by Erin McKittrick || March 15 2007
strip of cards

Ok, so this week I thought I'd talk about printing. But I've been incredibly busy with my other major project in life - an upcoming 4000 mile expedition and environmental advocacy project on the northern Pacific coast, so I haven't learned as much about printing as I'd like. Today, it'll be a pretty quick and dirty calculation.


The main thing I was able to find out was that soy-based inks are more environmentally friendly than petroleum-based inks, largely because they produce less Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are a hazard both to the environment and to the workers in the print shop. Some colors can also have heavy metals in them, but not generally black, which is all we use for the cards. Soy-based inks are pretty common, but I'm not sure whether our printer used them or not. (I've asked, haven't yet heard back).

printing vs paper and glass
Printing vs Paper and Glass

Energy and CO2 emissions

Ok, so here's my quick and dirty calculation. I went back to our friends at the Energy Information Administration and their "Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey".

I compared the numbers for the Paper Industry to the numbers for the Printing and Related Support Industry, to get a rough idea of their relative impacts. On a national level, printing uses about 4% as much energy as paper.

Putting that into my graphs along with paper and glass, the printing is a pretty minimal relative impact - even if my number is way off.

But that's just for energy, and doesn't take into account the VOCs and other toxics. Choice of printing ink may well be important for those reasons.