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Environmental labels for printers and publishers: the Verdigris blog

Article written by

Laurel Brunner

Written on 03/08/2015 | Posted 2 years 6 months 15 days ago

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A significant flaw of the Nordic Swan is its association with the European Recovered Paper Council's scoring system for paper de-inkability A significant flaw of the Nordic Swan is its association with the European Recovered Paper Council's scoring system for paper de-inkability

One of the benefits of implementing an ISO standard or going for an environmental label is the management and process discipline it imposes. This may seem obvious, but labels and standards can be useful tools for helping companies improve environmental management. In doing so, they often improve the business's overall performance.

The trouble is that there are hundreds of environmental labels and standards sprouting like weeds, mostly because there is good money to be made in creating and promoting a label. You can ignore the rubbish ones that you get online for a fee but even without the dross, printing and publishing companies are overwhelmed with choice. If you want certification to a standard or label, choose one that is meaningful and relevant for customers, such as ISO 14001, or the Nordic Swan.

The Nordic Swan is one of the best known environmental labels. Companies go for certification for various reasons, but the most common one is access to clients who require it. There are nearly 150 print houses certified to the Swan and, in addition to access, compliance gives them other benefits – from improved procedures to reduced waste and costs. It applies to the job a company produces, so the label can be highly specific, and there is dedicated guidance for printers. And this is a prestigious label: it communicates in an instant a company's environmental hubris.

The Swan is a combination of mandatory requirements and 'a range of possibilities for scoring points', which are complicated to work out, but which could be more nuanced. For instance, it isn't clear how to account for plate processing chemistries or for different digital printing technologies or ink-jet inks. Nevertheless the points-based system means there is ample scope for the label to apply to diverse situations, so it's still possible to gather sufficient points for certification. For instance you can get top points for the right choice of paper, or for how much adhesive you do or do not use.

This points scheme helps overcome one of the Nordic Swan's deepest flaws – a weakness that seriously constrains the label's future applicability particularly beyond the fjords. The Nordic Swan is hitched to the European Recovered Paper Council's scoring system for paper de-inkability. This uses a single de-inking method that has not been updated for years, so the Nordic Swan cannot reflect the modern digital printing reality. This is unfortunate because digital printing has lead to a far more responsible approach to print production, use and recycling, not least because it can be produced on demand and for particular interests. Ecolabelling should encourage environmental friendliness in print, not discourage the use of modern techniques that help keep print relevant and valuable.

This article is part of the Verdigris series of blogs about understanding the environmental impact of print. The Verdigris project is supported by Agfa Graphics, Digital Dots, EFI FESPA, HP, Heidelberg, Kodak, Ricoh, Pragati Offset, Shimizu Printing, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon. Output is a proud publishing partner of the Verdigris project, which is led by its expert contributor Laurel Brunner. 

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