Strenghten your branding through green printing
Do more to reach out to constituents and less to damage the earth
By: Alpa Patel
January 5, 2010
Like most nonprofits, your organization likely produces several printed pieces a year to
appeal to donors, attract new members, promote events, and report to funders. When
designing this collateral, you want to create a piece that successfully represents your
organization, fits within your budget, and generates positive change while advancing
your cause, raising awareness, and furthering your mission.
But if your print vendor employs traditional methods to produce this — using virgin-fiber
paper, petroleum-based inks, toxic solvents, and chlorine-bleached papers — your printed
piece might be doing less to reach out to constituents and more to damage the
Luckily, there are eco-friendly ways to make your print projects, the earth — and your
organization — look good.
Damage to the Environment
It's no secret that paper production taxes forests, water, and energy supplies. In fact, eco-
advocacy group Environmental Defense estimates that producing one ton of virgin
uncoated paper — which accounts for 90 percent of the United States' printing and
writing paper — requires three tons of wood, 19,075 gallons of water, and generates
2,278 pounds of solid waste.
"The printing industry is the single largest air polluter and the third-largest consumer of
fossil fuels in the world after automobiles and steel manufacturing," said Renourish
Founder and University of Illinois Design Professor Eric Benson. "On a typical day,
[printers] use trillions of gallons of water that must be treated for its toxic chemical
content and released back into our waterways."
Meanwhile, adhesives, bindings, and foils used in printing and packaging can render the
final product unrecyclable, virtually guaranteeing that it will end up in a landfill. There,
petroleum-based inks can cause lasting damage to the environment, leaching volatile
organic compounds (VOCs) — which can cause cancer and birth defects — into the
ground, contaminating soil, groundwater, and, upon evaporation, the air.
The printing process itself is equally hazardous: Many of the solvents, shellacs, driers,
and other solutions employed in producing film, printing plates, and cleaning the presses
are toxic pollutants that can cause chronic health problems — including kidney and liver
damage, and even death — among press operators, according to the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health.
Not exactly the message your nonprofit wants to convey.
It's Easy Printing Green
For some nonprofits, the solution might be to eschew printing in favor of online
marketing. Yet for nonprofits that rely on printed marketing campaigns for support and
publicity, cutting out paper altogether might not be an option.
By printing green, you are sending a powerful reminder to your audience that you care
about what's to come. You’re also enhancing your brand image by making the statement
that you care about the environment. Environmental degradation has a wide-reaching
impact, from poverty and disease to war and famine. By pursuing green printing
practices, you are in a sense embracing all good causes — not least of all, your own.
"Your donors, board members, and prospects will see that you care and this will resonate
positively to them," said Nilesh Patel, Owner and President of We Print, an
environmentally friendly printer located in Orange, California. "Every point of contact
with your constituency should reinforce the idea that you are not only saying the right
things but doing the right things. Printing is a very visible part of that, particularly for a
membership organization. Doing the right thing environmentally and then advertising it
goes a long way [toward establishing] the integrity and sincerity of your organization. It's
a wonderful way to underscore your mission."
Happily, eco-friendly options are on the rise — and there are many resources online that
can help you locate them.
Among We Print’s recommendations:
1. Choose paper that is 100 percent post-consumer waste (PCW), processed chlorine free
(PCF), uncoated, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, made by renewable energy
sources like wind or solar power (Mohawk Paper is a leader in this area), or even treeless
(hemp and kenaf are two options).
2. Use vegetable-based inks or soy inks instead of petroleum-based inks. These
alternatives are both low in VOCs and competitively priced. When using Pantone colors
— an industry standard — avoid colors (mostly metallics and warm reds) that contain
barium, copper, and zinc, which can cause health problems in humans.
3. Try waterless printing, which eliminates the dampening systems used in conventional
printing. Digital printing, which avoids the film and chemicals in traditional printing
processes, is another good alternative.
4. Avoid using bindings, adhesives, or foil stamps in packaging.
5. Reduce the amount of inks you use by going with one- or two-color designs; you can
also save paper by asking your designer to use standard press sheet sizes.
6. Familiarize yourself with industry standards. The Environmental Protection Agency
mandates that federal agencies must use uncoated printing and writing papers containing
at least 30 percent PCW content; coated papers must contain 10 percent, notes We Print.
Other Printing Considerations
Those nonprofits that print a lot of exhibit or signage materials should opt for a printing
process called dye sublimation — rather than solvent-based inks, which use petroleum
and other VOCs, according to a September 2005 article in Print magazine. Digital
printing and appliqué (which works particularly well with banners) are also cleaner, more
sustainable options; look for fabrics like Ecospun, which are made out of recycled
Good Design Is Up to You
"Shouldn't this be the designer's responsibility?" you might ask. Fortunately for you —
and the environment — the answer is no. Ultimately, as the client, the burden falls on you
to make sure your project is as green as possible. And with the growing number of
options out there, it isn't difficult to locate eco-friendly paper vendors, designers, and
printers that can help you do just that.
