This month marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and once again green is back in fashion. For some companies, like Ecoprint, green has always been in season. Based just north of Washington D.C., this printing company was founded by an environmental activist who participated in the first Earth Day and proudly proclaims its “environmental leadership since 1977.” Today Ecoprint is forging ahead on a number of fronts, demonstrating many ways for graphic arts businesses to become more sustainable environmental stewards.
MKCREATIVE has worked with many printers over the years and has always required they use soy-based inks and paper from sustainable sources on clients’ print jobs. We’ve also required that they take other longer-term measures to demonstrate their commitment to the environment. Ecoprint ‘s commitment is on another order of magnitude. We see them as kindred spirits: both Ecoprint and MKCREATIVE are run as businesses that are trying to create positive social change through sustainable practices. Both organizations are providing services to clients who make a difference in their own communities, while also offering education and guidance.
Ecoprint was born on a bus. Roger Telschow, its founder and current CEO, launched Ecoprint in 1977 as the in-house print shop for a grassroots nonprofit organization. The print shop was housed on the group’s campaign vehicle, a converted school bus. A small press bolted to the floor allowed flyers to be created “on site” as the bus traveled. When the print operation outgrew the bus, it moved to a rowhouse basement, and when the nonprofit organization collapsed in 1983, the printing operation continued as an independent business – not only remaining true to its environmental principles, but also taking a leadership role in the industry.
Dave Michaels, Ecoprint’s Director of Marketing and Outreach, points out that Ecoprint is the first U.S. printer to be 100 percent powered by wind energy. They don’t have a windmill hooked up to their shop, but since 2003 they have purchased their electricity from a wind energy farm in West Virginia.
Ecoprint also was the first printer in the U.S. to be certified as carbon neutral, he says. “In other words, we’ve reduced our impact on the environment to zero.” That didn’t happen overnight. But fueled by its commitment to the environment, Ecoprint has re-engineered many aspects of the printing process:
- In place of alcohol and alcohol substitutes to wet the presses, they use a non-polluting compound of citric acid and gum Arabic.
- They minimize hazardous waste ink and solvents through recycling and conservation.
- They found substitutes for chlorinated hydrocarbons and ozone-depleting chemicals that are standard parts of the printing process.
- They bought a high-speed label addressing system that uses a non-polluting, water-based ink jet system.
- By changing equipment, they significantly reduced paper waste in printing and binding.
- A shop-wide energy efficiency program has reduced their energy consumption significantly.
Though the printing process does release carbon dioxide into the air, Ecoprint has offset its emissions with tree plantings andcredits.
Ecoprint also takes pains to educate its customers about their environmental choices, Dave says. Those choices include paper, ink, and the quantity of printed product.
They stock their own Ecoprint papers, all Forestry Stewardship Council certified as 100 percent postconsumer recycled and chlorine-free. “In the ‘80s we had to import recycled paper from Germany because it wasn’t being made here,” Dave says. Later, American mills used Ecoprint as a test site for their recycled paper products. The quality and variety has improved steadily.
Ecoprint also worked with ink manufacturers for years to develop inks without dangerous metals and other toxic substances. They won a research grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop metal-free inks based on vegetable oils. Today Ecoprint customers can choose from the metal-free Eco-ink or standard Eco-ink that is 98 percent free of evaporative oils and advertised as more eco-friendly than most soy-based inks.
And in an unusual stance for a printer, Ecoprint even dares to suggest that customers print less and email more. Traditionally, printers make more money the more copies they print, Dave says. ÒBut sometimes we suggest to customers that by integrating printed pieces with other communications, they can print less, save themselves money, and benefit the environment. This is particularly possible with digital printing. We try to think holistically about how we can support their communications objectives while being environmentally responsible.”
“We talk about these issues with everyone,” he says. Customers receive regular newsletters, on paper or online, as well as letters on the state of the industry and the environment. “We also educate designers,” he adds. “Design is a driver.” The company promotes using standard formats to reduce waste, and challenges designers to find ways to “spice up” communications within the standard formats.
To learn more about Ecoprint and their solutions for environmental stewardship visit www.ecoprint.com