Look beyond the environmental label

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

One of the most significant labeling schemes in the graphics industry is the Greenguard certification programme for healthy indoor environments. In 2011this certification was acquired by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a global operation and one of the most respected certification bodies in the world. UL now oversees all aspects of Greenguard.

Following some market confusion as to their applicability, UL has updated the Greenguard certifications. Until last year the same certification scheme and logo could be used for all different print applications, including outdoor and indoor use. This is clearly not sensible as most people spend most of their time indoors so different applications require inks to have different properties. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, indoor pollution can be up to five times as harmful as the outdoor kind, mainly because of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) evaporations.

The Greenguard update means the certification for graphics applications has been split into three primary Greenguard categories: wallpaper (all walls in a room), decorative walls (one wall) and signage. For each category there are different limits, for instance to the total VOC emissions. End users and designers can now reliably factor in health and safety considerations when creating new print projects for interiors.

For UL the use of qualified evaluations has two benefits. It increases the number of certifications that the organisation can offer to companies, and it makes it easier for manufacturers, for instance of ink, to gain a certification because there are more options. For the user this could be confusing, but the restrictions do make an important difference for the market. Interior designers, who need to ensure that their designs are accurately produced, can use Greenguard certifications to confirm that the materials used are safe for the actual application.

Most manufacturers with an eye to the printed interiors market have achieved Greenguard certifications. But it’s important to check the application category and if a specific ink is included in the certification. For instance all HP Latex inks are certified for interior and exterior use with no restrictions. Roland DG’s TrueVIS ink is certified, but only for signage applications. Not all Fujifilm’s Uvijet inks are certified for all applications: Uvijet KV is not certified for wallpaper or decorative walls, for instance.

Certification is the only real way to reliably demonstrate safety for different print applications. Print buyers and designers who want to use a Greenguard certified product must absolutely check certifications for any applicable restrictions. It’s not enough just to cite Greenguard compliance. VOC emissions and chemical composition are a matter of public health and safety so check the certification small print before you commit to an ink for printed interiors.

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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.