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Thinking green in the world of print

The UN describes sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This responsibility to future generations is something that many in the event industry are taking extremely seriously – so seriously that we’re all getting together to talk about it, regardless of any commercial rivalries that exist between us.


Steve Carolan, Print Manager


As founding members oisla, an organization created to make the event industry greener, we got together recently for a Sustainability Open Day, focusing on the print industry. It was a chance to share ideas and best practice, along with representatives from Smyle, Ice Experience, Amplify, DesignScene, and TRO. Our hosts were MacroArt, based near Cambridge, who have been working hard to reduce the impact of their processes on the environment. As a group, we focused on three main themes in our discussions around print sustainability: education, materials, and end of life (waste removal).

So, how can we use these themes to make the print industry more sustainable? 


1. Education. Sustainability needs to be considered from the start of the event planning process. Can you use more-environmentally-friendly materials in your banners? Do you need leaflets, or could you provide this information digitally? Have you thought about the type of paper you’re using? By thinking about these questions early on, we can ensure that sustainability is really embedded in the process. Understanding the impact an event could have is the first step towards making a positive change. isla has recently developed TRACE, a real-time tool that allows organizations to measure the carbon impact of their activities and identify opportunities for improvement. WRG is proud to be one of the first adopters of this.

2. MaterialsIt may seem a tall order to find materials that have a lower carbon footprint when you have printing needs for your event or exhibition, but they are out there. Using boards like Dufalyte or DISPA in your exhibition stands or event materials means you can recycle them after use rather than sending them to landfill. It is true that some of these greener boards do cost a little more, but when we recently did a cost comparison, it worked out at around £1 extra per A1 board, which was negligible in the overall budget. Likewise, aluminum is one of the easiest metals to recycle, so using this instead of steel has numerous benefits. From the point of view of supporting material at events, recycled paper used to have a poor reputation for quality and, in fact, green credentials, as a lot of bleach was used in its manufacture. However, since the Forest Stewardship Council took over, paper is a lot more sustainable, with the promotion of responsible management of the world’s forests. It’s all about supply and demand. If organizations demand more sustainable options, demand will increase, and the prices will fall.  

3. End of life (waste removal). By adopting some of the suggestions above, this stage of the event should already be much easier. Can you repurpose your stand or event materials? If you do need to give attendees any printed materials to take away, can you use biodegradable laminate? If you can recycle more of your materials and limit the number of physical promotional items, you’re already taking some important steps toward reducing your carbon footprint. 


It doesn’t all have to be about big changes, either. As our hosts told us, calibrating their printing presses twice a week has already made them more efficient, with fewer re-prints and an improved chance of spotting any problems in advance. Perhaps, most crucially, by getting together and sharing our expertise, we can all play our part in helping future generations to flourish. 



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