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A case for going green

September 1st, 2011 / By: / Graphics

Has the economic downturn pushed the idea of “green” wide-format printing onto the back burner? Since I know of no perfect definition for “green” wide-format printing, let’s say it means prints with more environmentally friendly characteristics than were previously standard issue—perhaps the print media is more easily recyclable or the inks used are free of hazardous air pollutants.

InfoTrends recently did research with wide-format print buyers and print service providers (PSPs) in order to understand the state of “green” wide-format printing. The number of wide-format print buyers that reported a preference for green printing went up from 2009 to 2011 by about 14 percent. In 2011, more than 56 percent of wide-format print buyers indicate that they have a growing preference for wide-format prints with environmentally friendly characteristics.

Nearly half of the PSPs we surveyed reported they have already re-engineered some of their production practices to produce more sustainable graphics. Those that hadn’t already re-engineered their processes reported that they intend to in the next 12 months.

The market is heading in the green direction, but direct costs are higher for PSPs to re-engineer their production methods or produce more sustainable prints based on a different set of print media. Inks that have better environmental characteristics than robust solvent, such as UV-curable, durable water-based, or even low-HAP eco-solvent, cost more. Print media with better environmental properties cost more.

Print buyers are unwilling to bear the premium for green printing. Many PSPs have developed two sets of pricing; one for green printing and one for standard printing.

While there are reasons for PSPs and print buyers to look for more environmentally friendly graphics, InfoTrends believes that this segment of the market may not grow to its potential until print buyers and PSPs consider green printing as a practical matter. There are incentives, efficiencies and upsides to developing a sustainable printing operation that, purely from a business standpoint, help these initiatives make solid business sense.

Many state and local governments offer tax incentives and rebates to business owners who pursue sustainable business practices.

PSPs can help print buyers understand the cost savings they can earn when they more intelligently design their graphics and specify materials. Some retailers recognize significant savings on the shipping and management of printed graphics by implementing a modular design on their graphics displays that allows them to easily replace parts instead of the entire graphic. This kind of approach requires a more consultative sales process, but isn’t that a good thing?

One company I interviewed reported that they responded to a graphics project request for quotation with a proposal for green wide-format graphics. This was not an element of the original RFQ and, in fact, the quote was higher than other providers, but, to its surprise, the company got the job. It turns out that the ad agency preferred the green aspects and was willing to pay the premium.

There are other ways that print buyers and PSPs are making the costs of green wide-format printing come closer to even with conventional graphics production. Once that happens, improved environmental characteristics will become a standard trait among signage and graphics products.

Tim Greene is director, wide format printing and jetting technologies opportunities, InfoTrends, Weymouth, Mass.

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