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Friday, May 15, 2015
It may sound like a joke, but a group of British university students has recently completed a research project using this as a starting point. The University of Leicester students wanted to know how much of the Amazon rainforest it would take to print out the internet. There are a couple of leaps of faith required to take this work seriously. First of all it is hardly likely that the paper used to print the internet would exclusively comprise virgin fibre sourced from Amazon rainforests. And the internet is constantly expanding. But apart from these two niggles, this is an interesting project.
The students calculate that a mere one percent of the rainforest’s trees would be required to print out the nonexplicit internet. This is the bit of the internet that we can see and that is estimated to account for only 2% of the entire internet. The rest is private or dark and so invisible to ordinary people. The students reckon that the nonexplicit internet could be printed with less than one percent of the 400 billion trees spread across the 5.5 million square feet of the Amazon rainforest. Their point seems a little vague, but they were very pleased to discover that so little rainforest was required.
They based calculations on Wikipedia content, assuming an average of 15 pages per article. The students calculate that there are 4.724 million articles on Wikipedia, and this is the basis for what they wanted to print. It amounted to nearly 71 million paper pages (presumably A4), of the nonexplicit internet. They also assumed that a single tree yields 17 reams of paper, so each Amazonian rainforest tree is therefore good for 8,500 sheets of virgin paper. This means that 8,337 trees would be required to print Wikipedia, some twelve percent of each square kilometre of the Amazon rainforest. And that is just for Wikipedia.
Extrapolating out these numbers the University of Leicester students reckon that to print all of the nonexplicit internet would require 8,001,765 trees which is about 113 square kilometres of the Amazon rainforest. They say this amounts to two percent.
So what do we think about this work? That it is scientifically flawed and based on curious assumptions is clear. However it is worthwhile because it makes a start in doing calculations of this sort. It’s also worthwhile because it raises awareness of the loss of Amazon rainforest over the last few years. It does not a lot to improve print’s environmental profile, but it does provide an interesting illustration of the internet’s massive data volumes. This might encourage people to think a bit about the emissions related to managing and delivering internet based content. Maybe then they will also consider the environmental impact of an online existence.
Friday, May 15, 2015
According to the US Energy Information Administration the country’s energy related CO2 emissions are rising. So much for all that green-speak; more a bath than a wash. But it might not be as bad as it seems because increases of 2% to 3% are actually small relative to overall US growth which has been pretty muscular over the last couple of years. Historically growth and emissions rates are similar so these increases are progress of a sort from the world’s biggest polluter.
Print’s contribution to the rise is hard to quantify, if not impossible because few other developed economies have such a large and sprawling print industry. How many of the many printers in the US strive to quantify their contribution or their CO2 emissions is unknown, but it’s unlikely to be very many. Even the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership hasn’t got this data, so perhaps it would be a good idea to track our industry’s emissions. This is an opportunity for local associations to provide interesting economic growth information and a measure of progress in reducing print’s environmental impact.
So how might that work in the US and elsewhere? It starts at local level, with emissions gathered to build up a national picture. Encouraging printers to capture and share the data, would be a first step in calculating benchmark CO2 emissions values. Printing companies, manufacturers and industry associations could begin with their own efforts, and take it from there. There would need to be some sort of database, say an online list where companies could post their emissions, the time period for the measurements and information about their set up, how much energy the company used and the generation method, such as coal, hydro or renewables.
This last sounds complicated but energy companies in developed economies can provide the necessary percentages. For instance in the UK the Green Energy company supplies electricity entirely generated using renewables, but most big energy providers have a mix. This last would have to follow a standard method for doing the calculation, so that we could be certain that the numbers weren’t fudged. It would need to include energy sources, transport data and the size of the factory. ISO 14064 provides the parameters for how a company can quantify its emissions, however it is a daunting document and one that few graphics companies are likely to bother with. An easier start is to simply measure energy and report its sources. Maybe this is a project associations and manufacturers should be thinking about? Our industry should be able to provide the data that governments use to measure CO2 reductions, and to demonstrate our own progress.
