As nonprofits, we still rely a good deal on direct mail and many other printed materials to engage our audiences. Once your materials are ready for the printer, are there any advantages of going green?

What Is Green Printing?

First, here's a little bit about what green printing is – and is not.

Green printing is different from conventional printing in that it tends not to use virgin-fiber paper, petroleum-based inks, toxic solvents, or chlorine-bleached papers.

It uses recycled content paper, and if the paper is glossy, it uses nontoxic coatings. When possible, it also uses processed chlorine-free paper. It uses nontoxic soy- and vegetable-based inks as well as nontoxic cleaning solvents for cleanup.

Green printers often go light on bindings. They avoid using bindings whenever possible. And if a binding is needed, then they try to use saddle-stitched bindings or cloth bindings with water-based adhesives.

All of these practices serve to make printed materials recyclable, nonpolluting, and much safer for workers. The question is whether or not all this is affordable and of decent quality.

Costs and Quality of Green Printing

I actually couldn’t find much noncommercial information that compares the costs of green printing with conventional printing. What I can say is that the price of recycled paper and processed chlorine-free paper has been steadily decreasing so that it is now quite competitive with conventional paper and has comparable quality. It’s much the same with soy-based inks. They used to be slower drying and poorer quality compared with petroleum-based inks, but now the quality and pricing is comparable. Huge industrial printers like newspapers have adopted soy-based inks and so have made the basic materials of green printing – recycled paper and soy-based inks – industry standard.

Advantages of Green Printing

The advantages of green printing are that it doesn't cost much more if any than conventional printing, the quality is now quite good, nonprofit audiences generally like to see that you use soy-based inks and recycled paper, and it makes your printed materials much more recyclable when people are done with them.

How to Find a Green Printer

The nonprofit that does the main certification in this field is the Forest Stewardship Council. They certify paper, paper merchants, and printers.

There is also a nonprofit green printing certification program by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), which is an organization that provides a certification label for sustainability in the graphic communications industry. They host a list of certified printers too.

Third Sector New England has a list of resources for finding green printers, including printers outside New England. Their recommended resources include:

More Information

Another resource I like is greenerprinter.com’s short blog series on green printing:

We’d love to hear about your experience using (or not using) a green printer. Send us your comments!