Best Practices Part 2: More Tips for Green Printing

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By: Jeremy Lehrer | February 22, 2010

All of MoMA’s packaging now uses TerraSkin, a paperlike material made from calcium carbonate that Nicole Smith of Design & Source Productions helped bring to the U.S. market.

For the February 2010 edition of my column on sustainability, “Best Practices,” I spoke to three printing innovators—Jeremy Carroll, of Imagine! Print Solutions, Sarah Riegelmann, an independent print-production consultant, and Nicole Smith of Design & Source Productions—about how designers can produce their printed work in a more sustainable manner. Here, those three experts offer more exclusive, insightful tips on how to keep your design projects as green as can be during the various stages of the design and printing process. Each one addresses a different part of that process, and identifies steps designers can take at each point to make ecologically sound choices.

Jeremy Carroll: The Estimating Stage

Keep sight of your environmental goals when choosing a printer. As you’re going through the stages of estimating a project and then choosing a printer, constantly check where you are against where you want to be. Check what you’re currently doing—like environmental check instead of a reality check—and make sure that you’re still headed in the right direction. Because printers are going to have different angles on going about winning their business. Although they need to be receptive to all of it, the designers still need to make sure the project is still keeping the profile for the project.

Ask for estimates from a small number of printers that are realistically able to do the job. I know people who send out 20 estimates to 20 different printers. Imagine how much manpower and machine power that wastes. Instead, you could send to 3 or 5 selected vendors, and get the same results with people that you could actually see getting the job. The chance of 20 people having a bona fide shot at getting the job, I think that is a bit unrealistic.

Work with a printer who’s flexible and can take advantage of production efficiencies. Planning up front can make all the difference. With designers, projects evolve and projects change from time to time. So work with a printer who’s not going to get annoyed once the specs of the job change. And work with your printer to take advantage of production efficiencies, like gang-running jobs, which is putting multiple jobs up on one form, if a firm has several projects for one customer that they’re working on at the same time. Gang-running jobs saves paper, saves make-readies, and saves plates.

Sarah Riegelmann: The Printing Stage

Plan ahead. Probably the pressures of schedules and timing is the greatest enemy of doing things sustainably. Not having time to plan and consider will make it more likely that your job is a wasteful one.

Planning ahead is important for a lot of reasons because if you start early enough, there will be time to make decisions and to pick alternatives in all kinds of things—processes, paper, shipping—that impacts waste, that impacts all kinds of things. Paper is what everyone thinks about, but it’s not necessarily the most important thing.

Don’t order more printed materials than you need. Printing costs are structured with the big costs on the front end of the job. So you can print like 5000 more pieces for $25, and people are seduced by that incredible inexpensiveness at the upper end of the ratio. But if you need 400, don’t order 2000 just because you can. Order only what you need—don’t waste. The waste is generated at the printing site, it’s generated in the shipping site, and it’s generated in the end user just trashing the stuff. So it’s irresponsible and unnecessary to order more than you need.

Do the job locally. I work with perhaps 20 different press rooms and finishers, and probably 15 of them are within a five block radius of here—and they’re really good. Because of the way I work, which is that I’m responsible to the job from the beginning to the end, I always see the job on press, so I have to be able to travel there myself on a train or on a subway to check the job. So I’m not going to go far away.

And, to tell you the truth, I love New York, and I want to see tradespeople and craftspeople stay here, and the best way I can do that is to support them with my business, and to support them with good design that I’m carrying forward to them.

Learn about paper, and choose a printer who has a good environmental practice. Talk to the printer while expressing your concerns for producing the job as cleanly as you can, from the very early stages of it. That’s the most important thing. Assuming that you have a printer who knows what the issues are and has solutions to suggest, or recommendations, you can learn a lot from your printer.

And then educate yourself, use the resources that are at hand to learn about I would say paper primarily. Call the paper reps and have them come to your office and show you, tell you, what your choices are and what they represent, so that it becomes part of your vocabulary.

Nicole Smith: Packaging

Minimize the footprint on the shelf, but still keep shelf presence. That seems a little counter-intuitive in a lot of ways. You see the reverse happen a lot of times on a WalMart scale where you’ve got a memory card that’s a 2″ by 2″ square in a package that’s maybe 10″ by 10″. And obviously, there’s levels of theft prevention that you have to do, but then sometimes you’re looking at, “How do I just take away additional packaging?”

Remove superfluous packaging and make the package as small as possible. Sometimes this relates to little things, like why aren’t we taking away boxes from around our toothpaste? There are a lot of toothpaste brands that have a safety seal over them, so why are we still putting an additional carton around them?

Procter & Gamble and Alcan Packaging won a DuPont award last year for putting all of the pills in the medicine on one “blister card,” whereas before the pills were just spaced out every inch or something, and were on multiple cards. It’s such a simple thing: We could do that on a mass level, and it’s going to have a huge impact.

Try not to mix materials. Stick with one material if at all possible because whether we have the infrastructure or not at this point, it’s going to minimize an impact on a recovery level. And the consumers—most of the time that we’ve been able to see—aren’t taking different components apart. So it’s important to just give them one material—try and get one material to do the job for that particular package.