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  • 13 Sep 2018

L&L turns 40: Green 101

What is the real meaning of ‘Going Green’?

With environmental issues having an increasing effect on the label industry, Danielle Jerschefske asked what is the real meaning of ‘Going Green’ in this award-winning article from 2007*.

More label buyers are asking printers how ‘green’ they are. Brands want to know what their suppliers are doing to support a ‘greener’ environment and what they can offer their demanding, ever-growing ‘green’ consumer population. So what is the meaning of green? A March 15, 2007, Wall Street Journal article defines green as: ‘a term used to describe products or materials that are renewable, recycled, low in chemical emissions or that are in any way touted to be good for the environment and/or human health.’ Green can also be used to describe an environmental business practice. Given such a broad definition, it is understandable that gross misconceptions exist from consumer to converter on what constitutes ‘green’ action. A converter needs to figure out what terms such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘renewable’ mean to their business; then learn to use ‘green’ business practices to embrace customer needs. It might be necessary to explain the trade-offs involved with ‘green’ actions. For instance, choosing to reduce your carbon footprint certainly helps reduce atmosphere-changing gases; however, the technologies used to filter the footprint may have offsetting, negative consequences.


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14000 Certification Series is a set of international standards from which an Environmental Management System (EMS) can be developed for the entire print process. It is important that a company consider ALL aspects of its operation when developing an EMS, which can be achieved either inside or outside the 14000 certification process. Once achieved, it is the company’s responsibility regularly to review the operational controls established through the EMS process, and make changes as needed. ‘Documentation of actions taken provides proof of accountability,’ explains Marcia Kinter, VP of government and business information for the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association. Documenting an EMS demonstrates ‘responsible care’.

Ask the right questions

Remember that a customer’s perception of terms such as ‘sustainability’ may not be what you think. Are they asking whether you track and implement current environmental regulations – or simply if you recycle?

Remember that waste and energy reduction, cleanliness standards, as well as safety thresholds, can all count as sustainable practices. Talk to your suppliers and find out if their products can meet your customers’ ‘green’ concerns.


Where can you get help in implementing your EMS? Trade associations are the primary resource for printers. In North America, national associations such as the Printing Industries of America, the Flexographic Technical Association and the Tag andLabel Manufacturers Institute are places to start. Local branches will have more detailed information on state and regional environment regulations and standards. In Europe, FINAT is in the process of developing recycling schemes for liner waste and keeps a close eye on upcoming environmental legislation from the European Union.

Another great resource for information is the Printers’ National Environmental Assistance Center. The PNEAC mission is ‘to assist regulatory agencies…by delivering current, reliable environmental compliance and pollution prevention information to printers…’ PNEAC offers case studies and fact sheets about environmental compliance and pollution for each sector of printing from offset to flexography.

The IoPP Sustainable Packaging Task Group is an additional source for ‘green’ information applicable to the industry. This group of packaging professionals works together to extend the work already achieved by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, focusing on green definitions, metrics and education.

A final word. Establish a ‘green’ identity as part of your branding strategy. Your environmental position should be clear and transparent. Consumers, customers and employees should all know what you do to be ‘green’ and how you enforce the company standards. Do your employees believe in being ‘green’? Is there a company plan in place to ensure that all ‘green’ goals can be properly met? Above all, is management on board with the ‘green’ initiative?

Bio-buzz words

Bio-degradable: the ability of a material, such as paper or plastic film, pressure-sensitive label stock or printed labels, to break down or decompose under ‘natural’ conditions. Often confused (sometimes deliberately so) with Compostable

Compostable: products which will bio-degrade under very specific environmental conditions, depending on factors such as oxygen, sunlight and the microbial environment. These conditions are often only met in an industrial composting system

Eco: concerned for living things and the environment

Eco-Label: a seal or logo indicating that a product has met a set of environmental or social standards

Environmental Management (ISO definition): ‘what an organization does to minimize harmful effects on the environment caused by its activities, and continually to improve its environmental performance’

Greenwashing: false image created by a corporation to appear environmentally friendly

Recyclable: materials that are able to be reprocessed and used again

Sustainable: applied to the label industry, it is a very broad term. It is best to listen and clarify with the customer to ensure you are catering to their specific needs

Green practice

Wal-Mart’s recent announcement of a ‘packaging scorecard’ for its 60,000 plus suppliers worldwide is guiding ‘green’ to mainstream. Started in February of this year, Wal-Mart has used this card to evaluate each supplier to determine who is ‘greener’ or more sustainable. By 2013 the company plans to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by five percent. Wal-Mart reports that suppliers are already filling the database. Is there a label scorecard in store?

The global Marks & Spencer retail chain has announced a plan to make itself carbon neutral, as well as eliminate waste going to landfill. This will certainly involve audits of its labels and packaging programs.

On the cutting edge of green innovation, Rich Cohen, founder of Distant Village Packaging, is a treeless paper supplier for custom handmade packaging. ‘The paper is made from wild grass, an Asian plant in abundance and renewable resource,’ he says. ‘We have already created rolls of paper and will introduce Pure label at this year’s Labelexpo Americas.’

*This article was first published in Labels & Labeling issue 2, 2007

This article was recognized by the Printers' National Environmental Assistance Center (PNEAC) in its 2007 Publication of the Year award in the Article category. 

Read Danielle's update article, Green 301, from 2017 here

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Danielle Jerschefske is Labels & Labeling's sustainability consultant.

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