Conscious Communications

2015 April Whitepaper

In 2009, hackers attacked a server at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, several weeks before the Copenhagen Summit on climate change. During the security breach, the hackers obtained emails from CRU members that questioned the significance of human caused climate change. Critics of climate change felt that the emails demonstrated that global warming was a scientific conspiracy, a charge that CRU members rejected and attributed to a simple exchange of ideas. Consequently, this was enough to cast doubt on whether human activity is actually damaging the environment, causing many to become wary of anything labeled “green.”

And that’s usually all it takes. Now we find ourselves in between tried-and-true methods for creating stunning visual communications and signage and newer, innovative methods that take environmental conservancy into account.

The essential question that those in the visual communications industry should consider is how they can create the least negative environmental impact possible while still producing high-quality graphics and extraordinary signage. Perhaps we should start by asking, what is the impact of a product or process on the environment? What means are there for reducing that impact?

Printing: A very brief primer

Although printing and communications both have very extensive histories, dating back to prints made in China with woodblock around 220, the evolution of the current industry really began in the 1960s. Starting with photocopiers (invented in 1960), the laser printer (1969), the Dot Matrix printer (1970), and the inkjet printer, the digital printer could produce high-resolution, photo-quality prints in shorter time frames, in larger formats.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that we really started exploring the digital printing technology that’s in use today. But with new technology and techniques comes a serious learning curve. business does.

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Challenges to greener centers
While wide-format printing has some of the same challenges as many other industries—finding sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly materials, implementing responsible manufacturing practices and processes, encouraging and facilitating the recycling of disused materials, etc.—wide-format printers face some unique obstacles to going green.

Inks: Until recently, the industry used petroleum-based inks, inks made using non-renewable resources and popularized by their cost effectiveness and quick drying time. One of the primary concerns with petroleum-based or solvent inks is the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in making the inks. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), A VOC “is any organic compound that participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions except those designated by EPA as having negligible photochemical reactivity. Many VOCs are found in emissions from burning coal, oil and gasoline, and in solvent based inks. VOCs are of special concern because they photo-chemically react (in sunlight) to cause ozone or smog." In addition to the actual harmfulness of solvent inks, it is difficult to complete the de-inking process with inkjet inks. Consequently, the de-inking process must be completed as a precursor to paper recycling and these inks commonly contaminate the entire process.

Solvent-based printing remains popular for certain types of large-format printing jobs. Because Solvent-based inks offer increased resistance to weathering and sun exposure, they are popular for many outdoor applications, where durability can be an issue.

•Substrates: Plastics and other substrate materials are often petroleum based, meaning that they are made from nonrenewable resources. Many times, they are also non-degradable, which causes a problem when they are discarded. Some petroleum-based plastics can take hundreds of years to degrade in optimal conditions.

•Finishing: Offset and digital printing often requires binding or finishing of some sort, in addition to processes such as lamination. This can cause materials to be unrecyclable at the end of their usefulness. Adhesives present additional problems in recycling disused products and materials.

•Facilities: While it certainly isn’t limited to the printing, signage or visual communications industries, the facility itself can have a major impact on the sustainability and eco-friendliness of a business. Chiefly, unproductive equipment can be a major problem. When equipment doesn’t function optimally, turnaround times, manpower, consumption and waste all increase, which can have a devastating effect on the bottom line. Additional concern should be given to the actual management of the facility, including energy and water usage.

Greener signage, sustainable futures
As more and more companies adopt eco-friendly practices and principles, the demand for green materials increases. Businesses want to be able to tell their customers that they are doing good things for the environment, that they have a track record of conservancy and that they’re focused on creating a brighter future for tomorrow. This creates an opportunity for their customers to feel good about purchasing goods and services, and there is a great likelihood that these satisfied customers will relay their experience to other consumers.

Developing substrates that are environmentally friendly is just one of the challenges that the printing and graphics communications industries face. While many products, such as those made from paper or metal, can be easily sourced and then recycled, plastics and other materials are often petroleum-based—meaning they are made from non-renewable resources, unlike trees—and non-degradable materials create problems in landfills. However, like paper, these substrates can also be purchased in recyclable grades, and end users can be encouraged to recycle them when the products reach the end of their usefulness. Here are some green alternatives to some traditional substrate options:

•Honeycomb boards: Honeycomb boards are a paper-based, lightweight alternative to Gatorboard and Foamcore. They are made from renewable resources or with post-consumer waste and are recyclable. Because Honeycomb boards are hard and flat, they make an excellent surface for printing and can be cut and joined with ease.

