How printing technology is changing the world for better environmental impact

Micro technologies that work in tandem to create efficient and environmentally safe output results in a positive total product life cycle of digitised printing, explains Katsuhisa Asari, managing director and S Parameswaran Iyer, head of corporate marketing and communications, Konica Minolta India.

17 Jan 2024 | By PrintWeek Team

Katsuhisa Asari, managing director, Konica Minolta India

In the realm of modern technology and digital dominance, one might assume that the age-old practice of printing is incongruous with sustainable principles. However, a closer examination reveals a remarkable transformation taking place within the printing industry, where innovative approaches and intelligent technologies are driving a better environmental impact. In the evolving landscape of printing, the industry is embracing sustainability and contributing to a greener future. Using data collected over 13 years, we intuited insights that inform our address to climate change, which recognise how essential printing technologies solve the problem of printing sustainably. Micro technologies that work in tandem to create an efficient and environmentally safe output results in a positive total product life cycle of digitised printing. There are several parameters to realise that change for a streamlined revolution. 

Rethinking materials and processes

Traditionally, printing relied heavily on resource-intensive materials and energy-consuming processes. However, the industry has made significant strides in adopting eco-friendly alternatives. By using ultra-bright LEDs with optical technology, the stellar images projected on the display panels of the devices are about 2.5-fold brighter than with the conventional models, but power consumption has been reduced by almost half. 

Similarly, a wide range of sustainable substrates are made available, including recycled paper, FSC-certified materials, post-consumer waste options, and even tree-free alternatives. By rethinking the materials used in printing, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint and minimise the depletion of natural resources.

Embracing digital printing’s environmental advantages

Digital printing, with its remarkable efficiency and versatility, has emerged as a key driver of sustainable printing practices. Unlike traditional methods, digital printers eliminate the need for etched metal plates, thus reducing energy consumption and waste generation. Improved polymerised toner quality has now enabled an environmentally sustainable print by utilising approximately 25% less water compared to a conventional pulverised toner. 

The use of electrostatic rollers, or drums, to apply toner enables precise colour application and eliminates bleeding. This not only ensures crisp and well-defined images but also enables printing on various materials, from packaging and plastics to fabrics and metal foils. By harnessing the power of digital printing, we unlock a realm of creative possibilities while minimising our impact on the environment.

Energy conservation: A paradigm shift

One of the fundamental pillars of sustainable printing lies in energy conservation. Digital printing, with its streamlined processes, offers remarkable energy efficiency compared to conventional printing methods. Industrial Inkjet printers, for example, reduce electricity usage by up to 57% compared to conventional screen-printing techniques. This reduction in energy consumption not only reduces operational costs but also has a significant positive impact on our carbon emissions. By embracing digital printing technologies, businesses can contribute to the global efforts to combat climate change.

Waste reduction and optimisation 

Historically, printing processes were associated with significant paper waste and resource inefficiencies. However, advancements in digital printing have revolutionised this landscape. Unlike offset printing, where each print design requires the creation of aluminium plates, digital printing eliminates the need for such laborious and wasteful practices. Moreover, using professional grade, first-rate print solutions led to a 61% reduction in CO2 emissions in the print product’s lifecycle, in fiscal 2021, compared to the fiscal year of 2005.

Additionally, digital printing allows for on-demand printing, eliminating the need for excessive inventory and reducing the risk of obsolete materials. This agile approach not only minimises waste but also optimises resource utilisation, making printing a more sustainable practice.

Smart technologies for sustainable printing

The integration of smart technologies has played a pivotal role in driving sustainable printing practices. Installing a gas turbine cogeneration system can provide 80-90% energy efficiency (general thermal power plants are at about 40%), which greatly contributes to energy saving and CO2 emission reduction by effectively using exhaust heat. 

Further, industrial inkjet printers, for instance, offer precise output control, eliminating the need for colour matching between devices and reducing preparation time. The Japan Federation of Printing Industries recognised this innovation, awarding Konica Minolta a three-star environmentally friendly product status. By harnessing the power of advanced technologies, such as IoT and automation, the printing industry can further enhance its environmental performance while improving operational efficiency.

Printing’s role in circular economy

The concept of a circular economy, where resources are used and reused in a closed-loop system, is gaining traction across industries. Printing has a vital role to play in this transformation. Through responsible material sourcing, recycling initiatives, and the adoption of biodegradable and compostable materials, the printing industry can contribute to the creation of a more sustainable circular economy. By reimagining the entire lifecycle of printed materials, from design to disposal, we can minimise waste and create a truly regenerative printing ecosystem.