Over the last few years we have started to see companies advertising with green credentials, flexing their muscles against their competition as green helps them win their latest contract. But what does it really take to go green in a modern pre-media company? How do we measure what a company are does and to what degree to make them green?
One area that caught my eye was in the hard-copy proofing area of our industry. In going about my daily business I came cross Rick Colson of EcoVisual Communication who offers completely green photo printing. They provide a 10 point sustainability list for their production process that would fill me with confidence that they have taken measures to ensure photos are produced with the environment in mind. Here’s how they do it:
- They print on 100% cotton papers that is made from post-industrial cotton fibers – materials that might otherwise wind up in landfills. Their “most pure” and highest-grade papers are made with cotton “short-fibres” recovered from cotton-seed oil manufacturers.
- They source these papers locally (their business is in Massachusetts) to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting bulk paper (very heavy).
- They use entirely VOC-free water based pigmented inks.
- They use biodegradable mounting adhesives.
- They mount to soy foam substrates or honeycomb substrates that are made from 100% post consumer recycled papers.
- On the rare occasion they need to print on fabric or canvas they only use 100% recycled cotton substrates. (They also have available a new cotton canvas that’s a blend with recycled plastics from soda bottles!).
- ALL their imaging papers are totally chlorine free, tree free and acid free.
- They softproof whenever possible which reduces paper proofs.
- They colour manage workflow to ensure accurate colour which also reduces proofing.
- Everything they produce is 100% recyclable.
Feeling that these guys have really gone to great lengths to provide an environmentally friendly solution for producing proofs/prints, I had to ask him a few questions to get his opinion on how the industry and customers saw what was happening.
Here’s what I asked with his responses:
1. In your experience, what is the key driver to companies using products like yours?
There are three: 1) A passion for green, 2) an uncompromising drive for museum/archive/collector quality and 3) the desire to work directly with a name and face, not just anonymous “customer service.” I work with every client we have, personally.
2. Given the complexities of running a modern business, are companies doing enough to make a difference?
I don’t fault any company at this point in time for not trying hard enough to make a difference, with a few exceptions. So many businesses, and chief among them photographers and artists, are simply doing their best to survive. There is also a mistaken belief among most that making a difference, being socially responsible, maximizing green efforts, etc. will all cost more than the “simpler” ways of doing things. In my humble opinion, this is a misguided and short-sighted belief. However, when you’re struggling for survival you don’t often consider anything but the essentials. The exceptions I noted above include those companies that are thriving (insurance, financial services, petroleum) who don’t pay anything but lip service to green issues when they, above all, can afford to. Greed, I think, is blinding.
3. How to companies weigh up the cost of being green against customers’ demands for cheaper & faster?
If you look at our pricing you will see that we’re actually less expensive than many printers offering similar services who are far less green. On the other hand, there are a lot of “quick and dirty” ways to obtain prints that are much less expensive than custom labs and “giclee” printers (including us). There will always be those who want the best quality and are willing to pay for it… fine artists, professional image makers, museums, galleries, art buyers, collectors et. al. The trick for us is to be more cost effective than those who are printing less green while delivering an equal or superior product. Then it’s a “no brainer.” In fact, I’m literally banking on it. It’s also true that people in this country, as a whole, are willing to pay only a very slight premium for green. So while green is one of our essential ingredients, we would be lost without quality, timeliness and service.
4. What level of education on the wider ‘green’ issue does your company provide its customers?
I do a lot of public speaking on, among other things, the relationship between indoor air quality and art and the use of green technology in imaging. One of the key components of being green is health, a fact that many seem to ignore. A significant health issue pertains to the use of solvent inks with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are known respiratory- and neuro-toxins. This is especially an issue for those who create prints with these materials as well as those who use the art. It’s a sad fact that no one knows what the combined effects of these VOCs and other toxins are when they mix with other potentially toxic chemicals commonly found in household cleaners, carpets, paints, office products plus diesel particulates and other solid particulate pollutants. It’s these interactions which are the great unknown. Conventional chemical imaging involves dyes, pigments and silver, many of which are potentially toxic. In fact, elemental silver, used in conventional imaging, is a known heavy metal and carcinogen. Many toxicologists link such symptoms as fatigue, inability to concentrate, respiratory problems such as asthma, depression, anxiety, and other neurological and psychological disorders with environmental toxins. That’s why every print we make is produced with 100% VOC-free inks on 100% cotton papers made from reclaimed cotton from cottonseed oil manufacturers (cottonseed oil is a food product).
