – which ensures that the non-recycled component is sourced from sustainably managed content.
  • Is the stock chlorine free? Elemental chlorine free means that chlorine is not used in any part of the process, or the source material that’s recycled.

The third is the print process:

  • What printing process can I use? Is it digital or offset? Digital is more energy efficient, but offset gets better results.
  • If offset – does the printer use soy-based inks? (Soy-based inks are better for the environment because they don’t use petroleum based oils. And if I recall they are also less toxic than their petroleum-based counterparts.)
  • Do they have an environmental management process in place?
  • Can I reduce the number of colours (which reduces the resources required to print)?

For my business cards I chose ecoDesign-ecoPrint who I’ve used a number of times in the past for various bits and pieces. I know that Digital Eskimo and WWF also use the company for some of their print jobs.

Ever since first speaking to Doug at ecoDesign some four years ago, I’ve been impressed with their commitment to environmentally friendly printing (which you can read more about on their site). They only use soy-based inks, support a wide assortment of recycled and FSC-certified paper, and have an alcohol free system and are ISO14001 certified for their process (ISO14001 is an environmental process standard).

They also do digital printing which, while the inks and printing process are not as environmentally friendly, uses a lot less energy and can do smaller runs.

I’ve chosen a 100% post-consumer waste recycled stock for my new cards using the 350 gsm ecoStar 100% recycled stock from Raleigh. (Spicers and Dunlop also offer recycled options.) I chose not to go digital because the examples I saw didn’t have the right textural quality that I was after. I’m paying a premium, but in the end I think it’s worth it for the result – both aesthetically and environmentally.

What about the waste?

I hate wastage in business cards – in my previous roles I’ve lamented the number of cards I’ve had to throw out at the end of my tenure. I would have dearly liked to reduce the quantity of cards down to about 100 if I could, but the cost would have been exorbitant. I’ve chosen to print 500 cards with 250 “blank” – without personal details – in the hope that I can use the 250 cards for colleagues and general promotional purposes.

I have some design ideas on how to create attractive cards in low volumes using minimal printing and materials, but I unfortunately didn’t have the time to experiment this time around. However, I will continue working on ways to reduce wastage in future runs.

Office printer

The other printing-related purchase I made recently was my office printer. I wanted to get a laser printer because the quality is better (and I wanted my printed documents to look professional) and to reduce the amount of consumables I use (in my experience, bubble-jet style printers chew through consumables very rapidly).

From Digital Eskimo’s experience I know that there’s very little information out there on choosing a “green” printer. I checked a couple of articles at Treehugger, but really couldn’t find that much information.

The things I was looking for:

  • Duplex (double-sided) printing – printing both sides of the paper which reduces paper consumption dramatically, reducing overall cost and resource use
  • Low consumables use (i.e. long-lasting toner cartridges)
  • Toner recycling programs from the manufacturer
  • End-of-life take-back (recycling) program from the manufacturer
  • Low energy consumption

Since I read about reasearch on particulate emissions for laser printers found them to be quite toxic, I also took note of the models tested in that research before heading down to my local OfficeWorks. Unfortunately none of the printers that were tested in the study linked above were small business printers available.


I ended up choosing a Lexmark E250d, which was on special at the time (< AUD$200 – very cheap). I chose it not because the price (which was appealing) but because it was the only printer in my price range that was duplex capable.

Other features that I liked was that it had an Energy Star rating, the warm up time was quite short (contributing to reduced energy consumption, I hope) and the consumables lasted about 1000 sheets longer than the comparable models (combined with duplex printing, this reduces consumables significantly).

Another model I was looking at also had an energy star rating, but the consumption of toner was significantly worse than the Lexmark. I also noted that Lexmark have a cartridge refurbishing program in partnership with Planet Ark.

And while I can’t return the printer to Lexmark at the end of it’s life in NSW, at least the company is part of the Byteback program in Victoria. If/when the printer needs to be recycled, I’ll definitely look into getting Lexmark to take it back (or at least try to find another recycling program that will). (Lexmark does have hardware recycling programs in other countries.)

When I got the printer home I was impressed with how few shipping compenents were in the box, and all except a few small pieces were recyclable. This was a pleasant surprise – my previous experience with printer packaging was less than desirable.

I also picked up some cheap, 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper from OfficeWorks. The quality isn’t great (meaning I’ll probably shell out for something a bit better next time), but at lease I know that no trees were felled specifically for the paper I use.

Nothing’s perfect

Even though I did environmental factors did inform my decision, I’m well aware that both of these printing decisions have negative impacts on the environment – in the form of energy and consumables, and the waste they generate.

But to me it’s important, even for things as simple as printing, to think through the options and make informed choices. I believe is that even small, imperfect, choices like these help move us towards a more sustainable future.