By Melissa Donovan
Eco-friendly media, sometimes referred to as “green” or sustainable, is in many forms. These materials range from vinyl and films to paper-based substrates and fabric. They are used in a number of different applications and environments. Wide format digital print service providers (PSPs) may use this media to appeal to eco-conscious customers while supporting their own environmentally friendly efforts. Challenges are apparent from cost to construction, but there continues to be demand for eco-friendly products.
Location, Location, Location
Eco-friendly media is used in various applications and environments. With a vast range of material options—fabric, film, paper, and vinyl—there is no limit to where this specialty product can appear.
Gautier Peers, territory sales manager, Dickson Coatings, says most of its company’s eco-friendly fabrics are used for indoor decoration applications such as wallcoverings, window blinds, and canvas wraps in hotels, corporate offices, retail outlets, museums, restaurants, and private residences.
“The interior, décor, retail, and exhibition market segments are frequently using these type of fabrics. This is because companies and their brands want to be sustainable and environmentally friendly, due to them not wanting the fabric possessing PVC, heavy metals, or volatile organic compounds,” advises Eric Tischer, president, Verseidag US.
Besides traditional signage, eco-friendly fabric is also used for apparel. “Eco-friendly media is becoming extremely popular for apparel applications, with the rise of athleisure wear and custom apparel products,” explains Sharon Roland, advertising and PR manager, Fisher Textiles.
Dennis Brunnett, technical service specialist and Jodi Sawyer, market development manager, FLEXcon, find that most non-vinyl film solutions classified as environmentally friendly are used in indoor, short-term promotional advertising. This includes retail windows, walls, and counters; as well as restaurant settings and corporate office locations.
Another popular use—vehicle graphics. Stephen D. Smith, industry manager for graphics, SWM International (formerly Argotec), says that there are those PSPs that are eco-conscious enough to insist on designing, printing, and wrapping vehicles with more eco-friendly products.
Paper-based substrates can be flexible or rigid. Either construction is found in different environments as a variety of applications.
For example, rigid board includes indoor, temporary point of purchase (POP) retail graphics that are generally short-term applications—in place for two to three weeks maximum, according to Tony Lampariello, national rigid media manager, Agfa Graphics.
Flexible materials are used in a number of ways. “Our eco-friendly dimensional wall panels are used in retail stores, POP displays, trade show booths, commercial building, television and motion picture, theater productions, and residential,” says Danielle Hoon, marketing, Simple Walls.
“With the accelerated pace of today’s limited-time offers, pop-up promotions, and seasonal turnovers, paper-based materials provide advantages in the retailer’s recycling stream. Paper is disposable and more widely recycled. When a paper sign is no longer needed, it can go right into the blue box with no special sorting, also eliminating the need to commission specialty waste removal,” shares Greg Maze, sales and marketing manager – digital and wide format, Neenah Paper, Inc.
Eco-friendly vinyl is used in display and graphics applications. According to Bryan Rose, VP and GM, global new business development, Cooley Group, these range from outdoor advertising billboards and displays to retail and POP applications such as banners, backdrops, and backlit displays.
In addition to POP, there is a demand for eco-friendly materials in architectural and design spaces. “From a PSA vinyl perspective, the applications are far reaching, but the majority of applications tend to revolve around interior applications such as wall murals and POP displays or graphics,” suggests Craig Campbell, market manager – graphic products, Orafol Americas.
The Ideal User
Eco-friendly media—fabric, film, paper based, and vinyl—is requested by a specific client base.
A good portion of requests for green fabric are driven by larger companies who make sustainability and overall environmentally green operations part of their global platform and marketing, admits Mike Compton, product marketing manager, Top Value Fabrics. “But, more companies are beginning to request eco-friendly fabric media as concerns grow over landfill space and relative decomposition and recyclability of various fabrics,” he adds.
“Companies with a history of environmental consciousness are requesting eco-friendly media, as well as new companies that are interested in giving back or aligning with the eco-label,” agree Kathryn Sanders, marketing and sales and Mike Sanders, VP, Pacific Coast Fabrics.
These organizations look for minimal hazardous materials as part of their décor include schools, hospitals, and even government institutions, according to Walter Gierlach Jr., owner, Photo Tex Group, Inc.
“Places that work with children,” adds Kylie Schleicher, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.
Eco-friendly film use is influenced by brand owners. According to Brunnett and Sawyer, brand owners interested in green films are looking to either make an environmentally conscious buying decision, or looking to promote—for marketing purposes—the use of eco-friendly media as a benefit.
“They use this type of media when consumers are in close proximity to the graphics and can appreciate the more professional look or in situations where the location and placement requires unique properties,” explains Marcel Medved, business development director, Continental Grafix.
PSPs who choose to use sustainable films want to differentiate themselves from the competition, or are employed by those brand owners with sustainability initiatives in place, say Holly Coleman, market development manager, Tim Boxeth, marketing manager, and Beau Hommes, technical service engineer, 3M Commercial Solutions.
“Printer providers that offer eco-friendly media are looking for higher performing films in terms of conformability and lifting resistance, ease of install, and durability,” they continue.
Similar to film products, paper-based eco-friendly media is commonly requested by brand owners representing vendors that want to convey a green message—one reflecting their company as a whole or individual product values.
“There is a growing demand from large fast moving consumer goods companies and their respective agencies as they look to move away from non-eco materials like plastics and MDF to sustainable products,” shares Rowan Maher, CMO, Xanita.
