Greenwashing: fake and unethical claims for eco-friendly inks Print

Today I happened to be looking at a web site of a nice brand of Chinese solvent inks. The page color was all green.

There were trees in a garden or park.

The advertising slogan said that their ink makes the trees green.

But they were selling full-solvent ink; they we also offering mild-/lite-solvent ink (for ColorPainter after-market). Who in the world would consider these inks are eco-friendly?

Using green grass in your advertisements for inks is considered Greenwashing. Using flowers in your trade show booth is considered Greenwashing. Hiding the truth about how much electricity is needed to cure your ink is considered Greenwashing.

So we have initiated a chart; a Greenwashing chart. UV ink is not yet included since its tough to place. It is definitely not green, but not as carcinogenic as solvent ink (merely that the toxins in UV ink cause health issues other than cancer!). But LED curing the Gerber cationic curing at least do not have the massive amount of kilowatt hours of power consumption of latex curing (this will be an interesting comparison; I am not familiar with any realistic tests of comparisons readily and easily available).

We will modify this chart as we learn more about the chemicals. Because some chemicals may not kill a tree, but they will cause health issues (at least one of the bio-solvent inks). And even if an ink itself has few overtly toxic chemicals, if an ink needs lots of electricity, the power plants are major polluters around the world.

Out goal is to assist ink manufacturers avoid consumer backlash. If ink manufacturers continue to exaggerate they will lose the respect of consumers. One major brand name has already been tarnished because of hiding the full truth about the envinonmental impact of the electricity needed for curing.

And logically our goal is to assist print shop owners to learn more about the options, especially in 2011 and as we reach 2012, a “DRUPA” Year. There are several major new printers under development behind the scenes, already for 2011.

None of them need a pseudo bio-solvent ink. They simply use resin inks.

Less heat needed then latex ink

And there will be even more exciting inks. How do we know? FLAAR has already been invited to their R&D labs.

Is UV-cured ink eco-friendly or green?

The November-December 2009 issue of a 92-page international trade magazine on inkjet printers, on page 5, had an advertisement showing a hummingbird and green leaves (a possible fake composite; I raise hummingbirds in Guatemala and they don't often hover over green leaves if no flowers are present!).

The ad claimed Very Real. Very Green….which has the unique distinction of being the only UV certified as Green, being totally VOC free and absence of toxic chemicals.

….eco-friendly Green Digital Printing Platform in … UV…. Uses UV inks which have no harmful VOC contents and approved by the Environmental Test Institute Nordic Ecolabel.

The ad then went on to list the applications: such as vehicle wraps and a dozen more, none of which would be more than conspicuous consumption, hence rather dubious to be featured in a green ad.

For ten years I have enjoyed working with UV-cured inks, printers, and workflow. But at no time would I consider any of this ecologically friendly other than being less toxic than solvent ink on PVC. But merely being less toxic does not make UV ink “green.”

Thus I would caution against claiming ECO-UV ink. If a printer has a ventilation hood, I am not sure the manufacturer really finds it ecological either. All UV printers ought to be ventilated, so the poisons are simply dumped outside. UV-cured ink has many advantages over solvent inks, and yes, there are not many VOCs with UV-cured inks, but how can you legitimately certify any UV-cured system as eco-friendly.

For example, most UV-cured ink has an odor, sometimes even days and weeks after printing. The odor of some brands of UV ink is sufficiently noticeable that many printshops tell me their clients won't accept UV-printed materials for in-office or in-home or in-restaurant uses.

Is HP latex ink eco-friendly?

Millions of dollars goes into PR agencies and programs to convince people that latex ink is a green solution. But in reality the primary benefit is that the ink has fewer VOCs than full solvent ink and probably less than milder solvent inks also. In the several separate FLAAR Reports I outline the conspicuous consumption of electrical power by the 100 degree Celsius temperatures needed to heat the ink to cure it.

However the latex ink itself is an interesting concept. The FLAAR Reports list its beneficial features. HP latex ink can indeed accomplish several applications very nicely. But why do no PR agencies itemize the applications that it can't handle?

This is the HP L65500 latex ink printer at Fast Signs trade show, 2009.