In addition, I spend at least an hour a day on various online forums and blogs trying to provide useful information.
5. What are the 3 biggest selling points for green products in your opinion?
The first is health, the second is quality and the third is sustainability (not necessarily in that order). The globe is warming, resources are dwindling and there are far more health issues than ever before. To me, even in as “relatively insignificant” a field of endeavor as imaging, it simply makes sense to be as green as possible.. especially when there are virtually no compromises! Why would you do anything else?
For some time now companies have switched their lighting consumption to low energy lighting, installed motion censors so the lights are only on when people are in the room and ensured that hardware is set to go into screen saver mode after only a short period of time. But is that really enough?
Having worked myself in a busy studio I can tell you that not many people are energy conscious when it comes to the hardware they use, they will happily go home at the end of the night leaving their Mac or PC on, sucking money straight out of the companies bottom line…. OK you may think this is a little excessive, but actually when you start adding it up it turns out to be a pretty juicy amount, doing some very simple maths here, using my standard consumer rate of electricity and one of my 24 inch Dell 2407 LCD screens I have calculated that having the screen running for 24 hours a day with a screen saver running would clock up a hefty £133 a year on my electricity bill. Luckily for me I don’t have it running 24 hours a day since I have 2 of them! I couldn’t face a bill of over £500 a year just to run my PC, but I’m sensible; my screens go to standby after 5 minutes, I shut my PC down at night and I have a energy saving peripheral multi-gang socket that switches off all of the additional plugged in equipment (mouse dock, printer, scanner and actually the screens!)
Now just multiply that against the number of screens in your creative studio, say 20? Left on for 24 hours a day 365 days a year – a company would spend around £2660 or through managing the staff’s shutdown process they could just be spending £900 – now £1760 might seem like a small amount of money in the grand scheme of what that creative studio might actually earn, but that £1760 is no different to simply burning it for no reason! Another way of looking at it is that £1760 is the cost of a new G5 Mac something all the staff would love to have every year, in fact it’s what they normally ask for every year as if they deserve it!
I’m the one paying my bill, so I am energy conscious. But on the whole employees aren’t and most really just don’t care. For me going green isn’t just about using sustainably sourced materials (although I’m not knocking anyone that does) it’s about changing the complete mindset of your business and it’s employees, it’s about promoting it across the company about how being green saves money, save the environment and makes for better business, we all know that better business means higher incomes and longer term survival.
What would I do?
There’s plenty of things that companies could be doing in order to be more thoughtful about the energy they use. Thinking about my top 10 company green points that I would promote to my clients, I’d have to have some sort of measurements to ensure that my employee’s are maintaining the standards my company has set. I mean what’s the point of having any type of policy if you don’t measure if it is being followed, anyway my list would look something like this:
- All employees would use public transport or bikes to get into work.
- All employees who have to drive car pole in some way and have low emission modes of transportation.
- Any company car would be energy efficient (i.e. not gas gussling tanks, and all the way up to chairman he gets a Smart just like his staff!)
- All computers and peripherals would be shut-down at the end of the day.
- Recycling bins and reported measured waste (anal I know, but how do you get people to care about recycling otherwise!)
- Sustainably source company products (i.e recycled loo roll, recycled photo copier paper, fairtrade tea & coffee etc etc)
- Low energy lighting with motion detection.
- Only company owned equipment plugged into the companies electricity (sorry all those personal mobile phone users who charge at work!)
- Solar heated buildings
- Thermally insulated buildings
That list is without looking at the material you use in the daily business you provide your clients. I know what your thinking “my God, you want a lot, do your clients really care?” Probably not, but much like Apple has wow’d us with how green the production process and material used is in the products they manufacture, so should we be wowing our clients by being environmentally responsible. As Rick pointed out above it can cost the same if not less to produce environmentally friendly proofs for your clients, as so it wouldn’t take a lot to implement policy throughout your business on energy consumption, educate your staff to be responsible for the environment, your clients and your bottom line.
Susrainability + Environmental Awareness can only equal good business, higher gross profit and better employee rewards? Or are you just playing lip service to the need of your clients?
Think about what more you could be doing in your pre-media supply chain to reduce your carbon footprint!
Author: Gary George
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