Thursday, May 07, 2015
There’s been much attention of late on the use of mercury arc lamps for curing applications in the printing industry. This technology is widely used however it has some serious drawbacks, not least the fact that it uses an awful lot of energy even when not actually curing anything. This means cost and unnecessary emissions which do nothing to improve a company’s carbon footprint.
Fortunately there is an alternative but the current generation of LED curing technology is not a drop in replacement for mercury arc curing. It isn’t as fast, nor does it deliver an equivalent depth of cure. However the environmental benefits of LED curing are clear. These lamps use far less power than mercury arc curing lamps. They also last a very long time, some 20,000 hours whereas mercury arc lamps can need replacing after as few as 1,000 hours. LEDs are small and inexpensive and the curing intensity can be precisely controlled. And because they do not generate much heat they are kind to flimsy substrates. From an environmental perspective they are relatively benign since they contain no mercury or ozone.
The trouble is that they have been believed to be no good for high productivity applications, where prints must be churned out at high quality and top speeds. But that is changing and there are already signs in the wide format digital market particularly that high performance LED curing systems are coming sooner than we might think.
EFI has a clear market advantage when it comes to LED curing technologies for UV inks. It’s no understatement to say that the company is leading the way, most notably with the VUTEk GS5500LXr and the HS family. Now other manufacturers are starting to move into the LED curing space taking advantage of improving lamp performance and new ink recipes. HP is known to be developing LED curing inks and Agfa has said that it expects to introduce an LED upgrade to all of its Anapurna machines, following an earlier foray a couple of years ago. The Anapurnas are expected to be available with either LED or mercury arc curing systems and the technology is expected to be introduced at SGIA later this year. Agfa’s policy is to ship two months after new product introductions so this should be an important year. LED curing on the Jeti line will follow.
But competitors have a lot of work to do to catch EFI. The company has a substantial lead in this space and surely has LED innovations of its own in the pipeline. We shall just have to wait and see, but it is clear that technology advances continue to bring down print’s environmental impact.
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.
Friday, March 27, 2015
Environmental management is something all businesses should bother with, but it’s such a wooly term. In a way it has to be vague because it means running your business to have the least negative environmental impact possible, and how do you define that? If you’re in the mining business your challenges will be rather different than if you are a florist. The graphic arts industry has equivalent extremes, from gravure printing that has to deal with very nasty chemicals, to digitally printing documents on demand, the producers of which give chemicals and their disposal barely a second thought. Environmental management in all cases is necessary and useful. Fortunately there are only two options we consider relevant for all graphic arts situations.
These are the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), developed by the European Commission and ISO 14001, the Environmental Management System standard. In many ways they are similar but both are established and recognised, with uptake across all manner of industries.
EMAS has been around for several years and is designed to help companies go beyond the bare minimum of legal compliance. It has much in common with ISO 14001, but has additional focus on legal compliance and getting people involved in environmental performance improvement. Like ISO 14001 it requires external validation of a company’s management system, however because ISO 14001 is an ISO standard, it tends to have more international credibility than EMAS.
Environmental management is increasingly important in many industries, although it has to be said that printing and publishing companies aren’t a big part of this cohort. But for printers especially, it’s a mistake to overlook the benefits environmental management systems can bring. Not least is the business efficiency improvements that come out of improved resource management. There is also the benefit of having a coherent environmental impact management structure for customer relations and supply chain management.
Choosing EMAS or ISO 14001 is a matter of what works best for the business. ISO 14001 is considered a stepping stone for EMAS so that there is no duplication of effort, if you already have ISO 14001 and want to gain EMAS certification. The main difference between the two is that EMAS tends to go a bit further in some areas such as legal compliance. There is also a heavier emphasis on performance improvement which is evaluated with an annual performance audit. ISO 14001 is more concerned to see improvements to the system itself, and that the company complies with the law but there is no specific legal compliance audit. Also ISO 14001 doesn’t include anything about public dialogue, unlike EMAS which requires open dialogue. The question isn’t really which of the two to choose, but when to make your choice. Sooner is better than later.