Eco-solvent ink is not convincingly ecological or green

Eco-solvent is a contentious name. It is definitely not ECOnomical ink, since any ink for an Epson printhead is hardly economical (especially if in an Epson-style cartridge). And since most eco-solvent ink is used to print onto PVC, I am not sure that is very ecologically friendly or green either.

But yes, eco-solvent ink is not as nasty as full solvent ink. But the claim that no ventilation is needed for eco-solvent ink is arguable and potentially actionable too. It is debatable whether Epson's claims about its eco-solvent printer, GS6000, not needing ventilation are realistic. Would you put this Epson GS6000 printer in your children's bedroom? Would you run this printer all day in your own bedroom and living room?

How soon might your wife move out of the house?

Thus it might be more realistic to realize that this Epson GS6000 printer should have ventilation the same as any eco-solvent printer.

Bio-solvent ink, and now Bio-Lactite, is this really a green solution?

I was excited when MuBIO ink came out, but lost interest quickly when I noticed that even the ink manufacturer no longer featured it in their own VUTEk printers). And some of the third-party after-market bio-solvent inks had a terrible smell. But the main problem of bio-solvent ink is that it did not adhere well enough to a wide enough or diverse range of substrates.

If you prefer bio-solvent ink and it produces all the applications on every kind of substrate that you and your clients need, then continue to utilize it. But today in 2011 there are enough other alternatives that I am not convinced that bio-solvent ink has much future. But one positive fact is that the Mutoh ValueJet hybrid flatbed that was made for bio-solvent ink, this printer seems to have several good features that ironically make it useful for alcohol-based inks and water-based resin inks (inks that print on almost every substrate including thick rigid materials for interior decoration).

It took Mutoh about three years to realize their bio-solvent ink was not successful in the marketplace. This statement was already clear in FLAAR Reports two years ago (we loved the idea when MuBio ink first came out about three or four years ago, but once we learned from end-users what the problems were, we could update our comments).

So now Mutoh has replaced the unsuccessful MuBIO ink with Bio-Lactite ink. The results I saw at European trade shows looked great. Strangely, Mutoh America was still pumping MuBIO ink all 2010, even after Mutoh Europe was letting all European printshops know all the things that Bio-Lactite could do much better than the issues and inconveniences of MuBIO.

But when I saw the MSDS of MuBIO ink, I had some reservations. First question is whether it requires ventilation, and if you use no ventilation, what the health consequences might be. I need to learn more about the chemistry of this new ink, but it does not look very user-friendly to the operator who might breath the ink odor (not to mention everyone else in the building).

What about energy consumption of the heaters for solvent ink?

Some eco-solvent printers need add-on heaters; an extra heater/air blower that helps drive off the solvents. No printer spec sheet would list this energy consumption.

But what about the built-in heaters inside the printer itself? I have a faint suspicion that not all eco-solvent printers list or specify clearly enough the difference between what the printer itself consumes and what the heating system requires. This was shocking.

Even more revealing were to see which brands don’t list electrical consumption at all, or in a way that cleverly hides the truth.

Now you can see why over a million people a year read the FLAAR Reports. We wish that print shop owners, managers, and printer operators can better understand the actual costs of their printing systems so they can make an informed decision on which printer to buy.

Most important of all, we wish that printer buyers are pleased with the printers they do select. If they get hit with blunt reality that no spec-sheet warned them about, they will be upset at this brand.

FLAAR hopes that all brands are successful. One way we can assist is to suggest ways to improve the ethical position of spec sheets.

What about the energy consumption for dye sublimation?

No one dares speak about the energy consumption for heating textile inks for dye sublimation. To be fair, this question should be raised.

Mutoh ValueJet printer reviews
Here is the Mutoh ValueJet printer using the Sepiax inks at ISA trade show 2010.

So far, resin water-based inks are closer to eco-friendly

Resin ink (such as Sepiax AquaRes) needs only about 55 degrees C; which is sure less than 100 degrees for latex ink.

Resin ink thus does not fry, bake, melt, or damage most inkjet substrates. You can use some PE substrates with resin ink, but for latex ink you need the much more expensive treated DuPont Tyvek. With Sepiax you can use PE from China, such as Aria from Yeong Jeou.

