Green Ties

NewPage Corporation is one of the largest pulp mill and paper distributing companies in the world and, at first glance, it seems to be a company that is taking its corporate responsibility seriously. Much of their website is devoted to the policies and systems put in place by NewPage to offset the carbon ‘footprint’ of the organisation. Their stated intentions are certainly commendable. Often times it is a lack of transparency and oversight that allow large companies to continue practices with high short-term returns at the expense of the natural environment in the long term.

In lieu of that, NewPage appears to be doing just what their name suggests; stepping up and educating the public and retailers on best practices when it comes to sustainability.

To this end they have commissioned Froeter Design to create a series of books that explain print technology and paper production in terms of its impact on the environment. In doing so they run the risk of falling on their own sword, or at least tripping on their own tree stump. Most consumers are savvy enough to recognise the irony in printing out 40 thousand glossy magazines about the depletion of our natural resources.

The specs for the print run reveal the advantages of their paper use when compared to ‘conventional printing practices':

This issue used 23,834 lbs. of 30 % post-consumer waste paper. The environmental savings from using this paper in lieu of virgin paper is equivalent to:
Wood usage: 11 trees not cut down
Wastewater: 35,542 gallons of wastewater flow saved
Solid waste: 2,158 lbs. of solid waste not generated
Greenhouse gasses: 7,398 lbs. net greenhouse gases prevented
Energy: 25,000,000 BTU’s energy not consumed

The ‘Ed‘ series is, ostensibly, an educational resource designed to highlight the impact of the paper and print industry on the environment. But where does it sit between corporate propaganda and promoting consumer awareness? NewPage and Froeter argue that 100% PCW (post-consumer waste) is not a viable option for most print applications. They bill their practices not as ‘green’, but as greener.

Which is to say that, compared to the most wasteful methods of printing, their systems bear up quite well. What we should be doing within the design and printing industry is re-defining where the benchmark is when it comes to sustainability – demanding at least 30% PCW and working up from there. They also point out that server farms for online content use up an inordinate amount of energy which can’t easily be offset simply by planting trees. While ‘E-Waste’ is a definite and growing concern it in no way absolves the paper industry from its responsibility to the environment.

Critics argue that documents about sustainability should lead by example. Ed #13 incorporates gloss covered sheets with metallic ink and UV coverage. In the comments on the job on For Print Only Jess Sands says that;

I would be happy to receive a copy of Ed 13, and to bite my tongue if you can explain to me how use of metallic ink (though sexy) serves the message of the piece? Or how printing 40,000 copies of this book serves the message (I would love to know when all those copies are finally distributed to people who will actually use them)? Or how a non-recyclable die-cut wheel with grommet serves the message?

As consumers and designers we should be promoting competition between major players like NewPage to see which organisation can maintain the best green credentials and part of that is ensuring that the benchmark for progress is not stuck in the distant past. If NewPage decides to rest on its laurels it may find itself without any shade.

Read what Ed has to say here. Read the discussion about the hard copy on For Print Only.