Monday, March 23, 2015
The idea of using rubbish to create energy goes back to the first bonfire, but only a handful of companies in the graphic arts industries seem to be paying much heed to using biomass. Toppan Printing has developed a laminated packaging material that contains around 10% of biomass and Toppan expect it to be commercially viable this year. Paarl Media, one of South Africa’s biggest publishing companies, has installed a biomass boiler at its Cape Town plant. It burns weeds and woodchips and uses the steam generated to power Paarl’s gravure presses.
Biomass uses biological material such as wood, manure or similar agricultural waste, to generate energy through combustion or as the waste biodegrades. As such it can be used to reduce carbon footprints, which is why the installed bioenergy capacity for electricity generation is growing. But by far our most favourite example of how technology is being used to exploit waste organic material, is the urinal developed for a British university working in cooperation with the international charity, Oxfam.
The University of the West of England has installed a very special pissoir at its Bristol campus. The urinal is loaded with microbes which feed on urine. Yum. Male staff and students are keenly providing the device with the necessary raw material for energy generation. The urine is used in a stack of microbial fuel cells (MFC) containing hungry bacteria.
The MFCs are an electrochemical system that produces electricity by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. Oxfam wanted the technology to provide lighting for toilet cubicles in refugee camps. However given the copious and widespread availability of the raw materials required for these MFCs to work, there is no limit to how this technology might be applied.
According to Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre. an MFC “taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts [it] directly into electricity - what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power. This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.”
Printers and publishers might be inclined to convert more space to urinals and provide unlimited free drinks for staff. They might even open up their conveniences to male members of the public, to maximise opportunities for raw material collection. The only difficulty with the technology in its present form is that in practical terms it is inherently sexist. The current generation depends on male input to delivery the raw material to the MFCs, so we really need an additional option better suited to the female form. Consequently, we hope to see developers making more of a splash shortly.
Monday, March 23, 2015
The 13th April is an important deadline. It’s the day when a key exemption in the European Union (EU)’s Regulation on Hazardous Substance II (RoHS II) no longer applies. The ramifications for the graphic arts industry worldwide could be serious, eventually.
RoHS II “lays down rules on the restriction of the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), with a view to contributing to the protection of human health and the environment”. The objective is primarily to reduce energy usage and mitigate risks to health and safety from various substances, including mercury. Mercury is used in lamps for curing UV inks as well as for streetlighting and related applications. 2017 will be the last year we can expect to see mercury lamps in lighting applications, but when it comes to curing applications the picture is murkier.
Mercury arc lamps use intense light that interacts with photoinitiators in UV curable inks. The photoinitiators fragment which initiates polymerisation to create a dry and durable surface. The output spectrum of a mercury arc lamp includes near infrared light which adds heat to the process so that curing takes place more quickly. One alternative to UV cured inks is solvent inks which pose more of a health and environmental hazard. From the EU’s perspective this makes UV curing inks a preferable alternative to solvents; this will probably help their case when it comes to the RoSH II ban. According to our EU contact if “a product containing more than 0.1% Hg [mercury] by weight is installed before April, it is allowed and it can have replacement Hg arc lamps into the future until it reaches end of life.” That’s good news, at least for as long as manufacturers keep making mercury arc lamps.
The graphic arts is not going to lose its mercury arc lamps just yet, despite the expiration of the RoHS II exemption. These lamps will still be available for existing kit, and technologists are working hard on next generation technologies. When it comes to regulatory compliance we can expect to see either a replacement technology or a progress with existing approaches, such that mercury isn’t a problem. Fiddling with the wavelengths a lamp outputs and modifying the materials inside it is a delicate business, but it could be a path forward. LEDs are another option, but LEDs have limitations of their own especially when it comes to curing speed. As far as RoSH II goes, the industry still has time to wait for LED curing to get faster and more effective, but slowly the clock is ticking.