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Greening Print Marketing: Does Sustainability Matter to Print Buyers?

When I was first asked to write for The Inspired Economist on the issue “greening” print marketing, I was excited about the opportunity to talk about something I’m passionate about—the ability to use today’s print technologies to make a practical difference in our stewardship of the environment.

After all, you can’t see the immediate effects of reducing your carbon footprint or reducing your use of virgin paper. When you use the flexibility provided by digital printing technologies to green your print market, you can.

When you move to a full “just in time” inventory management solution, you see empty space in your warehouse instead of stacks of wastestream-clogging paper, books, or leaflets.

Instead of sending 10,000 64-page four-color college coursebooks covering every class known to mankind, you send out 16-page personalized booklets containing only information relevant to each prospective student, you see a tangible reduction in your impact on solid waste—48,000 pages worth.

But do others feel the same way? According to an online “Quick Poll” conducted by Print Buyers Online, a free educational online community, 73% of print buyers do, in fact, feel that sustainability is becoming more important in their companies. This leaves some work yet to be done—26% still say no—but this is an impressive number.

The question is, how is this sustainability being accomplished? Is it “pie in the sky” idealism? Or is it being accomplished through practical, achievable steps?

Greening of print marketing through changing business and marketing models through the use of just in time printing, Web-to-print-driven marketing models, 1:1 (personalized) printing, and others is a practical, achievable step. The question is, if yours is one of the 73% of companies that sees sustainability and environmental issues becoming more important, are you looking at—or overlooking—the real “greening” opportunities print marketing provides?

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.


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  1. I’d agree, with today’s technology there is no or little need to not use Print On Demand methods. The book industry is slowly catching up to this, but it makes sense in terms of the environment – print only what is needed or when a book is ordered. Don’t print 100,000 books, sell 25,000 and remainder or shred the rest.

  2. I actually use this technology myself. I have a small, niche publishing company, and when Lightning Source started offering full distribution and printing services, I switched from straight short-run POD (with boxes stacked to the ceiling in my office) to a zero inventory model. The per-book cost is 50% higher than the straight POD model, but my margins are higher because I don’t pay for packaging, shipping, or administrative.

    I wish I’d had that option when I wrote my book on self-publishing back in 2001. I ordered too many copies and ended up throwing many of them away because the industry changed so quickly that the unsold books quickly went out of date. So I ended up throwing out, not just a carton-load of books, but books with coated covers, which are not friendly to the recycling stream. Hard financial AND environmental lesson learned!

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