BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 07 April '17

Actually, don’t – reading a paper could be more eco than consuming your news online

This article appears in the spring issue of MyGreenPod.com Magazine, distributed with the Guardian on 07 April 2017. Click here to read the full digital issue online.

Some would argue there’s no longer a place for printed communications at all: why waste paper and ink now everything can be published online and accessed for free all round the world?

While digital publishing can reach lots of people, it has its drawbacks. Content is often only skimmed as we navigate distracting pop-ups, and content is presented in bite-sized chunks to allow for an interrupted experience. All this waters down the message that’s finally received.

More importantly, online publishing has its own carbon footprint – and it’s bigger than you might think. A 2007 report from Stockholm’s KTH Centre for Sustainable Communications compared the environmental impacts of reading a newspaper online, in print and as an e-paper.

The study found that, with a reading time of 30 minutes per day, the environmental impact of the web-based paper was generally in the same range as that of the printed one.‘When you factor in all the CO2 impacts, anything that takes 25 to 30 minutes and you’re better off reading a physical newspaper than online content’, explains Gareth Dinnage, managing director of Seacourt, the Oxford-based environmental printing company. ‘That’s for a newspaper press; if you factor our processes into that I suspect that the like-for-like time would drop to under three or four minutes.’

GETTING IT RIGHT

It might sound counterintuitive but, as far as Gareth’s concerned, printing can – and should – be the one and only truly sustainable communication channel. Seacourt is already the proud owner of three Queens Awards for Sustainable Development, with a roster of clients – from Triodos Bank to Patagonia – who put integrity at the core of their business.

‘It comes down to brand reputation’, Gareth explains. ‘Organisations understand that you can’t say one thing and do another – you need to show transparency and leadership and be beyond reproach in all that you do.’

Take, for example, a sustainability report from a company pledging to dial its environmental commitments up a notch. The report’s words and images will be carefully chosen, but there’s more to communication than meets the eye. If that same report were printed on virgin paper using inks full of chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), how seriously could we take the environmental commitments of the company that produced it?

REINVENTING THE PRESS

Most of us accept we need a mass shift in behaviour if we’re going to set ourselves on a path to a sustainable future. But is it possible to get a message out to enough people to effect change without compromising somewhere? Absolutely, says Gareth: it is possible and his clients are already doing it.

Seacourt’s LightTouch printing process is an alternative to traditional lithographic presses, combining a waterless printing technique with LED drying. It’s a revolutionary process that eliminates any need to waste – or pollute – water, and uses energy-saving LED lights to dry ink instantly.

On top of that Seacourt – the first printing company in the world to achieve zero waste to landill – uses 100% renewable energy and its factory is carbon positive. It specifies recycled papers and uses natural inks with no VOCs.

By cutting water and toxic chemicals out of its printing process, Seacourt has been able to reduce VOC production by over 98.5% and save over eight million litres of fresh water over the last 10 years. But this is still the beginning of the journey as far as Gareth’s concerned. ‘We’re aiming to be the most sustainable printer globally and to become net positive for the economy, environment and society’, he tells us. ‘So in effect every print job we produce would have a beneit to the environment and society. That would really be something, right?’

Click here to find out more about Seacourt and its LightTouch printing technique.