Monday, April 27, 2015
To many people the 45th anniversary of Earth Day on the 22nd April was just another Wednesday. But the particular Wednesday was rather more momentous than your average day. In honour of the occasion, some one billion people around the world have been getting involved in raising awareness of climate change and doing their bit to accelerate the green economy. That’s an awful lot of voices committed to raising the environment’s profile.
Apart from the obvious gains, there are likely to be solid benefits from the project in terms of public relations as well as economics. Musicians, among them Usher and Gwen Stefani, performed in a concert in Washington DC to raise awareness. The developers behind the Angry Birds video game have created a special Earth Day level called Champions for Earth. And US President Barack Obama a Democrat, celebrated Earth Day with a visit to the Florida Everglades, in the heart of this staunchly Republican state.
There were all sorts of acknowledgements around the world, but how much good will this do for environmental awareness? Will it help make a difference to peoples’ behaviour, the thing that most fundamentally affects the environment? A cynic might think that the hoards of people participating in Earth Day events are interested simply to be part of it, or to take advantage of a global platform that helps promote specific interests. Online discussions about how to communicate climate change facts are all well and good, but what difference do they make?
This misses the point, because the motivation doesn’t matter. The very fact that Earth Day has been celebrated for 45 years is worth acknowledging. Since its founding in the US in 1970 the Earth Day partner network has grown to number over 50,000 members. Members come from all over the world to raise environmental and climate change awareness. So it’s irrelevant if Earth Day tends to encourage grandstanding. In fact for printers and publishers the more the better, because it generates work for printers and gives publishers lots to champion and write about.
Most important of all Earth Day and its global reach shows just how far green awareness has become a part of our social psyche. People born in the last fifty years or so understand that the environment is something we should cherish and protect, at least in theory. Earlier generations came to that awareness gradually. They were taught not to drop litter or waste what can be reused for reasons of politeness or thrift. Later generations simply understand that pollution and waste are bad for the environment. The environment’s part of everyone’s thinking and often informs their purchase decisions, including of print and media products. Something for all of us to keep in mind everyday, not just on Earth Day.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Within our ISO working group we are looking at a document Fogra has drafted to provide guidance for quantifying how much energy a digital printing device consumes. You would think that this is pretty straightforward, but it’s not just a matter of counting how many units of electricity a digital press gobbles up. The idea would be to provide a means of accurately capturing comprehensive energy consumption data consistently, from device to device.
It is also hoped that a standard measurement method might provide buyers of digital printing engines with a universal model for calculating operational energy consumption. Such data would obviously contribute to working out the overall operating cost of a digital press, and our understanding of how digital printing devices impact the environment.
There is no doubt that the graphics industry needs better tools for measuring its energy use, for both narrow and wide format digital presses. Without a common model we have no means to reliably compare the power consumption of different digital presses, beyond the data collected with an on press metre. Energy consumption information is also necessary for calculating the carbon footprints of a print run or of individual prints.
A standard measurement method should also be very useful for printing machine manufacturers. They would be able to declare the energy consumption of their devices using a common set of criteria and buyers would be able to compare the data as part of their purchasing decisions. But the devil in all this in the detail, so precise and unambiguous definitions are key. We need to have consensus on what we mean by terms such as stand-by mode or wait mode, and whether or not peripheral equipment should be included in the calculation. And indeed what counts as peripheral equipment?
These and many more questions require guidance for what constitutes a standard configuration of a digital press. And print modes would also need to be clarified, because manufacturers’ ideas of Quality or Production modes aren’t always the same. It gets worse because we need to be sure that the method and guidance works for all types of digital printing devices. It must not be biased in any way to devices specialised for particular applications such as transactional or poster printing.
Clearly we have a long way yet to go in developing a universally acceptable means to measure energy consumption in digital presses. However once the work is done it will bring considerable benefits to the market. Not least of these is reinforcing print’s environmental accountability and the industry’s commitment to improving its footprint.
