The term eco-friendly is quickly becoming a conundrum. Many media products are considered environmentally safe, but based on what definition? Industry members now admit the term is multifaceted.
The fundamental make-up of media determines if it is reusable, recyclable, biodegradable, or decomposable. This complicated collection of standards makes it nearly impossible to place a firm grasp on eco-friendly media.
“Eco-friendly media is becoming more important because customers want it, however they don’t want to pay for it,” explains Patti Williams, analyst, I.T. Strategies. Demand is growing due to customer requests, unfortunately price points may deter some from using these products.
Textiles are overwhelming considered “green” and many manufacturers continue to create fabric product lines that cater to customer need. However, several vendors view laminates and other mediums as eco-friendly as well.
Supply and Demand
Print service providers’ (PSPs) customers push for eco-friendly media. “Apart from the altruistic aspects of doing what is best for the planet, consumers prefer a green choice as long as quality and cost remain in balance,” comments Jeff Sanders, digital sales, Pacific Coast Fabrics, Inc.
All of Pacific Coast’s textiles are 100 percent recyclable. Products such as Jet Flag, Deko-Tex, Polyester Taffeta, Satinette, and Denier Polyester are manufactured in European mills. The fabrics are also certified to Oeko-Tex Standard 100, guaranteeing they meet human ecological requirement standards.
Ethics play a large role in environmental concern. Using this type of media plays a part in increasing Earth’s longevity and in direct correlation, humanity. PSPs lead this evolution by adapting their shops to current eco-friendly media trends. “A PSP should be well versed in green media options in order to meet customers’ job expectations,” shares Andreas DeGroot, senior product manager, inkjet media, Neschen Americas.
“PSPs are mainly driven by their customers, which ties into being pushed by competition,” explains Dean Comstock, sales manager, Dickson Coatings. Dickson Coatings manufactures the Evergreen line of eco-friendly print media, including JetTex, Jet210, and Jet220. When these products are manufactured, no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the atmosphere and 50 percent less raw materials are used in comparison to PVC.
The industry is weary of “greenwashing,” a term referring to products improperly labeled as green.
Manufacturers are beginning to construct a concrete idea of what eco-friendly media is—for themselves and customers. “Do we determine what an eco-friendly product is by what it consists of or by the eco-friendly practices that manufacture it?” cautions Williams.
For most manufacturers, the definition of eco-friendly media is outlined in three parts—how it is made, what it is made of, and how it is disposed.
“Eco-friendly media is free of harmful substances and is easily disposed of without harming the environment. Of equal importance, the processing standards must meet stringent environmental safeguards,” shares Sanders.
Some characterize eco-friendly media as any substrate containing at least 30 percent recycled materials. Others suggest their product is eco-friendly because it contains renewable plant life. Media may also be considered green if it doesn’t contain any heavy metals, PVC resins, phthalates, or fungicides. Manufacturers based in Europe or companies with mills in Europe base definitions on government regulations.
Germany-based 3P InkJet Textiles AG measures a textile’s eco-friendliness with the European environmental management system ISO 14001. The ISO 14000 series of standards is available to any organization looking to maintain an environmentally friendly system. To qualify, a company must have an environmental policy, engage in eco-friendly activities, create green products, and be settled in a location that is considered environmentally friendly.
“Our production is validated in regard to regulations about ecological audits and a certified manufacturing process that avoids atmospheric and environmental pollution,” explains Markus Fortmeier, sales manager, 3P. The majority of 3P’s Green Fabric line is recyclable. All media is manufactured according ISO 14001, including products from 3P’s Value line—Premium Flag FR, Value Spinnaker FR, Value Voile FR, Value Flag FR, Value Gloss FR, Value Satin FR, and Value Canvas FR.
“To date, I’d say there is no hard definition for completely eco-friendly media,” expresses Blaise Humphries, international sales manager, DHJ International. Under the company’s Decoprint line of products DHJ recently released green versions of existing media. No PVC resins are used in the coatings, nor are heavy metals, fungicides, phthalates, or VOCs included in the manufacturing process. DHJ also considers the Acqua’print line of fabrics, coated polyester media for direct to print dye dispersal, environmentally friendly.
“I think the standards for what is eco-friendly will be more specific as time goes on. The ultimate goal is a product that is carbon neutral, non-polluting, and fully recyclable or biodegradable,” explains Cyrus Gilman, VP, The Gilman Brothers Company.
