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Apr 08, 2014
Verdigris Blog: Alphabet Soup for Printís Environmental Impact
medium_laurel3.jpg The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

There are many things that scientists love, but probably none more so than acronyms and absolutes, such as DC for Direct Current or PDF for Portable Document Format. Neither could be anything else, but even though scientists love to deal in absolutes, environmental science is notoriously inexact. Climate change and environmental impact evaluation make absolutism all but impossible: there are just so many variables.

But all is not lost. Environmental scientists may not have many options to be absolute in their field, but they can still pepper it with acronyms. They have come up with the concept of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Product Category Rules (PCRs) in an attempt to bring some order to the chaos. EPDs are documents that use Life Cycle Assessment to report the environmental data related to a particular product. They are designed to communicate relevant and comparable information about how a particular product impacts the environment.

This is all well and good, but for printers and publishers knowing what to include in such an assessment is extremely difficult. Carbon footprinting is hard enough, but how do we quantify the environmental impact of free speech, or new takes on relationships, or political change, or of how knowledge furthers environmental protection? And then there is the Life Cycle Analysis: when does a media product reach the end of its particular line? This is heavy stuff and too hard for most of us to even contemplate. It takes environmental science into the realms of philosophy and social science, and it is up to the bold young feet of tomorrow’s generations to march towards something sensible. In the meantime if we want the graphic arts industry to be environmentally accountable, we have to come up with ways to make the development of EPDs easier.

This is a problem not only for printers and publishers so this is where PCRs come into the picture. PCRs are rules that provide a common basis for the calculation of environmental values. It’s all very abstract and hard to get your head around, which is probably why no PCRs yet exist for printed and publication products. Work is underway in Japan to try to define what constitutes a particular media product or publication, but it is slow and heavy work. In the meantime printers and publishers are urged to keep managing their environmental impact as best they can. After all, improved resource use leads to improved margins and that has to be a good thing.

– Laurel Brunner

Verdigris supporters who make the blog possible: Agfa Graphics (, Digital Dots (, drupa (, EFI (, EcoPrint (, Fespa (, Heidelberg (, HP (, Kodak (, Pragati Offset (, Ricoh (, Unity Publishing ( and Xeikon (
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