•Jet 220: Jet 220 is a fairly new product that can replace vinyl banners in many situations. Its free of PVC, phthalates and phosphates, all of which are harmful to human health and the environment. Additionally, Jet 220 uses 50 percent less raw material than traditional banners, its recyclable, there are no VOCs and manufacturing uses 80 percent less energy than that of traditional banner materials. However, the primary drawback is that it costs almost six times more than standard vinyl banner material.

•Styrene: Styrene is a great alternative to laminated graphics, which are often non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. Instead of covering graphics in laminate, you can print directly to the Styrene. Just as with laminated surfaces, Styrene allows you to bring your images and text all the way to the edges of the graphic. On the other hand, Styrene remains flexible enough to roll and ship, and can be used as an insert graphic between sheets of Plexiglas.

•Showcard: Showcard is simply card stock that is thicker and more durable than regular paper but thinner and more flexible as compared to other paperboards and foam board. This material is most commonly used in creating business cards, postcards, playing cards and other similar items, but it’s also great for a whole range of indoor visual communications applications, such as posters and framed signage. Showcard is a biodegradable alternative to Foamcore, which doesnt biodegrade for hundreds of years. Its also water soluble and 100 percent biodegradable/recyclable, and it meets Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standards for Land Management.

•Coroplast: Stronger than corrugated fiberboard but lighter than extruded plastic sheeting, Coroplast is great for indoor and outdoor applications and has a surface that’s well suited to different printing techniques. Although it costs slightly more than other outdoor signage materials, it’s 100 percent recyclable. And as an added bonus, Coroplast can be stored easily for repeated long-term use. Inks According to a study conducted by Pira International entitled, “The Future of Environment Friendly

Market Forecasts to 2014,” environmentally-friendly inks are those containing the highest quantity of bio-derived, renewable raw materials available for the particular ink technology, along with the lowest possible VOC levels. The following ink types, although not an exhaustive list, provide safer alternatives to solvent-based inks. And with advances in recent years, their color and brilliance easily rival those of traditional inks.

•Water-based inks: Water-based inks are essentially a mixture of water and dye or pigment. The water acts as the primary solvent in keeping the pigment or dye in liquid form, but additional solvents are sometimes used as well. The purpose of the additional solvents varies, but they are most commonly used to decrease the time and heat necessary to cure the image. The primary advantage to using water-based inks is the reduced environmental and safety impact, but they also produce vibrant, smooth images and are ideal for printing to materials that can be deeply penetrated.

•UV inks: UV inks are cured using UV light from UV lamps or LEDs. When the ink is applied to the material, a layer containing the colorant sticks to the surface of the substrate and is hardened by intense curing by UV/LED light. This process leaves a durable film covering the material. The curing process requires very short exposure to the light, saving valuable production time and reducing overall energy consumption. Also, UV inks can be used to print on flexible or rigid materials, opening numerous possibilities for graphic applications. With UV inks, you can print on glass, wood, foam or composite materials, aluminium and other unconventional substrates.

•Latex inks: Latex inks produce odourless, high-quality prints on a wide range of media, making it great for indoor and outdoor applications. With latex inks, there is no need for an air purification system, as latex inks emit very low levels of VOCs. And because water is a major component of latex ink, it benefits production environments because it doesn’t require special handling and is not toxic, flammable or combustible. Latex inks are a viable and environmentally friendly alternative to solvent inks, providing many of the same benefits, such as outdoor durability, without the environmental, health or safety concerns.

•Soy/vegetable inks: Soy and vegetable-based inks are widely recognized as an environmentally friendly choice. As opposed to traditional petroleum-based inks, they are more environmentally friendly, can provide more accurate colors and they make paper more recyclable. The major drawback to using soy/vegetable-based inks is that they take more time to dry than petroleum-based inks, due to a lack of evaporative solvents in the form of VOCs. This can create a problem when printing to coated paper, as opposed to uncoated paper, as coated substrates will not dry as quickly via absorption.

When signage is no longer needed or in instances when you have done an image overhaul, you may be left with signs that have no future usability. In those cases, it’s important to find an ethical means of disposing the old materials. For signage that is comprised of plastic, metal or glass, components can be separated if possible and added to recyclables in standard bins. For other signage, such as those made of vinyl or neon, disposal can pose risks due to harmful additives. Contact your local waste management or recycling facility to find out how they can help responsibly dispose of unwanted product.

Digital Signage
At first glance, digital signage seems like the answer to the “green” dilemma. After all, digital signage messaging can be updated easily and eliminates the need for printing new signs as company messaging changes. This, in turn, means less materials need to be created or utilized, there is less manpower and resources dedicated to processing and there is no need for inks or chemical coatings that many other signage requires.