Why Go Eco?
The simple answer is sustainability. Another, profitability. With a product in such high demand, there is always opportunity for profit. At the ISA supplier/distributor conference in July 2008, it was stated in a survey that 62 percent of all purchasing agents have a buy green directive, states Al Ammerman, VP, sustainable products, conVerd, LLC.
The conVerd by Aconda paper line is manufactured from FSC-certified, carbon neutral, and 100 percent recyclable pulp. The company’s manufacturing facility in Spain is ISO 14002 certified. Indoor media includes Blox-Lite, a 100 percent opaque, grommetable banner and sign material; CityLight, a backlit poster paper; Enviroboard FT, a flame retardant rigid board; Enviroboard MR, a moisture resistant rigid board; and Hydros Board, a flame retardant poster board. Outdoor media includes CityLight and in addition, Mural Azul; a poster paper designed for billboard applications.
PSPs may also consider using eco-friendly media to portray dimension and texture in applications. “The digital medium allows for more subtle changes in the subjective interpretation of my B&W landscape images,” comments Michael Zide, owner, vineyardlandscapes.com—a Web site featuring his fine art. In addition to his professional photography career, Zide is also an instructor at the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls, MA. Zide uses Moab Colorado Fiber fine art paper by Legion Paper for all of his printing needs.
“There are many eco-friendly fine art papers with different textures and weights. The beauty of a photograph is the contribution that paper brings to the image,” explains Marc Schotland, director of marketing, Legion Paper Corporation.
Legion Paper manufactures 100 percent cotton papers for the Moab fine art paper line as well paper made from mulberry and hemp. Coincidentally, cotton is both eco-friendly and durable. According to Schotland, it is one of the strongest fibers used to make paper. Additionally, cotton offers a surface texture and feel that
enhances images. Some of Moab’s mulberry-based media contains visible mulberry fibers, adding another dimension to the print.
Jim Graham, owner, Jim Graham photography, is a commercial and editorial photographer that uses Legion Somerset Enhanced and Moab Colorado Fiber papers to print fine art. “They offer a premium product to my clients. The fact that these papers are eco-friendly is an extra bonus for everyone,” says Graham.
Bob Haupt, sales manager, North America, HahnemŸhle USA agrees. “If the media characteristics, in terms of base color, texture, and base weight meet the visual requirements of the project, then the use of eco-friendly media adds positive support to preserving our environment.”
HahnemŸhle Bamboo is the company’s original eco-friendly product. The smooth media depicts a warm base color, ideal for landscapes and portraits. It is composed from bamboo, which is a renewable resource given its rapid growth rate. In Spring 2009, HahnemŸhle Sugar Cane was introduced. The sugar cane pulp used to construct the media is a widely renewable resource and harvested prior to the field burning of reeds; reducing airborne contamination.
Variety is another reason to use this type of media. “A PSP should keep abreast of eco-friendly media options to provide various solutions to customers and prospective clients. Understanding the applications and limitations of eco-friendly media allows the PSP to gain a competitive edge over the competition,” shares Mike Richardson, director of marketing, print media, Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc.
In 2008 Aurora Specialty Textiles launched the Weaves of Green line. Act II and Replay II are woven from 100 percent post consumer recycled polyester, the source being plastic bottles. One roll of 120-inch by 100-yard Act II keeps 1,800 16-ounce drink bottles out of landfills. Aurora carries out the end of the product lifecycle by collecting all scraps and discarded prints from participating customers and placing them into the recycle stream through the FabRecycle program. These scraps are recycled into products such as carpet padding and insulation fiber.
The Evolution to Green
Both the physical make-up of eco-friendly media and qualifications regarding eco-friendly media are evolving. “More efforts are continually put forth to ensure green claims are backed up with proof, such as certifications,” explains Jaime Giannantonio, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.
Ultraflex’s UltraGreen line includes PVC, polyethylene, and textile media. BIOflex FL is a matte PVC banner material used for solvent or screenprinting. In landfill conditions it attract microbes that breakdown PVC within three to five years. PolyeLite is a 100 percent recyclable frontlit PE substrate with a white face and silver back. Textiles from the UltraGreen line are all recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable. Products include UltraCotton C200, UltraTex Organic U230, and UltraTex Organic C265.
