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Greening Print Marketing: Where to Find the Greenest Printers

Want to find a green printer? It depends on where in the country you are looking. This according to “Printing Goes Green: A What They Think Primer on Environmental Sustainability in the Commercial Printing Industry.”

According to an online survey conducted by What They Think in 2008. . .

  • If you’re looking for green, you’re more likely to find it among larger shops. Three-quarters (75%) of large shops (100+ employees) have implemented some kind of formal environmental initiative, compared to 40% of smaller shop (1-9 employees);
  • Look north. Shops in the Northeast are more likely to have formal environmental initiatives. Shops in the South and Pacific are the least likely;
  • Beware of greenwashing among smaller shops. Smaller shops (1-9 employees) are more likely “greenwash,” saying that they are green because they do simple things such as “promote recycled papers” while larger companies are more likely to “perform an environmental impact statement or audit” (34% of 100+-employee shops).
  • Commercial printers are more likely to have formal certifications than digital print shops and perform environmental impact audits. Not that these shops are actually more “green,” but commercial offset printing has a longer history and, over time, has needed to address a variety of environmental impacts due to effluents, emissions, consumables, and more. Thus, the higher level of certification is more reflective of its history than its greenness.
  • If you are looking for wind power, look among larger shops. Although 5% of printers say they purchase wind power, this rises to 9% of 50–99-employee shops and 8% of 10–19-employee shops.

In spite of these data, another piece of data particularly piqued my interest.

  • Environmental initiatives are far more important to small shops on a personal level than they are to large shops. 48% of shops with 1-9 employees said that environmental initiatives were more important to their companies than to their customers at this time compared to only 24% of 100+ employee shops. Likewise, 49% of the largest shops said that environmental initiatives were “critically important” to their customers, compared to 35% of the smallest shops.

In other words, if you want to support companies who have a philosophical commitment to green, support small to mid-sized shops.

This matches what I have seen anecdotally, as well. Large printers have a mandate to “go green” from their customers, and while they pay have environmental initiatives in place, they aren’t as deep or holistic as you see among the smaller shops. Among smaller shops, it’s not just a companywide “initiative” to look good for investors. It’s something the owner of the company is fundamentally committed to on a personal level. This often translates into deeper, more companywide sustainability initiatives.

So as you go green, start small.

Like this post? Read all of my “Greening Print Marketing” posts.

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. This is quite an interesting article to me. I work for a smaller sustainable digital print/copy shop, and in my experience, I haven’t seen the larger shops take too many environmentally-responsible steps. In our area, there’s only one printer that I know of that offers soy-ink and again, this is a smaller shop.

    I think it’s a valid point to say that the larger shops have more issues to be regulated and monitored. By mandating these companies follow EPA standards, they are forced to look at what they are doing as a company. Smaller shops, in my opinion, have less issues with waste, carbon emissions, etc. & in essence, already start out “greener” just by being smaller-scale.

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