Why Print Media Is Still Green

One of the big arguments made for the switch from printed marketing to digital is that it’s far more “green” to send an email than a brochure by mail. Fortunately, the printing industry has responded with some wonderful changes that have made printing one of the greenest industries on the planet. From special inks to recycled paper to planting more trees than are used and improved logistics, printing is green again.

One of the biggest shifts has been in the use of special certifications of paper that has been used from sustainable forests. It’s a huge change of paradigm for printing companies. These certifications are something you can tout in your printed materials, by the way. So take some time to learn about these green initiatives so you can educate your more sensitive customers on how you’re making an effort to be responsible, or simply so that you can make sure you are using the right printing company for your printed materials.

SFI Certification

If you are unfamiliar with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Program or SFI, it is a forestry certification program that promotes the responsibility of taking proper care of the environment. They believe in protecting the quality of water, the wildlife, and the environment as a whole. The certification program feels strongly about diversity and wants to help species who are currently at risk while also helping to conserve forests and basically save the planet, one step at a time. More and more printing companies are now only using paper that has been certified by the SFI, which means that the paper was produced responsibly, from the trees cut down to the production plant.

Vegetable-based Inks

Many printing companies are also now using environmentally friendly ink, relying on vegetable based ink instead of those that are harmful for the environment. The vegetable based ink actually helps to prevent the amount of certain compounds that are released out into the air when the printing process takes place, ultimately helping to promote better air quality for all. Some printing companies are also avoiding using certain colors of ink, particularly those that contain pigments that are considered heavy-metal.

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Of course, if you pay the right price, most green printing companies will still use metallic inks if you specify. The best companies, though, do not advertise this on their product pages. And you as a print purchaser can do your part to make sure you only choose inks that are vegetable-based, rather than metallic.


More and more print products can now be produced with recycled paper, which you can choose for certain printing jobs to help reduce waste. You can also make sure that the printing company you use participates in recycling programs with the waste from their cutting machines and office trash. Vegetable-based inks can be recycled as well, so check with your printer to make sure they take proper measures to recycle their inks.

Printing is Greener than Digital

Of course, this statement has its limits, but there are many applicable statistics out there to prove that at times printing is greener than using a computer:

  • Printing produces more trees than digital – for every tree cut down by the printing industry, three more are planted.
  • Digital versions of reading materials produce more CO2 emissions than a printed version.
  • On average, individuals use nearly 2.5 times more energy to power a single laptop than the amount of energy that was used to produce that same person’s paper materials used in a year.
  • In the US, 60% of the paper we print was produced using biofuels.
  • The materials used in digital devices are toxic to the environment; most paper is produced with non-toxic materials.

Really, the argument that print is hurting the environment is no longer valid. However, this does not mean that those of us who use printing in our business should just assume that every printed product we purchase is green. Ultimately, we have to educate ourselves and check on our sources to see if our printing company truly knows what it takes to make their overall impact on the environment a positive one.

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 4

  • “One of the greenest industries on the planet”? Are you on drugs? I don’t think one could even list the dozens of industries that are greener than print.

    • Lol…no, not on drugs. :) I agree that there are very many green industries, and will concede that my statement could have been a bit of a hyperbole. However, the reason why I felt so confident in making this statement is that paper and many inks are now environmentally friendly…for every tree that is cut down for paper, 3 more are planted. Vegetable-based inks are non-toxic to the environment.

      Unfortunately, where my statement may not work is for those printing companies who do not go above and beyond to ensure that ALL of their workplace is eco-friendly, from electricity use to recycling waste, etc. was my reference point and they are highly concerned about limiting their carbon footprint, but not all printing companies may do the same. So I can see why you may think I was on drugs when writing this piece. ;)

  • Good article Tara. First time I have seen the idea that paper is greener than digital. In our company, the main part of our business is printing, and it is a struggle to remain relevant as more and more organizations switch to online surveys. For the last several years, we have made it a goal to be as green as possible with recycling, using recycled materials, and striving to be energy efficient. I just published a blog article addressing the sustainability issue.

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