“The evolution of eco-friendly media is largely driven by perception. When the trend toward green media began to materialize, it was tempting to slap a green label on a media product, reap the profits, and call it a day,” admits Jeff Leto, director of product line management, LexJet Corporation.
Materials continue to drive growth. “There were trends toward less toxic media in the last 20 years, but only with the evolution of biodegradable plastic resins has the possibility of truly biodegradable products been realized,” says Gilman.
Gilman Brothers’ Insite Biodegradable is a foam board with a rigid foam center made from 15 percent recycled content; which breaks down in landfills over one to five years. The liner is made from wood products certified by the Sustainable Forest Initiative. Duraplast Biodegradable is a 100 percent recyclable foam board with a biodegradable polystyrene foam center that is 15 percent recyclable and has biodegradable polystyrene liners.
Green media has always been available, but not for all applications. “The production of traditional papers from renewable plant products is not new. Only recently was eco-friendly paper used to make fine art inkjet media,” points out HahnemŸhle’s Haupt.
The evolution from film to digital defines the eco-friendliness of the fine art market. Graham transitioned from film to digital and reflects on how these methods are less likely to disperse chlorine and other toxic chemicals into the environment. Zide no longer practices the traditional silver gelatin film process, which uses animal by-products and hazardous chemicals.
Today Zide strengthens his commitment to the environment by partnering with corporations and non-profit groups to raise money and awareness for saving wildlife and wildlife habitats throughout the world.
“The Bogen Imaging Corporation partnered with me by purchasing two of my B&W landscape prints of Martha’s Vineyard and donated the money to the World Wildlife Fund,” says Zide. The prints, made on Moab fine art paper, were raffled off at the Photo Plus Expo in Fall 2008.
Questioning Durability and Compatibility
Depending on the project, applications must withstand time and the elements. “Lighter materials may not last as long or be as strong outdoors as thicker materials,” explains Bryan Rose, VP, business manager, Cooley Sign & Digital Products.
Cooley is currently developing lightweight materials with durability as a main focus. Cooley’s EnviroFlex product line is mainly used in billboard applications. It is designed to reduce environmental waste, offer reusable media, and heighten recyclability. Media includes EnviroFlex Lite, EnviroFlex Lite Hi-Res, EnviroFlex Polyflex Lite, EnviroFlex Polyposter, and EnviroFlex Polyposter Hi-Res.
“Sustainable products, at least by LexJet’s definition, should be as durable as any other,” shares Leto. LexJet’s new 3R DuPont Tyvek SUV is completely sustainable. It is lightweight, reducing environmental impact across the supply chain. Additionally, it is durable enough for repeated use and recyclable.
End users utilizing this media can take advantage of the LexJet Banner Recycling Program. With Trex Company, LexJet allows participants to mail used banners printed on 3R DuPont Tyvek SUV to Trex, who recycles them into decking, railing, and fencing products.
LexJet also sells PEFC/FSC certified papers, which are composed of certified timber and paper products from sustainable forests.
DuPont’s Tyvek portfolio is the company’s most sustainable product line. DuPont Tyvek Vivia, was just introduced. “It is the company’s first wide format offering targeted toward UV technology with the added functionality of enhanced drapeability and brightness,” explains Annette Kim, marketing manager, wide format, DuPont Nonwovens. DuPont Tyvek Vivia is lightweight, provides a long life span, has excellent recyclability potential, and is a non-invasive landfill option.
“Our eco-friendly media is virtually the same product as our regular media, the only difference being it is made out of recycled yarn. This element affects neither the durability or longevity of the printed fabric,” states James Gay, director of marketing, Fisher Textiles Inc.
Fisher Textiles’ eco-friendly media line, Enviro-Tex, uses Repreve, a recycled polyester yarn that when manufactured reduces energy consumption and conserves petroleum resources by offsetting the need to produce virgin polyester. Fabrics in this line contain at least 40 percent Repreve yarn, while some, like the ET 9975 Power Stretch, consist of 95 percent Repreve yarn. Other fabrics in the Enviro-Tex line include ET 9417 Soft Knit, ET 9450 Symmetry, ET 9460 Poly Knit, ET 9496 Heavy Knit, and ET 9499 Firesafe.
There is room for advancement. Marketing and manufacturing efforts need to convince customers of durability. “Eco-friendly media will be widely accepted if manufacturers offer durability equivalent to classic products,” admits Martin Kugler, corporate communications manager, Hexis S.A. Hexis’ PG880 laminate, for example, is a polyester laminate that boasts low toxicity levels during degradation and doesn’t include chlorine, cadmium, and other toxic compounds.
