Green machines

Green printing is a term that is splashed across PowerPoint presentations and countless advertising campaigns, but what it means to individual organisations can look quite different to the marketing jargon. Nathan Statz investigates what printing green really means.

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By  Nathan Statz Published  April 11, 2009

Green printing is a term that is splashed across PowerPoint presentations and countless advertising campaigns, but what it means to individual organisations can look quite different to the marketing jargon. Nathan Statz investigates what printing green really means.

If you ask someone who sells printers, no doubt they will tell you that what they are selling is fantastic and even better for the environment than sunshine and consistent rainfall. They can also claim that just about anything is green-friendly as there is no industry-wide standard for printers other than the trusty Energy Star rating, which only covers electricity usage.

While energy efficiency is a big part of green printing, and planet earth is no doubt thankful for the reduction in CO2, it is not the beginning and end of a green printing strategy. Even the local sales representative will tell you that an integral part of the green printing process is enabling the features that come with your printer, such as double-sided printing and draft mode - though they might not mention this to you until you have purchased a fleet of shiny new printers.

"A quick look at the current situation in the Middle East shows many companies are slowly moving towards green printing, much of the awareness comes from the environmental standards, like ISO:14001," said Abdul Rehman Mughal, technical support manager at the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone Authority.

Mughal is no stranger to the intricacies of green printing, as he is spearheading the free zone's quest for a green printing strategy. The authority recently underwent an extensive auditing process to be ISO 14001:2004 certified, which is no mean feat when a large number of organisations in the free zone are involved in the chemical industry. This also means that everything needs to be up to scratch - even down to the way print cartridges are disposed of when they run out of ink or toner.

The free zone is currently looking into internal processes - more so than technology - as Mughal and his team hammer out the draft policies for the upcoming strategy.

"At the end of the day you can buy the best piece of technology, but if the people who are running it are not any good, then it is not worth it," said Mughal. "I can give a Ferrari to a person who does not even know how to drive - but does it make sense? No, it doesn't. I will only give the Ferrari to the people who really know how to drive."

When it does come to the technology, Mughal explains that the free zone will be on the lookout for improved print and power efficiency from their machines, as well as low ink utilisation so they can throw away fewer cartridges, in addition to the basics like the number of pages printed per minute.

Vendor view

One of the quirks about green printing is that it means something different to just about every organisation. The actual term can be interpreted to be purely about power efficiency or solely about ink and paper usage; you could even define it as printing green-tinted pages from your closest colour laser. This is largely due to the problem that there is no such thing as a truly green printer because there is no industry-wide standard of classification.

Dan Smith, general manager of integrated marketing in the MEA region at Xerox, believes that one of the reasons why there is no standard at the moment is the fact that the industry would have to agree on one.

"It is fair enough saying this is a green printer or that's a green process, that's environmentally friendly, but there has to be a commonality about that," he added.

Despite this, Smith explains that there are a number of ways you can measure the green credentials of a printer.

"You can look at energy usage, so is the machine Energy Star compliant, does it power down at the right time, you can look at waste produced - on an average laser printer it produces quite a lot of waste, even the packaging that goes around the toner cartridge and the toner cartridge itself is waste" he said.

Smith believes that businesses and people want to be green but they need to have a reason to do it: "If it's going to cost you a fortune to be green then it is not a hugely compelling argument. The good news is that green printing, or being green in your printing, is actually beneficial to you business-wise - it's a reduction in paper usage, a reduction in energy usage, and all of these things are a cost to a business or a consumer," added Smith.

Reduced costs are one of the major draw cards for businesses, particularly in the current climate. While it is a nice perk to be able to feed your public relations machine the news about your green printing achievements, the report that will draw the biggest smile in the boardroom is the reductions in the accounts ledger.

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