Media vendors play a vital role in reducing environmental waste, conserving natural resources, and ensuring healthy and safe communities and workplaces. As a growing number of print providers establish goals for sustainability, print vendors find it worthwhile to operate in socially responsible ways.
Fabric is one of the most eco-friendly options—often harvested from plants and biodegradeable in landfills. It is lightweight and cuts down on shipping cost and weight, which reduces carbon emissions from transport.
Many vinyl and rigid media manufacturers offer lighter weight alternatives, as well as products containing a percentage of post-consumer waste. Even magnetic media boasts environmental benefits such as reusability and recycling options.
Being “green” is not just about the material, but also about how it is produced and product waste handled. Facilities producing textiles, vinyl, rigid boards, and magnets implement sustainable manufacturing processes, gaining certifications and forming partnerships with reputable environmental organizations.
A Sustainable Trend
There is rising interest in eco-friendly options due to a more sustainable-minded industry. DuPont finds an increased interest in products that have fabric-like attributes, such as Tyvek Vivia, which offers a felt-like, velvety hand and enhanced drapeability.
“However, the search for fabrics that do not compromise the environment or the color quality of a digital image is an ongoing industry challenge,” notes Jeff Sanders, digital fabric sales manager, Pacific Coast Fabrics (PCF).
James Gay, director of marketing, Fisher Textiles, Inc., notices a shift from yarns made with a combination of post-consumer and post-industrial waste, to yarns made with 100 percent post-consumer waste. “This allows the fabric to be whiter and softer, which is more desirable to customers compared to the older blend version. The environmental benefit of using 100 percent post-consumer waste is that it diverts more waste from the landfill, namely polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic soda bottles,” he explains.
Biodegradable textiles made without polyvinyl chloride (PVC) raise the bar for all manufacturers to reexamine the manufacturing process. “Companies that market recyclable products not fully biodegradable are now being held accountable for ‘greenwashing,’” says Dan Halkyard, director of marketing and product management, Visual Magnetics LP.
Dr. Robert Conforti, senior VP business development, FiberMark North America, Inc. agrees. “I believe our partners are savvier to greenwashing. There is a demand for products that provide documented and coherent evidence that substantiate real environmental responsibility.”
Vinyl is rooted within the signage industry. Vendors of this substrate notice customers requesting PVC-free materials. “From a product standpoint, we continually look for products and new materials that reduce our carbon dioxide footprint and are friendlier on the landfill. We think acrylic films offer versatility and go a long way in the industry,” notes Jim Halloran, VP sales and marketing, Lintec of America.
Engineering of petroleum-based substrates and recycling synthetics to wood/paper-based materials are also part of the current trend. “Wood and paper recycling streams are now available to major retailers—many of which specify that displays utilize rigid substrates and print media that can be channeled into these streams,” says Brandon Wyatt, marketing manager, graphic display, 3A Composites USA.
“Digital printers and inks are greener than ever, so there is heightened demand for other components of sign making to be green,” explains Jaime Giannantonio-Sherman, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc. “More governmental regulations are being put in place in the U.S. to mandate sign materials to meet standards.”
A Greener Production Process
At the core of the green movement is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) three principles for sustainable practices—reduce, reuse, and recycle. Several media vendors have taken steps towards becoming greener businesses by analyzing manufacturing processes, offering eco-friendly products, and pioneering recycling initiatives.
Cooley Group practices the key elements of sustainability by developing lighter products, limiting the raw materials required to produce, and reducing the fuel required to transport. “Developing repurpose and reuse options for many of the products we manufacture further extends the product’s lifecycle,” explains Bryan Rose, VP/business manager, Cooley Commercial Graphics.
For textile manufacturers such as PCF, being green means more than the percentage of recycled content found in an individual fabric. The production process of PCF’s partner mill is optimized to the lowest pollution level and highest energy efficiency documented by the strict standards to which its production is certified. Its finishing process was one of the first in the European Union (EU) to pass the regulations of ISO 14001.
Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc.’s (ASTG’s) facility in Aurora, IL is also ISO 14001 certified and recognized twice for its sustainability by the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association. ASTG views green as a corporate responsibility. “Without eco-friendly options, our customers are forced to conduct business in ways that are less sustainable,” says Teresa Skinner, marketing coordinator, ASTG.
“Having a green product is more about giving the customer the opportunity to make an effort to do their part for the environment,” agrees Walter Gierlach Jr., president, Photo Tex Group, Inc.
Eco-friendly business is not just about what is made, but how. “Being sustainable requires attention to the entire process, from selecting media, to using environmentally friendly printing processes, to minimizing waste and carbon footprint in delivering and installing the job, to maximizing the use of recyclable or reusable graphics,” explains Marcel Medved, business development director, Asphalt Art.
FiberMark pioneers the use of bio fuels in paper manufacturing. The company’s Brattleboro, VT operation runs on up to 100 percent recycled vegetable oil. This powers the paper machine, dries the paper, and heats the plant.
FiberMark products are primarily manufactured from sustainable resources and many utilize post-consumer waste fiber. “Our methods process chlorine-free, lead-free, phthalate-free, heavy metal-free, pH neutral, nontoxic, free of ozone-depleting chemicals, and use only aqueous coatings and ink technology. Additionally, our products comply with European REACH Standards,” says Steve Pfistner, VP safety and environmental, FiberMark.