Ultimately, customers may sacrifice longevity. “Durability must be taken into consideration, but the customer may be more lenient with durability standards if the product is truly eco-friendly,” says Neschen’s DeGroot. Neschen manufactures 100 percent cotton SolvoTex Cotton Premium Light S and SolvoTex Cotton Premium Heavy S. “Providing the best of both worlds,” comments DeGroot, the textiles feature degradable coatings that produce vivid color and deep black. When printed with environmentally friendly inks the final product is completely green.
Ink compatibility is also a concern for many PSPs considering adding more eco-friendly solutions to their shops. “Most inks and printers are compatible with eco-friendly media. The problem is that they aren’t usually compatible with the eco part of eco-friendly. Solvent inks can be used on eco-friendly media, but should they? Probably not,” admits Jason Yost, director, EcoMedia, Inc.
EcoMedia’s UV compatible media products are based on the philosophy of sustainable innovation. Banner, backlit, and blockout materials are 100 percent biodegradable and recyclable. This range of media is suitable for UV printers.
Completing the Process - Ink
To be considered truly environmentally friendly, a shop must institute sustainability process—printers, inks, and media. Several vendors offer “green” inks, unfortunately the industry definition—similar to media—is also a bit ambiguous.
“What is green to me, may not be green to someone else,” admits Susie Mendelssohn, marketing manager, Triangle Digital INX Co. Triangle markets UV-curable inks as eco-friendly and Mendelssohn says the company currently focuses 70 percent of its efforts on this type of ink due to its environmentally friendly nature.
Like fabric, an ink’s ingredients determine its eco-friendliness. Mutoh America, Inc. offers Mubio ink, which is composed of more than 80 percent renewable resources, mainly corn. Based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment program, “the product contains only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class,” shares Randy Rickert, GM, Mutoh.
The amount of chemicals emitted from ink during print production is another qualification. “It is all about reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) containing Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) levels in ink products,” says Steve Igoe, manager, North American sales, Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd.
Solvent inks possess the highest level of VOCs and have a low personal exposure limit, Igoe explains. Mild-solvent inks are less aggressive than solvent, but still require ventilation. Eco-solvent inks are the least hazardous out of the solvent ink family and do not require any active ventilation. UV-curable inks have no VOCs, but require energy to cure properly. Aqueous-based inks are the most eco-friendly, but are less durable then all of the above.
US Sublimation’s inks are aqueous-based, and as Michael Labella, product manager, US Sublimation, says, “this by itself would qualify them as being green.” These inks include LFP dye-sublimation (dye-sub) ink, UVMax UV enhanced dye-sub ink, and ElvaJet high density dye-sub ink.
“The industry hasn’t adequately defined green inks and this is problematic for consumers and manufacturers. It is far too easy to place a green label on a product. Consumers should always examine the underlying data and decide for themselves,” warns Andrew Oransky, director of product management, Roland DGA Corporation.
Roland’s newest ink set is ECO-UV, for the company’s VersaUV LEC-300 LED UV inkjet printer/cutter. The printer is Energy Star certified and uses low power LED lamps for curing. The lamps last ten times longer than competing UV platforms, resulting in less waste in landfills. The inks themselves are UV-curable, emitting no VOCs.
A big part of sustainability is recycling. If unprinted, eco-friendly media is considered recyclable or even biodegradable, can this change once a certain type of ink is placed on it? The answer is yes. “Sustainability is defined as reduce, reuse, and recycle. We look at all of these elements when formulating products,” explains Terry Amerine, segment manager, wide format graphics, Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A., Inc. The company manufactures UV-curable inks. “We believe UV inks offer the most effective solution, being 100 percent solid chemistry and no VOCs or HAPS.”
Hewlett-Packard (HP) defines green inks as those that help accomplish a significant reduction in the environmental footprint of the overall printing system. “This improvement could take many forms,” explains Nils Miller, Ph.D., senior scientist, ink/media & environmental technology, imaging and printing group, HP, “such as reducing energy requirements in printing, improving health and safety in the operating environment, reducing external emissions, and enhancing recyclability.” HP Latex Ink is water-based and provides durable and odorless prints. HP also manufactures UV-curable inks that register very low VOCs.