A prominent print-buying organization is about to propose legislation that would provide U.S. government subsidies for “green” printing – an interesting idea that could lead to even more interesting debates.
Here’s an excerpt of a message that Suzanne Morgan, president and founder of Print Buyers Online and a well-known commentator on print-buying issues, sent Friday to PBO’s email subscribers:
"On July 19, 2010 at the ninth annual Print Oasis Print Buyers Conference in Washington, DC, Print Buyers Online.com will be unveiling legislation that will be presented to Congress starting on Wednesday, July 21 that can save your company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or more on print. This legislation proposes that any print project that is bought in an environmentally sustainable way is eligible for refunds of state sales taxes by the Federal government.
"To determine the cost savings for your company, you only need to calculate the percentage of print jobs that meet sustainable standards (can be recycled, include 15% or more PCW, are printed on paper that is legally harvested, etc.) and then calculate the sales tax of those jobs, to appreciate the enormous cost-savings."
Any effort to define what constitutes sustainable printing that is eligible for a federal subsidy (let’s not mince words: a tax rebate is a subsidy) would kick up huge arguments among printers, manufacturers, print buyers, and environmentalists.
A requirement that the material be recyclable should favor paper – until the plastics-industry lobbyists jump in and start arguing that various plastic substrates are, at least in theory, recyclable.
Is paper with 15% post-consumer waste green if the other 85% comes from the clear-cutting of tropical rainforests? Should the new law follow the government’s purchasing standards, which consider sawdust to be post-consumer waste but unsold magazines to be pre-consumer waste? (Most other countries, by the way, don’t distinguish between pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content.)
Almost everyone agrees that making paper with recycled pulp is great if it diverts waste from a landfill. But what if the result is upcycling – diverting low-grade waste paper from its most efficient use, such as making newsprint or cardboard, to the manufacture of high-quality papers? (Paper industry analyst Verle Sutton calls North American recycled newsprint mills “an endangered species” because recycled pulp prices have been bid up so high.)
Should virgin fiber come only from certified-forestry operations? If so, which certification standards are acceptable? Imagine the battle between the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative over that one.
And what about carbon footprint? Should the law favor paper made at mills that use hydropower or biomass or products produced at wind-powered printing plants?
Must ink contain soy to be environmentally friendly, as some claim? Or are other inks even better because they contain higher levels of other renewable material, as others claim?
Even defining printed matter could be challenging. Wallpaper, linoleum flooring, T-shirts, and electrical circuits can all be printed. Procter & Gamble recently revealed that it prints an absorbent gel onto Pampers with Dry Max diapers. (I tried to find out what printing process was used but couldn’t get to the bottom of it.)
Ms. Morgan and PBO deserve kudos for trying to encourage environmentally friendly printing. If only we could all agree on exactly what that means.
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