Consumers are seeking and championing brands that commit to sustainability and in the process they are a key driver in the growth of green printing. A new market report from Smithers, The Future of Green Printing Markets to 2026
, takes an in-depth look at the environmentally and socially sustainable materials being used by the print industry and leading brands to address consumer concerns as well as the design and production efficiencies that create more sustainable products.
While printing may not be the primary offender in the proliferation of greenhouse gases, printing supply chain networks and life cycle do contribute. Greenhouse gases from human activities are the most significant driver of observed climate change since the mid-20th century. Consumer awareness and discussions about the climate accelerated in 2020. With this increased awareness and under global stay-at-home orders, consumers experienced the direct link between the environment and personal well-being first hand. The combination of escalating climate hazards and a newfound consumer consciousness has sparked unprecedented urgency and action around the climate crisis and the need for sustainability.
Greenhouse gases from human activities are the most significant driver of observed climate change since the mid-20th century. Worldwide, net emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity increased by 43% from 1990 to 2015. Emissions of CO2, which account for about three-quarters of total emissions, increased by 51% over this period. The majority of the world’s emissions result from transportation, electricity generation and other forms of energy production and use.
Printing processes currently add to these emissions through the use of fossil fuel energy to run equipment, to transport raw materials and finished goods and to support the process in general. The manufacturing and exhausting of volatile organic compound (VOCs) from solvent-based printing processes, the manufacturing of paper and plastic substrates, ink, cleaning solutions and so on all add to these gas emissions.
Sustainability in print
Green printing is more than just using recycled paper. For printing to be green the supply chain must find ways to ‘clean up their act’. If one link in the supply chain changes a requirement, product or method of processing, it has the potential to affect the rest of the network. Ultimately, moving to a circular economy based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems will enable us to put the brakes on the rise in greenhouse gases.
While design and production efficiencies can provide a more sustainable product, they do impact the print or converting service provider. Consumers are buying less print, so print runs are getting shorter, but new, more efficient digital production processes are beginning to address these changes and to add value to the print. Printers, converters, equipment, substrate and ink manufacturers are starting to shift their manufacturing energy use away from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy production such as solar, wind or hydroelectric. Others are trading carbon credits or renewable energy credits (RECs).
The growing movement toward sustainable products and practices has pushed brands to adjust their products and practices in order to remain competitive. Many changes have started in the ‘C’ Level offices (e.g. CEO, COO, CFO), of organizations by aligning with national and international industry groups that were formed to offer a single voice and a plan in response to shifting consumer demands. Others have focused their efforts on their own products, business practices and messaging, and are developing the roadmap as they go.
Changing preferences and generational behaviours
The pandemic had a forced effect on purchasing with 75% of US consumers trying a new shopping behaviour in response to economic pressures, stores closing and changing priorities, according to a McKinsey & Company study. This behaviour change was also reflected in a shattering of brand loyalties, resulting in Gen Z and high earners being more likely to switch brands. The study also showed that 36% of consumers tried a new product brand and 25% incorporated a new private-label brand in their purchasing decisions. Of those consumers who tried different brands, 73% intended to continue to incorporate the new brands in their routine. This shift and the increase in Gen Z consumers and their preferences, will lead to shorter runs, with an inclination toward greener and more sustainable brands and practices.