Best Practices: Press Forward

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By Jeremy Lehrer

Every choice you make for every print job contributes to its environmental impact. Using a local printer, for instance, can result in lower emissions than producing the project abroad; printers that recycle solvents can reduce pollution.

I found three people who work as consultants or within their own companies to come up with new and creative approaches to green the production process. Their innovative thinking could change everything about how designers print, from the paper chosen for a project to the boxes used to ship the final product. Sarah Riegelmann, an independent print-production consultant based in Lower Manhattan, sources print houses and artisans for letterpress, die-cutting, and embossing work, all within a ten-block radius of her office—a reflection of her commitment to working with local companies. Jeremy Carroll’s firm, Imagine! Print Solutions, has created magnetic rollable signage that allows the printer to fit thousands of store signs into small boxes instead of sending them flat in large boxes, cutting down on emis-sions. And as the Environmental Director at the firm Design & Source Productions, Nicole Smith helped bring TerraSkin, a paperlike material made from calcium carbonate, to the U.S. market. It’s now been used by Burt’s Bees, REI, and the Museum of Modern Art.

I talked to these environmental forward-thinkers about how they’re working to make design friendly for the planet—and how designers can do the same.

Promotion for the Urban Forest Project designed by Worldstudio.

Riegelmann oversaw the eco-minded production of this promotion for the Urban Forest Project designed by Worldstudio.

Sarah RiegelmannOwner

Riegelmann Printing

Jeremy Lehrer: What’s the most crucial thing designers can do to make their printing environmentally sound?

Sarah Riegelman: The most important thing is to find a printer who has good environmental practices, because that’s where the real impact is made. Unless you’re specifying huge volumes of paper, it’s not whether you use 10 percent recycled stock; it’s whether the printer who is doing the job is recycling plates, is recycling rags, is recycling paper—which they all pretty much do. But also, are they using vegetable-based inks, are they using low-VOC coatings? Those are things that are really, really important. There have traditionally been toxic substances used in printing—involving mostly petroleum-based photo chemistry, solvents, and varnishes, as well as heavy metals in some inks—so the less of that you generate, the better.

What holds people back from choosing the greener option? They don’t see the tangible environmental impact?

That, and also graphic design is so mixed in with visual beauty, and a lot of times complexity and beauty are not compatible with conservation.

Imagine! worked with the design firm Helicopter to keep this project green and on-budget.

Imagine! worked with the design firm Helicopter to keep this project green and on-budget.

Jeremy Carroll

National sales executive

Imagine! Print Solutions

What’s your essential advice for designers making their projects more green?

Consult with your printer early. I think consulting is everything. It allows designers to concentrate on their client’s objectives and their design while they’ve handed off the piece to a responsible printer who can concentrate on keeping them green and meeting their goals.

How can designers evaluate printers? Ask about the average age of your printer’s presses. Newer presses typically run more efficiently and generate less waste. For example, our new digital press runs four to ten times faster than older technology. The latest technologies are going to reduce the amount of makeready that you need to get the color up to where it needs to be on the form. Additionally, working with a printer that has been certified as a GRACoL G7 Master Printer will provide assurance for high-quality, consistent, and predictable color reproduction. You can also ask if your printer offers soft proofing, where the proof is approved online, eliminating the production and shipping of a hard-copy proof. And find out if your printer has an ongoing investment strategy to keep equipment current. You may also want to ask if they have an energy efficiency program in place to save power across their facility, with high-efficiency lighting, management of peak power demand, or usage of renewable energy.

At Imagine!, you’ve developed store-profiling software that has been instrumental in reducing waste—can you describe that?

The software allows retailers and quick-serve clients to specifically profile each store so that you don’t need to produce the amount of signs you’ll use in the largest store and send it out to everyone across the country. When stores are profiled correctly, they only receive the pieces specific to their store, not extras. You’re going to waste a lot less because the signage needs in various stores can be dramatically different.

Any other tips for designers to make their projects greener?

Look at the processes that you’re using for a job. Are you foiling, embossing, die-cutting? What steps are necessary? Because all of those involve energy. I would say selecting fewer extras can make you greener. But I would also say that I know designers, and more is sometimes better for them. I would recommend that in addition to sending a spec sheet to the printer, you should send an environmental-goal statement with instructions that specify, “We want to produce this on environmentally friendly stock; please send recommendations. We want to make sure we’re using soy-based inks….”

All of MoMA’s packaging now uses Design & Source Productions’ TerraSkin paper.

All of MoMA’s packaging now uses Design & Source Productions’ TerraSkin paper.

Nicole Smith

Environmental director

Design & Source Productions

What is TerraSkin?

It’s a paper made from calcium carbonate, which is 80 percent of the content, and a binder of polyethylene, which is 20 percent. There are no trees used in making it, and no water or bleach used during production. And we use about 50 percent less energ
y than [we would for] a regular sheet of paper. With that material, you get some amazing characteristics for paper applications. It’s tear-resistant and water-resistant. In printing, you typically use 20 to 30 percent less ink than a regular sheet, because it doesn’t absorb as much. You get a crisper, more defined image. And the materials are 80 percent post-industrial recycled content.

How do you see TerraSkin’s big-name clients shifting the equation for the material and for newer, greener materials, generally?

It helps having industry leaders work with you, because within their industries their competitors can see that these materials are out there and they are usable. In theory, everyone wants to be first, but they don’t really want to be the first because there are a lot of hurdles involved and a lot of unknowns.

What is the ideal green packaging design?

I would probably look at it from a different angle and say, “How do we create a new recovery infrastructure that takes these packaging materials back?” We keep trying to make the packages different to suit the infrastructure we have now. We really need to expand what the infrastructure is and figure out how to create value out of all of these materials in a second life.


Three green-printing innovators share their experience and advice.

About the AuthorJEREMY LEHRER writes about design, spirituality, and sustainability. He is a Print contributing editor and the author of "Best Practices," Print's column on ecogologically sound approaches to design. This article appears in the February 2010 issue of Print.