Additionally, digital signage is capable of displaying countless messages at the touch of a button. In other cases, this could take an innumerable amount of printed signage to accomplish the same objective. Take, for example, a retail or entertainment location. Retail stores need to advertise specials that change monthly, weekly or even daily. Entertainment venues may have to change their signage almost daily if they have a consistent lineup of different acts. With digital signage, the need to constantly change messaging can be done at the touch of a button.

The impact of digital
Although digital signage has numerous environmental advantages as compared to traditional print signs, that doesn’t mean that digital comes without any environmental concerns.

The primary concern with digital signs is the power consumption. As LED technology has become increasingly popular and fluorescents are used less and less, this has become less of an issue but a concern nonetheless. Still, energy consumption from data centers equals about 2 percent of the nation’s total demand for energy. However with the use of Pulse Width Modulation, users can alter the LED’s brightness and power consumption.

Another, sometimes discussed, hazard of working with digital signage is nitrogen trifluoride or NF3. NF3 is a gas that is used in the production of LCD panels, solar panels, cell phones, laptop computers and much more. And while some detractors have said that NF3 is known for having a global warming potential of 17,000 time stronger effect on global warming than carbon dioxide and that 20 to 30 percent of total NF3 production ends up in the atmosphere. Researchers from the University of California at Irvine have even suggested that NF3 is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and lingers in the atmosphere for up to 550 years.

Creating eco-friendly businesses
Many environmentally-friendly initiatives can be costly for businesses to implement. New equipment can be very expensive, making changes to existing facilities not only involves a large investment but also translates to lost production time, even simply making the change to more low-impact materials can be difficult if you maintain a significant inventory. However, there are a few immediate changes that you can make at your business to get started on a more environmentally-conscious track.

Build a green team One of the first steps in creating a greener business is to create a Green Team. A Green Team consists of individuals within your organization that share a passion for environmentally-friendly business practices. They are responsible for strategizing, planning and organizing your green efforts.

Appointing members to your Green Team may be the most important element in the process, as this team will be integral in determining the success of your efforts. A team comprised of members with diverse interests, experiences and backgrounds ensures a wide-range of perspectives, which can lead to innovation beyond imagination.

In order for your Green Team to be successful, regular meetings are integral in the process. Team meetings should revolve around the discussion of accomplishments and development of future goals. Through tracking progress and thoughtfully planning future activities, the Green Team can maximize their effectiveness.

Undertake an energy audit
For those not in the know, an energy audit is an assessment of the energy needs and efficiency of a building. Energy companies will often provide free checklists for use in conducting self-assessments. Commercial audits are an option as well, and most are available at little or no cost to the business owner. The inspection can be divided into two parts, exterior and interior, and should be comprised of analyses of the following components:

  • Exterior
    Heating and cooling unit
    Outdoor lighting
  • Interior
    Central heating and cooling unit
    Water heater o Appliances
    Indoor lighting and fans

Once the energy audit has been completed, your facility’s Green Team can begin outlining plans for alterations to the current space, equipment and processes.

Communicate your efforts
One of the most important elements in sharing information about green business practices is to ensure that communications are transparent, offering a fact-based approach that delivers proof rather than empty promises. This should begin with a top-down approach so that employees can become invested in the initiatives, thereby allowing for carryover to stakeholder groups.

Primarily, all information sharing about green practices must be credible. This involves conveying accurate information about the benefits and impacts of your initiatives, as well as acknowledging your future exertions and those that are assisting your efforts along the way. Of utmost importance, however, is to provide relevant and accessible information to clients. Your customers will want to know that there is a definitive connection between your products and a reduced environmental footprint. This will go a long way in garnering support for the initiatives that your business has chosen to pursue.

A conscious approach
In a recent InfoTrends survey, 45 percent of print providers indicated that they were getting more customer requests for “green” printing, or printing using more environmentally-friendly practices. In response to customer demands, almost 50 percent of printers indicated that they have or are going to take steps to produce wide-format graphics in a more environmentally-friendly way. Using “green” media is the principal manner in which print service providers are transforming their centers. This is followed by reductions in solvent based inks (in favor of UV, water-based or latex), the reduction or elimination of waste material, developing a more robust recycling program and deriving energy from a different source, such as solar.

Environmental sustainability is not going away. Now is the time to make sure your business is practicing and promoting green strategies. The development of industry standards and meaningful sustainable branding is imperative. If you’re ready to increase your market impact with new signage and graphics, contact Image360 today. Our specialists are intent on not simply meeting, but exceeding your expectations. As a result, youll work with highly-motivated experts, backed by the newest technologies and supported with the latest materials and techniques. As a national network with centers from coast to coast, we distinguish ourselves with comprehensive solutions, professional results and complete project management capabilities.

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