And the really nice thing about resin ink is that it prefers to have less ink per square meter; sometimes 40% less ink.

A green solution requires more than a green ink: substrate must be green also

If you use a green ink on PVC or comparable, that is sort of not as bad as solvent ink on PVC but is not a very ecologically friendly solution. Thus we suggest

  • Green ink
  • Printer not an energy hog
  • Non-PVC substrate

Conclusion

Bio-solvent ink was a fad that has not gained much market share.

Eco-solvent ink was great after the inadequate chemistry of the first two generations (that required coated media, which costs more than uncoated substrates) was replaced by the third-generation and today's fourth-generation eco-solvent inks. Thousands of eco-solvent printers are in daily use around the world, and definitely are better than full solvent.

But today we are in the year 2010, and it is FESPA-time ! This means that new inks will be featured now in late June. By SGIA more will be revealed, and eco-solvent market share will begin to wane. By ISA 2011 and FESPA 2011 the era of eco-solvent will probably be in noticeable decline.

HP latex ink was a good start, but today (two years after latex ink was introduced) there are several alternatives, the first of which is Sepiax AquaRes resin ink: water-based. One advantage of latex ink, however, is that HP has put a lot of work, investment, and good intentions into developing the HP Latex LX600 and LX800 latex ink printers. These are well engineered and well built printers of a professional level.

As I write today (January 2011) there is no printer in the world built from the ground up to handle resin ink. Same the first years of UV-cured ink: the first printers were retrofitted solvent printers. For Sepiax ink retrofitted printers have been available for over a year now.

But… this only means that the printers which are being engineered to handle resin ink will be announced later this year: probably no earlier than ISA 2011, perhaps at FESPA Hamburg 2011.

FLAAR Reports already knows the printer brands, because, well, this is our job. But as a courtesy to the manufacturers, we consider this information under NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement and you will notice that not one FLAAR Report nor web page identifies the new printers that will release resin-ink platforms in 2011.

If you really wish to save the environment

If you really wish to save the environment, don't print with inks anyway. If you really wish to save the environment, don't buy all the consumer junk (that is advertised in all the POP signage and billboards). If you need a Prada accessory or a Gucci bag; or if “shopping is part of life” then you are precisely the cause of the problem that creates environmental pollution.

I am not a member of Greenpeace, nor the Sierra Club. But there is no heater or air-conditioner in the FLAAR offices in Latin America: none. We use open windows (admittedly it helps having an office at 1500 meters elevation in Guatemala). In the heat of Missouri, however, air-conditioning is needed to preserve our sanity and in winter, heat is needed to keep pipes from freezing. So obviously some climates do call for temperature control to be more effective. Tough to work when encased in a parka.

Of course I have a car, which I drive about once every three months. I walk to the supermarket and use a backpack to carry my groceries home. Am I a fanatic? No, I would rather use my money to buy better digital camera equipment than on gasoline. And why support BP and comparable polluters? Plus, walking is a lot healthier than using a car. The supermarket is a 3 mile round trip walk (admittedly it helps having a home-office adjacent to a beautiful park so most of the walk is through a forest, until the city or electrical company cut down most of the trees last month).

I also save time, and money, by living adjacent to my office: always have. The FLAAR offices in Guatemala are a 7-level building. I have one room for my residence. The FLAAR office in USA is a 3-storey apartment; I live in an upstairs room. The new FLAAR Europe office likewise had an apartment where I can sleep adjacent to my work spaces. I have no car in Guatemala and no car in Europe: only in US. No time is lost commuting; no gasoline is used to climb up and down the stairs.

People often ask how I can produce so many reports: very simple; don't waste hours a day commuting back and forth to work.

We also raise our own bananas and chiles in our own garden. Cacao trees grow both inside and outside the FLAAR offices, but at 1500 meters elevation, they take many years before they will produce cacao for chocolate.

 

Most recently updated January 9, 2011, after my staff pointed out that some eco-solvent and lite-solvent printer manufacturers might possibly be considered as hiding the true electrical usage cost of their printers.

First Posted June 8, 2010. Updated January 5, 2011, after I noticed more ink companies were painting their web sites green and featuring photos of trees.