From our perspective, sustainability comprises economic, social, and ecological dimensions. While the social dimension improves year after year, prices do increase due to a scarcity of raw materials, rising energy prices and reduced production capacities.
The second major sustainability dimension is ecological sustainability. Here we are observing – in our opinion – a risky trend: namely that an environmental certificate should justify a printed product. Unfortunately, however, a printed product that has no effect on the recipient is nothing more than a waste of resources, no matter what certification is carried.
We believe that a printed product is only sustainable if it achieves the desired effect on the recipient and is produced as responsibly and gently as possible. We call this Impact Driven Print.
The optimal impact is achieved when the effect / output is maximized, and the input is minimized. Some of the best educational work – not work lobbying for one of the various certificates – can be found in Marko Hanecke's blog printelligent (in German). Among many interesting pieces, you can find an interview with Metapaper in which we talk about our sustainability position…. Marko kindly agreed to let us put a translation of his interview here in our blog. To find the original interview in German, please visit the blog printelligent.
"A product that has no effect on the recipient is a waste of resources."
Does print still have the right to exist in the digital age? We can answer this question with an emphatic YES. Increasingly, we are faced with questions of sustainability. Industry communication on this is strongly interest-driven, rarely objective and almost always one-dimensional. A good way to deal with this complex topic in a polyphonic way is through the interview series: Print is not Bad.
Here I would like to let various players in the industry have their say, find out how they understand sustainability and what specific measures they take. Today in the ring: Axel Scheufelen, founder of the online print and paper specialist, Metapaper. (Marko Hanecke, printelligent)
Q: Hello Axel, for those who don't know you: What exactly do you do at Metapaper?
A: Sometimes I ask myself that too ;-). Jokes aside. Metapaper is a platform that brings agencies and their customers together with the best paper mills and printing companies. Always with the aim of producing high-quality and sustainable printed matter. If you will, we are the first dating platform for good print products on exciting papers.
Q: How do you define sustainability in general and in relation to Metapaper in particular? What specific measures are you taking in the company?
A: This is really not a trivial question:
First, for us, sustainability means that a product works well in a social, economic and ecological context. Social sustainability means, for example, complying with European standards for minimum wages or working standards. Economic sustainability means that our paper and print partners must and are allowed to earn just as much money on paper and print as we do. We can only develop something new if we are profitable and reinvest part of the profit. The third level is probably the one you're getting at, environmental sustainability. This is about achieving the best possible impact of a print product, i.e. an optimal ratio of output (effect) to input (use of resources).
Second: As far as the use of resources, i.e. input, is concerned, it is about how deeply and networked one thinks about the influencing factors and how we as a company can influence these factors and to what end. A simple example: Our servers, our office, etc. are powered by renewable energy. We can influence that directly. The CO2 emissions generated by a print product, on the other hand, are much more complex. Our influence on the reduction of real emissions, i.e. without trading in certificates, is only indirect and correspondingly less. Nevertheless, it is an important topic that we keep addressing and on which we want to develop further.
Q: And how do you define a sustainable print product? Which criteria must be met for this?
A: As I said, for us it is about the impact that a printed product has. Even the most ecologically sustainable print product consumes resources. If it has no effect on the recipient, then it shouldn't be produced. So, the key question is:
"How does a printed product have to be designed to have an impact?"
Ideally, a print object reaches several recipients, simply because it is extremely well made and passed on. The second step is then about the optimal input for the printed product. The right print run - that will speak more and more in favor of digital printing in the future - and of course the right paper. In addition to the output concept, three elements are decisive for the material: sustainable forestry or recycling, the CO2 balance and thus the use of regenerative energies, both directly and indirectly.
Since many raw materials are sourced globally, sulfur emissions must also be taken into account in shipping. But what is important, and unfortunately too little communicated, is that a product that has no effect on the recipient is a waste of resources - regardless of which certification it has. The communication goal must not be to produce a product with certificate A, B or C, but rather to produce an effective print product.