If you can't locate a green design firm or printer in your area, don't worry — easy-to-use
technologies like PDF readers and compression utilities (see TechSoup's Free Downloads
section for good options) make file transmission quick (and often free) via email and
FTP, allowing you to work with the vendor of your choice regardless of your location.
Many print vendors will allow you or your designer to upload files directly to their sites
and will then ship the printed materials to you.
Even if a design firm doesn't promote itself as "green," it may be willing to accommodate
your request. If you have a long-standing relationship with a designer, discuss ways you
can make your project as eco-friendly as possible.
A good designer should be able to meet your needs by locating the proper vendors and
working within the requested perimeters. If a designer tries to talk you out of using a two-
color design or dissuade you from choosing an alternative printing technique, get a
Often, designers mark up paper and printing by as much as 30 percent, so be wary of
those that insist you use expensive paper, printing, binding, coating, or foiling to make
your piece look good — they may just be trying to increase their own profits and reduce
the time and overhead involved in researching alternatives. A truly competent design firm
can make your project beautiful regardless of the specifications.
Dispelling Green Myths
Green (Paper) Is Beautiful
One common misperception among nonprofit and for-profit organizations alike is that
eco-friendly means lower quality.
We suggests that nonprofits talk to an eco-friendly printer to better understand their
options. "The biggest deterrent to [printing green] is lack of information," he said, noting
that a printer can help you determine what types of papers, inks, and coatings can give
you the quality you want and stay within your budget.
Another common deterrent is the misconception that printing green is always more
expensive than using traditional printing methods. However, this isn't always the case.
Vegetable-based inks are often competitively priced with petroleum-based; carbon-
neutral printing is no more expensive than traditional methods; and many recycled, TCF,
and ECF papers are in fact less expensive than virgin.
We would also notes that because there are many factors that contribute to a printed
piece's price — including the size of the project, the press you use, and even the time of
year — it's important to work with a printer that can find the best solution for your
Keep in mind, too, that as more organizations like yours invest in eco-friendly options,
the price will eventually decrease. "It is cost-efficient to make recycled paper as it
requires less energy [than virgin]," said Benson. Yet, "there is often a slightly higher
premium for recycled paper. That is largely based on supply and demand issues. The
more we request recycled, PCW [paper], the more the paper industry will supply, and
costs will even out. Printers pollute and pollute badly. Why should this be OK? Choosing
to not support those practices is to vote with your dollar."
Even if you discover that going green means paying more, there are still many ways you
can offset the costs:
Instead of holding four mail campaigns a year, try sending out three eco-friendly ones.
The positive publicity generated by going green may in fact improve response rates, and
you'll be more likely to make the most of what you do send out. Or, offset costs with
creativity: "Design multifunctional projects — for example, self-mailer/program combos
— to economize when using more expensive paper," suggests Dynamic Graphics' in its
Printing Green article. "Also, combining projects whenever possible is wise; one idea is
to print business cards and postcards from the same recycled paper."
2.Bypass the Middle Man
Sourcing and managing a print project is not as complicated as it might sound, and will
help you avoid high markups from graphic designers. Ask your designer to send you
print-ready files, and then work with the printer on delivering and proofing them. Explain
that you are a nonprofit and are trying to save money: many printers will be happy to help
you through the process. Alternatively, some designers may even be willing to forego the
markup when they know they're supporting a good cause.
3.Share the Glory
Another way to offset costs is to ask a vendor to chip in. Some printers will reduce their
price if they can put their logo on the piece, and many will do so unobtrusively. Likewise,
you could ask one of your funders to help cover the costs in exchange for a small
promotion on the piece.
4.Keep It Exclusive
Some printers will offer discounts if you bring all (or most) of your business to them.
"Choosing a printer to print your literature exclusively can result in a contract that can
reduce costs the more work you send them," he said.
If You've Got It, Flaunt It
If you print your project on recycled paper using soy-based inks or wind-powered
presses, by all means, let your constituents know about it. Add a simple line of text
explaining how the piece was printed on the bottom of the postcard, or include a discreet
Forest Stewardship Council, Soy Seal, or Processed Chlorine Free symbol if it applies.
Alternatively, you can tally up the piece's impact for your readers: Neenah Paper's eye-
opening Environmental Savings Calculator can help you calculate the environmental
savings — in trees, water, energy, solid waste, water-borne wastes, and atmospheric
emissions — in selecting papers with higher levels of post-consumer fiber content.
Promoting green practices not only makes your nonprofit look good — it can motivate
others to do the same. For when other organizations see how good your piece looks, they
might be inspired to go green.
Web :- http://www.weprint-oc.com