Lintec consistently measures inputs, processing, and outputs with the overall goal of a carbon dioxide reduction of one percent per year. Several years ago, the company integrated the ISO 14001 based environmental management system in its head office, eight plants in Japan, and its research laboratory.
Partnerships and Programs
Many suppliers align themselves with organizations that promote sustainable practices. Companies including Top Value Fabrics, DuPont, Durst Image Technology US LLC, and Hewlett-Packard are patrons of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). The SGP establishes industry standards and presents the opportunity to acquire certification within print manufacturing operations.
FiberMark is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, which verifies the flow of FSC-certified forest products through FiberMark’s supply chain and into its final products, assuring customers that the papers they choose are made from trees harvested according to environmental standards and forest management practices.
Other companies recycle material waste produced at the facility, and some create recycling initiatives for customers to take part in. Fisher Textiles, for instance, bales and recycles its own crushed cardboard tubes, unusable cardboard, and waste/scrap fabric to reduce the amount of waste generated at the facility.
Visual Magnetics aims at reducing its carbon footprint in manufacturing processes. It implemented a complete end-of-life process, which encourages customers to return all retired MagnaMedia to Visual Magnetics to be recycled for use in steel and electricity production in conjunction with Covanta Energy.
ASTG started a program called FabRecycle, where customers return scrap or used polyester fabric. This material is placed back into the recycle stream. “Recycled material is then turned into pellet form and made into useful products, such as woven bags, filtration products, carpet padding, and filler insulation,” explains Skinner.
DuPont Tyvek provides a lightweight yet strong print media solution that can be repurposed into a variety of products at the end of its useful life, such park benches, landscape materials, and drainage pipes. It also developed programs for recycling through North Star Recycling and Waste Management.
Many fabric materials are derived from nature and do not contain chemicals such as PVC. Fabric also shares the ability to biodegrade, reducing landfill waste.
ASTG’s Weaves of Green collection consists of Encore FR, Act II, and RePlay2 fabrics, which are 100 percent polyester and made of recycled plastic water bottles. The three fabric lines work well with dye-sublimation (dye-sub) and UV-curable digital print technologies.
The ten-ounce Encore FR textile is constructed of spun yarns and treated to meet the NFPA 701 small scale flammability standard for indoor use; it is also durable enough for short-term outdoor applications. Possible applications for the Weaves of Green collection include window, point of purchase (POP), trade show and theatrical displays, outdoor and indoor banners, retail soft signage, and art reproductions.
Fisher Textiles offers a green fabric alternative for dye-sub, UV, and latex printing. The Enviro-Tex fabric line consists of eco-friendly fabrics made with recycled Repreve yarn ranging from 44 to 100 percent recycled product—meeting Federal Trade Commission guidelines for recycled products. The newest additions are made with 100 percent Repreve and 100 percent post-consumer waste.
DuPont’s family of Tyvek products are recyclable and considered sustainable because they mainly consist of high-density polyethylene polymer without plasticizers.
Natural AdCampaign Ltd.’s NatureWoven is disposed of at the end of its useful life within commercial composting facilities, thereby not requiring a landfill. “Companies that practice being green can now take that a step further by using materials that are biodegradable and compostable,” explains Matt Devlin, VP of business development, NatureWoven.
NatureWoven materials are 100 percent natural, biodegradable, and compostable. Signature products, Chorus and Gossyp, are made out of non-petroleum based print media. Chorus—made from natural jute and backed with natural latex—is a highly durable material ideal for most out-of-home marketing campaigns. Gossyp—made from natural cotton and backed with natural latex—offers a high-definition, lightweight alternative ideal for large-scale POP materials.
Neschen Americas SolvoTex Cotton Premium Light S and SolvoTex Cotton Premium Heavy S are the company’s eco-friendly grand format print media, woven from 100 percent natural cotton fiber, which is 100 percent degradable.
All of PCF’s premium fabrics are produced in Europe, ensuring that production meets the exacting—water and air—criteria set forth by the EU. This material is produced using recyclable polyester yarn, free of harmful substances, and most are certified to Oeko-Tex Standard 100, which establishes that the goods meet human-ecological requirement standards.
PCF recently introduced a 6.4 ounce, optic white banner fabric, certified 100 percent recycled polyester. “It prints images as bright and clear as non-recycled polyester with no color degradation or loss of longevity,” adds Sanders.
Top Value Fabrics offers PVC-free textiles and lightweight PVC options. On the industrial fabrics side, the company offers 6P phthalate and lead compliant products. It also provides suitable materials in lighter weights as a creative strategy to reduce environmental impact. Additionally, the company uses environmentally friendly additives and fillers. Custom width media is available for repeat projects, as custom widths leave zero waste.
Ultraflex textiles are earth friendly. The polyester used in the manufacturing process is made of 20 percent recycled polyester and is 100 percent recyclable. A water-based coating technology is also implemented into the textiles; up to 90 percent of the coating is biodegradable. The biodegradable and recyclable UltraCotton C370 is the vendor’s all natural textile made from 100 percent cotton.