BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 25 March '16

The printing industry’s ranked in the same environmental risk category as mining, nuclear and oil – so one company’s reinventing it

Most businesses need to use a printing service – whether it’s to create customer brochures, personalised direct mail, internal reports or large format display graphics.

The bad news is that most of these materials are printed using a process called offset lithography, or ‘offset litho’, which requires large volumes of water and highly toxic chemicals.

The impact of printing

After printing, most of this toxic mixture goes straight down the drain; waterways are polluted and the chemicals turn into airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to air pollution.

‘Not only does our industry use large volumes of fresh water and highly contaminating chemicals, but it also consumes a huge amount of power as many factories run 24 hours a day’, explains Gareth Dinnage, managing director of Seacourt printers. ‘The majority of printers will be running on energy produced by coal, oil or natural gas – all major contributors to CO2.’

Gareth adds that, while most printing companies recycle their printing plates and waste paper, most of the other waste – which is collected by commercial disposal organisations – ‘no doubt ends up in landfill’.

A call for revolution

As a result, the printing industry as a whole contributes heavily to global CO2 production, airborne VOC pollution, wasted and polluted water and general waste to landfill. In fact, the print industry’s potential to damage the environment is so great that Det Norsk Veritas ranks it in the same pollution insurance risk category as mining, oil exploration and the nuclear energy sectors.

But there’s no need for printers to continue using the traditional methods that cause this damage. Seacourt – one of the world’s leading environmental printers – has two Queen’s Awards for Sustainable Development under its belt and has created a revolutionary approach to printing that’s challenging business as usual.

Reinventing the industry

In 2015, Seacourt reinvented the printing press by combining a waterless printing technique with the world’s first waterless LED drying printing technology. This ‘LightTouch’ printing process now forms the backbone of Seacourt’s business.

Chemicals and water have been stripped out of the printing process, so all that’s used is VOC-free ink. No water, no chemicals, no seal varnishes or set-off sprays. In fact, Seacourt now uses less ink as it no longer needs to wash the press daily. According to Gareth, ‘it’s all about doing significantly more with significantly fewer resources’.

‘Becoming a waterless printer in 1997 was the start of our environmental journey; as well as helping us to reduce our water usage it meant we no longer needed to use environmentally damaging chemicals.’

Gareth Dinnage, managing director of Seacourt printers

The results

By cutting water and toxic chemicals out of its printing process, Seacourt has been able to reduce VOC production by 98.5% and save over eight million litres of fresh water over the last 10 years.

On top of these environmental achievements, Seacourt’s customers now receive a quality of print that wasn’t possible when the company was running conventional presses. With traditional offset lithography, the water and added chemicals dilute and damage the integrity of the ink dot and, as the ink dries, evaporation and absorption take their toll on the sharpness of the print and the vibrancy of colour.

Going waterless

In 1990 Seacourt became the second printing company in the world to attain EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) verification. In 2001 Seacourt was certified as carbon neutral and in 2003 the company switched to 100% renewable energy. In 2009 Seacourt finally broke the back of waste disposal and became the world’s first zero waste to landfill printing company.

New business models

Gareth believes many businesses are starting to realise that a simple linear business model is outdated, and that natural cost is a critical element that needs to be accounted for. Seacourt has been able to prove that having sustainability at the heart of a business model is a sound, sustainable long-term strategy.

Seacourt’s clients range from Triodos Bank to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Gareth is proud to be able to count some of the UK’s leading ethical and social organisations among Seacourt’s clients. ‘These businesses understand that for every action they take the reaction must have a minimal effect on the environment’, Gareth told us. ‘That’s why they choose to partner with Seacourt for their printed communications – we share the same beliefs and walk the same walk.’

Still, not all Seacourt’s clients are from the green sector. ‘For some, the priority is quality and service; the near-zero environmental impact is simply an added bonus. This in itself is great news as it means we are helping to extend an awareness of environmental impact into the mainstream, and therefore creating positive change that, with any luck, will accelerate to become the business norm.’

Making the change

Over the last 20 years of Seacourt’s 70-year history, the focus has been purely on improving the company’s environmental performance. ‘Financial implications are a secondary consequence’, Gareth told us, ‘and that’s what makes us fundamentally different from the rest of our industry. Unlike others we believe that running vegetable-based inks and having ISO14001 should be the start of the journey and not the end. If you know there’s a better way, then why wouldn’t you pursue it?’

A few other printers think the same way and have made the necessary changes, but for the majority it seems that financial implications are a barrier.

‘In business there are choices to be made – some harder than others. Making the right choices can have a financial impact over the short and long term: should I buy a new top-of-the-range car or should I put that money back into the company to improve its environmental performance? We stopped asking those questions years ago as the answers were obvious. Yes, everyone in our industry can change – all it takes is the will and commitment to do so!’

Gareth Dinnage, managing director of Seacourt printers

Gareth believes that Seacourt’s commitment to the environment – plus its revolutionary LightTouch printing process – provides a blueprint for how a printing company of the 21st century should look. ‘We honestly feel that if our industry shared in our approach towards best practice and sustainability’, Gareth explains, ‘then printing could become the one and only truly low-carbon mass communication channel.’

Click here to find out more about Seacourt and its environmentally friendly printing techniques.