A sustainable balance
Books represent much of what makes humans great. They educate, they entertain and they guide us. They preserve the old and bring forth the new. Yet books are printed on paper, and paper historically comes from trees. Which, if you watch the news, can be a problem.
Deforestation is one of the main contributors to climate change. Our future is thus deeply rooted in these lovely living organisms that provide us with shelter, nourishment and beauty. Not to mention the very air we breathe. Yet the industrial process of printing a book often starts with harvesting those very trees.
So how can we find a sustainable balance that both cares for the future, yet allows us to create these volumes of wisdom and joy?
Taking care of business AND environment
We were recently presented an opportunity to produce a cutting edge environmentally friendly book. From planting the tree to placing it on your bookshelf. We print more and more eco-friendly books, but this is a rapidly changing industry. So I discussed this with our CEO George Dick and our Sales Director Paul Reber.
George has been printing books for over 35 years, and he takes being eco-friendly seriously. “Taking care of the environment is our duty. Our planet’s resources are limited. We certainly don’t want to, in any way, damage the environment or effect the future prospects of our children. The books we print will be here for hundreds of years. There’s no point in having our books stay here for that long if people aren’t around to read and enjoy them.”
Paul concurs, “As the human race we’re all hopefully trying to find ways to be green. I think we all realize the earth and its materials it produces for our benefit are limited. By advocating for this you are advocating for your fellow man. Anybody who cares about themselves, their family, their neighbors should always strive to lessen the burden on our limited resources.“
"We are now able to find beautiful 100% post-consumer waste paper."
What can we do?
I asked Paul how we, as book printers, can do all that? “It starts with paper. What’s possible, and what’s out there. Recycled paper isn’t used as much these days as it was a while back. This is mainly for the cost to recycle it, the quality of the paper and how well you can print on it. The cost to print value was too high, so it was sidelined. Luckily there’s been a resurgence, and we are now able to find beautiful 100% post-consumer waste paper. Bright, clean, recycled, from 70 to 100lb weight. And the print quality is very good”
We’ve printed 100% PCW books before with ecologically conscious publishers like Patagonia, and the available materials are not only getting better but they are becoming more affordable. Each and every step we take towards more sustainable practices makes it easier and more affordable for future generations.
Sustainable forestry practises
One option in the right direction is using FSC paper, certified by Forestry Stewardship Council. As George points out, “These papers are not recycled, however the pulp comes from sustainable forestry practices.“
This is significant in and of itself, but the fact is that FSC graded paper is usually available at the same cost as any other paper. All you have to do is ask for it. There are some limitations, but those boil down to it being unavailable for some printers or locations. If you wish to promote the fact you’re using FSC certified paper by displaying their logo, you may have to jump through some extra hoops (which we will certainly help you with).
What, then, are sustainable forestry practices? I asked Paul. “Forestry Stewardship Council tracks this paper from the planting of the tree through the cultivation of the tree, to the harvesting of this tree and to pulping it. All of this is done in specific factories that have been FSC regulated and certified. This ensures for every FSC graded book, the paper used was the most responsible to the environment and the customer. There are certifications you must have to make sure your facility is appropriate for this process. So there are printers that simply can’t get the paper until they’ve been certified.“
It's not just about the paper
Printing eco-friendly books includes many other challenges, from cover materials to the inks used, not to mention shipping and packing options.
We’ve partnered with Ecological Fibers and currently offer Eco-Print 7, a new cover material that does not require lamination. It does not burnish, it will not scuff, and it allows you to inlay foils if you should wish to utilize them. This is a unique, flexible material that is sustainably produced.
Now very few printers these days utilize petroleum based inks, and our plants all use vegetable or soy-based inks. But significant advances have been made in inks as well, as George points out: “We’re getting the same kind of brilliance and color out of those inks as we did when the inks were petroleum based.“
“It’s important to know you’re working with a printing factory that observes environmentally conscious practices."
One of the concerns of course is our printers. We partner with many printers in United States, China and South Korea, all of whom we’ve worked with for a long time, and we’re expanding into Malaysia, India and Europe. And one of the big concerns for us is to make sure our partners are low-emission, state-of-the-art printers who are eco-friendly in all aspects of their production. I asked George about the process of selection: “It’s important to know you’re working with a printing factory that observes environmentally conscious practices. We have to be sure the waste water that comes out of those plants is clean. There is also economical incentive to being green these days, as in recycling excess trim paper, which can be bundled up and sold. All the plants we work with engage in these practices.”
Binding the Book
Book binding has many options from smyth-sewn to polyurethane adhesive (PUR). Smyth-sewn books are the industry standard for top quality books, and they are also the most environmentally friendly option. The sowing machines we operate are low emission. And while it remains difficult to craft a book without any glue, we can always offer more eco-friendly options than polyurethane compounds.
What about shipping?
Freight is always an issue, and you can't find sailboats crossing the ocean with shipping containers these days. But there are always options, and our main concern is to try and find the lowest available fuel emissions. There are emissions with freight you can’t circumnavigate, but like Paul says, "Our trucks are state-of-the-art, well regulated rigs tuned to modern emission standards."
Attention to detail
At Four Colour Print Group we have our own production managers assigned to each project. They work closely with not only the publishers, but also deal with and monitor the printers and freight forwarders, making sure where in the plant your book is at any given time, from the printing to binding to how it's packed.
Much of this is done with each and every book we help create. If there are environmentally conscious options available at the same cost, we naturally employ those. But when we’re specifically creating an environmentally safe book, more attention has to be paid. Some of the practices utilized in these projects are not always standardized to the printers and freight companies. Of course the more we and others work on these eco-friendly projects, the more those standards will evolve. Slowly but surely we are all shifting towards practices that are not only better for us and our planet, but are also far more cost-efficient to us all.
Are you ready to print green?
If you’re a publisher or an author or an artist out there who would like to create a book at the forefront of the green initiative, give us a call. We can give you pricing, expert advice, and a range of options on how to best tackle these concerns. There is no time better than now.