Lampariello cites the tech industry as always requesting sustainable media. Specifically, he mentions high-profile brands like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Target, and Walmart, as those who are very green in material selection for in-store displays, particularly rigid substrates.
PSPs positioned to serve these big box companies are the ones stocking and providing green materials. “The $25+ million PSPs with multiple, high-speed flatbeds. This mostly due to a larger exposure to the higher volume and fulfillment needs for big box and high-profile brands,” adds Lampariello.
About 60 percent of Mac Papers’ eco-friendly media sales is specified by the company’s conventional print customers that are entering into wide format and signage. “They are already familiar with the many ecological and environmental programs on the paper side of the business and seem to readily understand eco-friendly products,” says Marty Davis, director of wide format and graphics, Mac Papers.
Sustainable vinyl material interest generates from interior/environmental designers, according to Campbell. “The materials they choose set the tone for not only a particular space but in many cases an entire project,” he continues.
Similar to fabric, sustainable vinyl materials are preferred by the hospitality and healthcare industries, as well as schools, because it is PVC-free and breathable, shares Lisa Schultz, operations manager, DreamScape.
PSPs looking to become more environmentally friendly as a whole—from consumables to shop operation—are looking to work with eco-friendly vinyl. “PSPs that are ISO14001. PSPs that are certified members of SGP. Also, printers that utilize more sustainable solutions throughout their entire operation—from how their shop is set up to be energy efficient and ergonomically designed, to how they conduct business, to the media they chose to print on,” suggests Rose.
Challenges to Overcome
Despite the positive connotations of green media, it does have its challenges. Cost, appearance, and quality are all factors that continue to improve.
According to Sanders and Sanders, the price difference between green fabrics versus less sustainable counterparts is typically $1 to $1.50.
“The cost is about 25 percent more than textiles made out of regular polyester,” cites Christopher McGovern, EVP of business development, Berger Textiles.
Pricing varies depending on fabric weight and construction. “Also, depending on the output, ink receptivity treatments can cause fabrics to range drastically in price. Typically, uncoated fabrics for transfer dye-sublimation will cost less than coated fabrics for other outputs due to the additional components and production,” explains Tischer.
Compared to some of the first eco-friendly fabrics to hit the market, today’s products have advanced significantly. “The white point of eco-friendly fabrics has improved. This is due largely in part to improvements in the recycling purification process. Because of this, the fiber is now whiter, which in turn makes the fabrics whiter,” shares Roland.
Despite advances, there is room for development. “For instance, many recycled fabrics do not have a strong color yield like their non-recycled counterparts. Though, these problems depend on the supplier. This discrepancy can be a significant quality issue for recycled media and price tends to be the best indicator of quality,” advise Sanders and Sanders.
Smith says urethane films have prices that are ten to 15 cents more per square foot than similar less eco-friendly products.
According to Medved, green products are in the range of $0.50 to $2 per square foot, depending on the construction.
“This is an area that is improving. Manufacturers are aware that an eco-friendly product isn’t going to be widely accepted if it is significantly more expensive than standard products in use,” admits Ed McCarron, national sales manager – digital imaging, Dietzgen Corporation.
Cost savings reaches beyond the substrate, says Maze. “This may be as much as 25 percent less in paper-based solutions—but paper-based products also provide enhanced print production, improved consistency of substrate quality, as well economical disposal alternatives,” says Maze.
Some eco-friendly products in this segment actually cost less. Lampariello says one green rigid substrate substrate—same thickness, three millimeters—is $0.50 per square foot, whereas the PVC version is $0.72 per square foot.
While the lightness of paper-based product is a positive for the environment, the durability is challenge. “As more of the traditional paper companies enter this market, they are bringing their coating and manufacturing process in line with the wide format and signage world. We have seen an increase in dimensional stability and rigidity on many of the board and corrugate type products,” shares Davis.
“There have been tremendous improvements in the durability of renewable fiber-based substrates that satisfy the performance requirements of many commercial applications. Adoption is gaining momentum,” agrees Will Fuller, VP, business development, Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.
According to Rose, eco-friendly vinyl can be anywhere from ten to 15 percent more expensive, but the key is really in product design and how the solution is delivered.
“For example, if a media costs 15 percent more, but it is 50 percent lighter and 100 percent recyclable, does it truly cost more? A product with those features will allow printers to run more efficiently and with reduced scrap. The true costs are likely similar if not lower due to the reduction in scrap and the increased efficiencies,” he continues.
Schultz shares that DreamScape’s typical PVC-based product retails for approximately $0.48 per square foot, while its eco-friendly option retails at approximately $0.66 per square foot.
The cost gap is being reduced. “Quality is improving as customers generally will not compromise on quality or performance. The days of higher cost green products being sold are gone,” admits Timothy Schoenbeck, wide format business development manager, Kernow North America Inc.
“Generally speaking, eco-friendly materials have traditionally been higher in cost than non-green alternatives, especially for commodity items like banners and adhesive-backed calendar vinyl film. These days, there are more eco-friendly media options out there, and the difference in price is not as significant as it used to be,” says Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation.
Conscious of the Options
There are a lot of options when it comes to green media. Fabric, film, paper based, and vinyl are all available to those PSPs looking to increase their sustainable footprint. Today’s materials aren’t barred by application restraints and are seen in a number of different environments. While costs are still a bit higher than more traditional substrates, eco-friendly’s price and quality make it worth the while for brand owners looking to maintain eco-conscious standards.
May2017, Digital Output