Monday, April 27, 2015
For many years the graphics industry has been doing its bit to minimise carbon footprints, mostly because cutting waste saves money and time. But whatever the motivation, together with other industries we may be helping to make a difference. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reckons that global efforts to mitigate climate change are having a positive influence on overall carbon emissions. It seems that they are not getting worse. Is this progress?
In 2014 global carbon dioxide emissions were 32.3 billion tonnes, which the IEA says is the same as for 2013 which means emissions are holding steady for the first time in ages. The contribution of printing and publishing to the IEA’s number is not known, however it is likely to be trivial compared to the global pollution associated with energy generation. The slowdown in carbon dioxide emissions may be down to rapidly developing countries, such as China, choosing more environmentally friendly energy sources such as solar, hydro and wind instead of fossil fuels.
This would be impressive but it’s probably not the case. Rather more likely is that the recent economic slow down in Asia means that as manufacturing activity contracts, factories are using less coal than they did in the boom years. But whatever the cause, the overall carbon footprint picture’s improving so maybe we are indeed making progress. Awareness of the need to curb carbon emissions, recycle and manage waste is definitely rising. Governments are making an effort to implement stricter rules on emissions. And there is a steady move towards using renewable energy. Add it all up and this could be why emissions have flatlined of late.
Within the graphic arts, the move to renewable energy sources has been meandering at best, however there are some stars out there. And press manufacturers, such as Heidelberg and HP, are all working hard to keep driving down the carbon footprint of their products, in manufacture and in use. Even though economic activity in the graphics business is improving, overall carbon footprint may indeed be falling.
Fortunes in the graphics industry have definitely improved over the last year or so: according to our data, installations of new kit in 2014 were substantially higher than average for the years following the global recession, especially for digital presses and related kit. So it is very encouraging that we are seeing a slowdown in global carbon emissions. The IEA say that this is the first time since 1975 that such a reduction has not been due to economic slowdown. Progress indeed!
Monday, April 27, 2015
An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a quantification of something’s environmental impact. EPDs can be created for anything from home furnishings to newspapers. They provide all sorts of environmental data, from raw material impact through to emissions to water and waste generation. They are wonderful tools, but they are so very bound up with environmental science that business people tend to ignore them. Bad idea.
Ignoring the potential of EPDs to help your business is a missed opportunity. EPDs communicate environmental profiles of typical products to customers and investors in a way that is easy to understand and accessible. They are written in language that is relatively simple to understand and they can be used in carbon trading, since they can provide the data for carbon footprint calculations.
Most companies will struggle to care much about EPDs, but if you work with customers who have a Corporate Social Responsibility policy, you’ve probably got more of a reason to care. EPDs explain the environmental impact of a print product, but they are also indicators of a company’s environmental commitment. This can lend some heft to your competitive position, particularly for clients who care about impact reduction. And you might find that you can sell your EPD services to other companies stressing to hang on to environmentally aware customers.
There’s just a tiny snag to EPDs and that is the fact that they are based on a life cycle analysis of defined products. These product definitions are supposed to be enshrined in Product Category Rules (PCRs). PCRs have been cobbled together for many, but not all products. In fact they only exist for a woeful few products and in the printing industry there are barely any at all. Last year we found a project to develop a PCR for books being developed in Spain and we’ve come across another, for labels. This one is, rather bizarrely also under development in Spain and the people behind it are keen to get input from interested parties. Elisabet Amat would love to hear from you if you’ve something to contribute: firstname.lastname@example.org.
EPDs and PCRs are our best chance of nailing down trustworthy definitions of print media products. It is work that printers and publishers should be getting more involved with. It comes back to the fact that we need to define what it is we are measuring before we can do the measuring and measurements are necessary benchmarks for improvement. At some point we may all need reference PCRs and be required to do our own EPDs. It might be better to get involved sooner rather than later in shaping our industry’s future.