Al Gore has made a movie about it. Art Garfunkel is giving concerts to support it. Governments base their election programs upon it. The conservation of the environment is a hot topic! This goes for the Graphic Arts Production as well. It is aware of the need for environmentally appropriate behaviour and it is constantly looking for opportunities to promote and support environmental friendly practices.

Together with their suppliers, the Graphic Arts Production (printing companies) adapts business practices to conserve resources and lessen the overall impact on the environment. These initiatives are only partly visible for the consumer, let alone that consumers feel that they have a choice when they turn into customers who have printing needs!

The purpose of this article is to shed some light on “green initiatives” that can be taken by the Graphic Arts Production. These initiatives have a huge impact on the preservation of the environment and most of them without compromising the quality of print work.

Vegetable Oil Based Inks

Offset inks are a mixture of pigments, resins and mineral oils and some other ingredients like drying agents. Especially on uncoated papers these inks can be replaced by the so-called agri-based inks. These inks are used by most large printing companies and work very well.

In Canada, four major Calgary printers initiated the use of Canola Oil in vegetable inks to replace the soybean oils. The Canola Oils that are used are from Canada grown crops. The environment always benefits if we use locally grown products, because there is less transport involved from crop to consumer.


A lot of people like the shiny cover on their favorite magazine and the high level brochure they get when asking for (product) information. Very often shiny effect is caused by covering the printed paper with a layer of varnish. Beside the protective effect of varnish against scratching and smudging it gives a luxury feel to the product.

A normal Varnish contains drying oil, resin and petroleum. The evaporation of the petroleum into the air is harmful and this kind of vanish makes printed products more difficult to recycle.

There is an ecological alternative for the common used varnishes. This is a better recyclable water-based varnish called Aqueous. Because of the longer drying time (water evaporates slower than turpentine) this varnish requires a special unit on the press. More and more printers invest in new presses with this aqueous unit.


It is very common for most printers to sell their waste paper to recycling companies who turn this paper into pulp that is added to new fibers to create paper with recycled content. Depending on the quality of the pulp, it is also used to produce 100% recycled paper (high end).

If you compare a non-recycled paper we use daily (printer paper) with the recycled version you will be surprised by the reduction of environmental impact (In all areas of the process). The amount of trees you “save” is not the main benefit, as you would expect. Good forest management can reduce that problem as well ( see )

The most important benefits of re-using paper are the reductions of waste water (46%), energy use (44%), greenhouse gasses (37%) and hazardous air pollutants (97%) but recycling also reduces the amount of chemicals that pollute with an average of 50% ( source: )

Other things that can be recycled are for example: offset plates, developing fluids and packing material like skids, cartons and plastics.

The really environmental conscious printers use EPA licensed* disposal companies for their entire hazardous waste disposal. They also use rags that are cleaned and can be used time and time again instead of disposable materials.


FSC stand for “Forest Stewardship Council”. This council was established in 1993 and is the world first independent labeling scheme for forest products, inclusive paper. The organization promotes: “environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economical viable management of the world forests”

All printers can use FSC certified papers. This doesn’t mean they can deliver FSC certified products. A printer needs to be part of the FSC “Chain-of-Custody” to use the FSC logo and therefore he needs to be FSC certified. Once a printer is certified, he will be audited by the agents of the FSC on a regular base to see if his process and his administration still follow the rules that are set for certification.

The total production process must be controlled to avoid contamination with other papers. Only then the end product is allowed to carry the FSC logo and registration number.


Printers also give guidance to their customers to design and work on their products as environmental conscious as possible. They do that by advising optimum sizes (also cost efficient!) and by giving advice about the use of materials.

Some printers even give feedback to their clients about the effects of the environmental friendly choices that have been made.

Your choice

You can be sure of one thing: Being environmentally friendly will cost the printer a lot of extra efforts and will increase the all over costs of the printing plant. This can lead to a higher product price, compared to companies that choose to go the easy, non-environmental friendly way.

As a consumer it is important to understand what is being done by the Graphic Arts Production with regard to policies that work towards a greener, less poisoned environment. Subsequently, you, as the consumer have the same choice! Is your full color project going to be cheaper or greener?

*In July 2005 Canada joined the Environmental Protection Agency that licenses company’s world wide to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas, and provide sources of clean energy to communities, businesses and industry.

Peter Hessels has a long career in the Graphic Arts Production as Project Manager, Consultant and Advisor and serves currently as the Print and Promotional Specialist at a large Office Supply Company in Calgary, Canada. He is also an experienced Consultant for Total Quality Management, Re-engineering of Work Processes and the Re-organization of Administrative Processes within organisations.

More than 25 years of experience made him an acknowledge expert in the organizational processes around Catalogue, Brochure and Magazine production.

Currently Peter also serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Dutch Canadian Business Club in Calgary.

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