Africa Print Journal Feature: Invisible Print


Printing and publishing companies produce media communications. They print books, magazines, newspapers, catalogues, signs and displays and all manner of transactional prints. These are the visible forms of print, but there is plenty of the stuff that can easily be overlooked. This is the print that’s borderline invisible, because it’s taken for granted. It includes such things as packaging and labels, directions and instructions for use, safety sheets, guarantee information and all that other stuff that just gets forgotten. All of this unseen print obviously has an environmental impact. It also contributes to the environmental impact of a product, such as a new smartphone or a car, even though the print tends to be ignored in product environmental declarations. This article appears in Africa Print Journal.

When a manufacturer sets up an environmental declaration programme to evaluate the entire lifecycle of a product, they should also include the print and packaging associated with it. But what is not clear, is how the print associated with a given product should be included in the declaration. Nor is it clear how to specify the fair allocation of prints to the product.

There is a print dimension to virtually everything sold, whether its consumer goods or investment products. And yet it is overlooked for environmental declarations that do not relate to commercial print products. The signage in a car showroom that is specific to a particular model, the brochures related to it, the manual and so on, should also be considered a part of that product. This means that the associated print should be considered as being in scope for the product’s environmental declaration.

This isn’t an urgent matter at the moment because so far environmental declarations are not considered vital for modern commerce, nor are they a universal legal requirement. But as governments tighten environmental regulations such declarations, business to business and business to consumer will be increasingly important. We already have requirements for goods such as household appliances and vehicles to be rated according to their energy requirements and emissions, so full-on environmental declarations are surely on the way. The tools are in place with ISO standards such as ISO 14025 and the International Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) System, but print rarely figures in discussions. The closest it gets is with paper, but not the print process itself nor the recycling.

Environmental accountability for print is no longer just about demonstrating its environmental sustainability. Print’s environmental accountability is relevant for its customers and brand owners who use print in contexts other than the commercial one that most people associate with it. This is no time for environmental apathy within the graphics industry, particularly as alternative media options abound.

The Verdigris Project is supported by Agfa Graphics (, EFI (, Epson (, FESPA (, HP (, Kodak (, Kornit (, Practical Publishing (, Ricoh (, Spindrift (, Splash PR (, Unity Publishing ( and Xeikon (

This work by the Verdigris Project is licenced under a Creative Commons attribution-noderivs 3.0 Unported licence

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