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Flexo Sustainable : Winter 2008
essential First steps to sustainability By Steve Bolton W ith the increased interest in sustainability today, printers and packaging converters are being asked to consider the effects of the complete lifecycles of their ma- terials and products on human and environmental health. This call is coming from customers, government regulators in various countries, non-profit organizations, and the broader public—all of whom are becoming more concerned about the “sustainability” attributes of products within the marketplace. This call is growing louder, as the number and diversity of stakeholder groups facing manufacturers continues to expand. Today, everyone seems to be interested in “green.” Following from enhanced scientific knowledge about chemicals in the environment, press headlines about product recalls and unintended ingredients, and a growing interest in the ecological footprint of decisions, printers and converters need to demonstrate sustainability commitment, improvement and leadership. In response, these industries are evaluating new measures of quality for their materials and finished products, the manufacturing processes that create them, and their potential impacts following post-consumer use and disposal. True leadership opportunities lie with strategies that create wholly positive outcomes—win-win-win for the company, its stakeholders and the environment—instead of simply minimizing the harm created by a single activity or product ingredient. One way to consider impact is to focus on both the micro and the macro. Let’s take the micro level first: Ingredient selection for a specific ink, for example, can alter the final environmental impact of that ink. Do you select pigments containing toxic heavy metals and chlorine, as well as additives that include polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)? Or do you avoid those substances and use more ecologically-intelligent ingredients to prevent lifecycle concerns through upfront design? Now, for the macro: Take that single ink that comprises +/- 1 percent of a package; small impact, right? However, begin to multiply that ink on one box by 5 million boxes or more, per year, shipped around the world, with unknown end-of-life scenarios— recycling, composting, landfilling, controlled incineration, uncontrolled incineration—and you can begin to see how a small www. f le xomag.com problem can become a large one, very quickly. Ink, printing and packaging ingredient decisions being made ev- ery day are creating unintended consequences that potentially can affect both human health and the environment as these substances and their by-products build up in the background environment. Even recycling—viewed as the environmentally responsible end-of-life for packaging—is not an absolute panacea. Inks, adhesives and other components on substrate materials potentially can interfere with recycling processes, become part of the resulting recycled fiber, and be carried into future uses with unknown end-of-life scenarios after each subsequent use. Preventing such problems is where innovative, thoughtful design has its value. Relatively simple, educated decision-making about ingredient choices can eliminate many harmful impacts and create materials that are more safely and perpetually recyclable or compostable—not only eliminating waste, but, as architect/ designer William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart say, eliminating the very concept of waste. Cradle to Cradle design The concept of sustainable design highlights the effort to recast typical measures of material and product quality—cost, performance and aesthetics—to include and apply new objectives, such as ecological intelligence and social responsibility. The cradle-to-cradle framework moves beyond the traditional goal of reducing the negative impacts of commerce (eco-efficiency) to a new paradigm of increasing its positive impacts (“ecointelligent design”). At its core, cradle-to-cradle design perceives the safe and productive processes of nature’s “biological metabolism” as a model for developing a “technical metabolism” flow of industrial materials. Product components can be designed for continuous recovery and reutilization as biological and technical nutrients within these metabolisms. The cradle-to-cradle design perspective also addresses energy, water and social responsibility through the following tenets: • Waste equals food. Design products and materials with lifecycles that are safe for human health and the environment and that can be reused perpetually through biological and technical metabolisms. Create and participate in systems to collect WINTER 2008 Sustainable FLEXO 13