Portions of this blog post were contributed by Steve Feuss of PrintingResponsibly.com – especially the details about the printing process and green printing options. Thanks Steve.
As a follow up to my Green Hosting Options post, I wanted to use a print example of how designers and others can contribute to sustainability. Because the business card is small, it is a less obvious opportunity to improve the environment. However, recent printing and technology solutions provide a wealth of options for increasing the efficiency of business cards as a communication tool.
If a large number of designers adopted any of these methods, the reduction of the environmental impact that billions of business cards create every year would be substantial. To run a company, no matter how hard you may try, you will probably still need to print business cards, stationary and promotional materials. The key is to reduce the impact of your print materials as much as possible while maintaining their effectiveness as business tools. This is becoming less of a trade off in many ways, and the solution will be different for everyone. With a little research you can make a large impact.
Pick the Right Printer
Traditional offset printing uses harmful chemicals and contaminates water during the process of creating negatives (film) and/or burn plates (usually some type of polyester material). Another set of chemicals is then used to make the plate ready for the press. In some shops, like ours, a process called DTP (Direct-To-Plate) is used which removes the negative (film) process entirely, and files are sent from the computer directly to our metal plate system. These are also recyclable. And they often produce a better end product. Also some newer offset printing technologies use absolutely no chemicals throughout the entire process, are smaller, and use less electricity. Ask your print about the details of their printing process, you will quickly find which ones are paying attention to these details and which ones are not.
Also, look local. The closer the printer is to you, the less impact your product being shipped will have. Consider a local printer that you can build a close relationship with. I have worked with many local printers that will personally drop off a project when completed.
Are you a green printer that cares about sustainability? Leave your company name and website in the comments and I will add your company to this blog post.
People often say that you can only go green by not printing. This isn’t the case… and is not how the subject should be approached. While technology solutions should be considered, the overarching goal should be to reduce your paper, material waste, and harmful byproducts. One of the easiest way to reduce paper is to simply use a smaller card.
Websites, printers, and customers alike are beginning to experiment with smaller business cards. Beyond the simple fact that they use less resources, they are for now a unique delivery of the product and therefore tend to garner more attention.
Pick the Right Paper and Ink
When choosing paper stocks, look for products that have an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) tag on them. These organizations help to certify that forests being used for the paper are being managed in a sustainable manner. Also, look for FSC/SFI certified printers.
Aim for 100% post-consumer content and soy (or vegetable) based inks. While these options use to be difficult to find, they are becoming more common, especially with many states requiring all government printing reach a certain level of post-consumer product. Before selecting a printer, ask to see a swatch book for their available paper stocks. Also ask for soy (vegetable) based inks to be used on your job. Soy (aka Vegetable)-based inks are a more natural alternative to the old-style Petroleum-based inks.
Avoid plastic cards for the obvious reason.
Use Digital Cards
Palm allowed the digital sharing of contact info a while back. With the popularity of the iPhone and Blackberry, exchanging digital business cards, with no paper or ink, will only increase in popularity. One promising iPhone app is SnapDat, which allows easy exchanges via usernames and using multiple cards. Also, if the person you are trying to exchange info with is not a user or iPhone owner, you can simply send your vCard to their email using SnapDat. This is just one of many existing digital options that are sure to grow and improve.
Take Photos of Cards
With the rise of applications like Evernote, that recognize the text of business cards and other print/signage you save to the software, storing photo versions of information is becoming more viable. Personally, I have tried this with the iPhone unsuccessfully. However, I have seen it work with phones that have better cameras and some people are making it work for the iPhone. While not feasible for many right now, people will find a lot of value with this solution in the near future. Just remember, for this to contribute to sustainability you actually have to give the business card back to the owner for them to reuse.
And to echo one of the points from my Green Web Hosting post, always try to do business with companies that purchase carbon credits to offset their carbon footprint. It’s not going to make your job look better, but it will help promote business to be more eco-friendly. The more questions consumer ask of businesses about sustainability the more businesses will see it in their best interest to seek out green solutions on their own.
Have your own green business cards or a method I did not mention? Add it to the comments. And give some love to PrintingResponsibly.com if you are thinking of getting green biz cards of your own.