Carbon Footprints a Lighter Tread

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

For many years the graphics industry has been doing its bit to minimise carbon footprints, mostly because cutting waste saves money and time. But whatever the motivation, together with other industries we may be helping to make a difference. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reckons that global efforts to mitigate climate change are having a positive influence on overall carbon emissions. It seems that they are not getting worse. Is this progress?

In 2014 global carbon dioxide emissions were 32.3 billion tonnes, which the IEA says is the same as for 2013 which means emissions are holding steady for the first time in ages. The contribution of printing and publishing to the IEA’s number is not known, however it is likely to be trivial compared to the global pollution associated with energy generation. The slowdown in carbon dioxide emissions may be down to rapidly developing countries, such as China, choosing more environmentally friendly energy sources such as solar, hydro and wind instead of fossil fuels.

This would be impressive but it’s probably not the case. Rather more likely is that the recent economic slow down in Asia means that as manufacturing activity contracts, factories are using less coal than they did in the boom years. But whatever the cause, the overall carbon footprint picture’s improving so maybe we are indeed making progress. Awareness of the need to curb carbon emissions, recycle and manage waste is definitely rising. Governments are making an effort to implement stricter rules on emissions. And there is a steady move towards using renewable energy. Add it all up and this could be why emissions have flatlined of late.

Within the graphic arts, the move to renewable energy sources has been meandering at best, however there are some stars out there. And press manufacturers, such as Heidelberg and HP, are all working hard to keep driving down the carbon footprint of their products, in manufacture and in use. Even though economic activity in the graphics business is improving, overall carbon footprint may indeed be falling.

Fortunes in the graphics industry have definitely improved over the last year or so: according to our data, installations of new kit in 2014 were substantially higher than average for the years following the global recession, especially for digital presses and related kit. So it is very encouraging that we are seeing a slowdown in global carbon emissions. The IEA say that this is the first time since 1975 that such a reduction has not been due to economic slowdown. Progress indeed!

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The Verdigris Project investigates the environmental impact of print media and provides information about sustainability initiatives for the international printing community. Keep up to date with the weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner.