There are many ways to ”green” your organization’s marketing and printed materials. Reducing waste and improving printing practices are a good start. When evaluating a new communications or promotional project, consider these five steps:
Planning is key to greening your marketing materials. A first step to reducing paper waste is to use electronic or voice communications whenever possible. When printing is necessary, select materials and processes that minimize waste generation and impact on air and water quality. At the start of every project talk with your designer and printer about their eco-friendly practices.
Allow schedule and budget for cradle-to-grave planning—thinking about the full life cycle of the piece: e.g., Can we use recycled or other eco-friendly paper? How will this piece be recycled or disposed of? What chemicals will deinking put back into the waste stream?. Even better, plan for cradle-to-cradle processing by reusing products: e.g., a promotional calendar becomes a picture frame at the end of the year, and its materials can be 100% recycled at the end of its useful life.
Announce your eco-friendly practices on your printed materials, listing recycled content and ”green” processes—this practice helps raise awareness and encourages others to follow suit. Finally, reuse or recycle outdated or unwanted materials: e.g., turn old letterhead into scratch pads or add stickers to update old envelopes, brochures, or business cards.
Use online distribution, if possible. This is especially effective for newsletters and other rapidly changing, short-lived information.
Design for multiple uses. For example, a postcard can also be handed out as a brochure. A business card can double as a mini-brochure. Stickers can be added to update your materials with new information or to customize stock materials.
Use both sides of your printed materials to minimize paper waste.
Use paper with high recycled content (mill waste, preconsumer) and postconsumer waste content (ideally 50-100% postconsumer).
Even better, use paper made of tree-free fibers such as hemp, kenaf, cotton (integral color), wool, recycled denim, coffee grounds…and more. See www.livingtreepaper.com for some recycled and tree-free alternatives.
Polymer papers are also becoming available.
Avoid papers with high bleach content (used to convert dark pulp to bright white). Instead, ask for papers brightened using oxygenation (which involves ozone, hydrogen, oxygen).
The use of chlorine in paper-making introduces the carcinogen dioxin into our water and food streams. Dioxin also suppresses the immune system and causes birth defects.
Look for the following identifications:
PCF – processed chlorine-free (could have residual chlorine from recycled pulp)
ECF – elemental chlorine-free
TCF – totally chlorine-free
Ask for vegetable-based inks (canola or soy) that are low VOC and nonpetroleum-based.
Avoid inks with high heavy metal content (especially metallics, orange-yellow-green fluorescents, and cobalt blue).
Print locally when you can, or use an eco-friendly online printer. Use non-inking or minimal-inking processes when possible, such as diecutting, embossing, or letterpress. Avoid coatings and lamination for short-lived pieces. Use alcohol-free printing (for 90% VOC reduction, less ink required) and waterless presses. Ask your printer what happens to the plates after printing your project. Are they recycled or landfilled?
You can make a difference and reduce the waste created by your business communications and promotional items. Start by investing some planning time, and asking your design and printing professionals the right questions.