Q: You sell an exquisite selection of digital printing papers. All fresh fiber substrates are FSC or PEFC certified. What speaks against certification according to the Blue Angel?
A: I would like to emphasize once again that it is primarily about the effect on the recipient, and that one should only consider what is the best possible paper for achieving the objective after defining the communicative target. Just because a paper has the Blue Angel doesn't mean it has to work. Or, to put it another way, there are very few papers with the Blue Angel in the premium segment in which we operate. Most of the appropriately certified papers would not work with our target group.
"A certificate - no matter which one - must never justify a printed product, that would be a waste."
Only effective print products can be sustainable. But: Of course, we also have recycled papers in our range that are produced 100% or 60% from recycled cellulose and are, for example, FSC-certified.
Q: Recycled papers are said to be more environmentally friendly than papers made from fresh fibers. Does this distinction make sense at all, and isn't it perhaps even misleading?
A: Here, too, it is about the point of view. In principle, recycling always makes sense. But one could also argue that we shouldn't print at all, because then no more resources would be consumed. But this point of view is also misleading, since communication is then carried out differently and resources are used up again. Digital media also needs energy.
"Recycled paper can be just as right as wrong when it comes to the use of resources."
If you look at the CO2 footprint, fresh fiber papers from renewable energies are better than recycled papers from factories with a high proportion of fossil energies. In general, a certain proportion of fresh fiber will also be required in the future in order to produce recycled paper at all. Both should be produced as gently as possible. Both should then also generate a positive effect on the recipient.
Q: What speaks against a larger proportion of recycling in the production of your printing substrates?
A: At the moment, the availability of high-quality recycled pulp is a limiting factor. As many have probably already noticed, this is currently a scarce commodity with long delivery times. We just booked a route on recycled paper from Europe yesterday with a delivery time of over two months. In a market that doesn't like planning more than 4-5 weeks. However, we assume that the situation will improve at the beginning of 2022 and that we will then be able to further expand both our recycled papers and our papers made from alternative fiber materials.
Q: You run papers with a proportion of fibers from e.g. hemp or straw. Grass or Silphie paper is also on everyone's lips at the moment. According to the suppliers themselves, there are major environmental advantages compared to conventional printing substrates. Is that a useful addition or even an alternative to the conventional raw material wood?
A: I think, in principle, it makes sense to think about the use of alternative fiber materials in order to gain experience and learn whether they are sensible alternatives to the classic wood fiber. In perspective, when the raw material capacities are expanded and the quality of the products improves a little, it can be very exciting. However, it is currently the case that, as a rule, papers are not produced exclusively from alternative fiber materials, but only proportionately. In our straw or hemp paper, for example, only 30% of alternative fibers are used, as otherwise we would have problems with the stability of the paper. 70% are still conventional wood fibers. As far as I know, the situation is similar with the various other alternative fibers such as grass or silphie.
Q: How will METAPAPER develop further? What are you planning for the next few years?
A: Our goal is to become the leading platform for fine print in continental Europe. Therefore, our focus is the further development of the Printfarm - here it will be possible to commission complex print objects very easily. This will probably result in a gradual further development of our paper range. In addition, the focus is on expansion in Western Europe with a focus on France, a very exciting and, for us, growing market.
Q: Let's take a look into the future of the printing industry. How will the industry and the print medium develop? Is sustainability the determining topic of the future?
A: Sure, of course. Ecological sustainability will become even more of an issue, because we all have a shared responsibility to halt climate change. Good print products can help companies to get their message across effectively and sustainably in two senses, ideally not just to one but to several recipients. However, the main driver for print will still be digitization, i.e. the future role of print in the communication mix, as well as access to print for the younger generations via digital channels.
Q: Last question: When was the last time your green conscience was scratched?
A: This week. A friend showed me the CO2 emissions of my return flight from Stuttgart to Hamburg: 324kg. The train, on the other hand, is 40kg. 324kg is also 4% of the annual consumption of a citizen in Germany. 4% for a two-hour-light! My resolution: Flying within Germany is a thing of the past.
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