5 Key Takeaways on North America’s Most Sustainable Printers

By Canopy Director Nicole Rycroft.


This blog was originally published in Sustainable Brands.

Remember Coles Notes? Those magical little study aids that helped bring focus and clarity to even the most mind-numbing of university courses (Hmmm, come to think of it, I wonder what they were printed on?). As a busy professional, I now rely on exactly that kind of trusted analysis in almost all realms of my life – be it which phone to replace my ailing device with, which restaurants serve the best vegetarian fare, where to stay whilst on the road. And when it comes to wading through all of the sustainability claims made by printers to identify the real leaders, there’s no going past Canopy’s updated Blueline Printer Ranking.

The Blueline Report profiles the environmental performance of North America’s largest printers – ranking major printers on 28 key criteria and directing customer brands to the leaders in environmental performance.

Why is it important to work with a sustainable printer?

Working with environmentally responsible printers helps you hit your sustainability targets. And if you’re wondering if paper and printing really makes that much of an impact on your environmental performance, the answer is a resounding yes!

A growing body of research shows that the environmental footprint of printing is overwhelmingly attributable to the papers being printed on:

  • 48-79 percent of the carbon footprint of books and catalogues are ascribed to the papers used; and
  • 61 percent of a paper’s environmental footprint is due to the loss of carbon-rich biomass in forests that are logged to secure the raw fiber of most conventional papers.

By choosing sustainable papers and printers that prioritize use of eco-papers – be they recycled, sourced from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified forests or made from straw leftover after the grain harvest – you will be better positioned to hit your sustainability objectives as well as contribute to reducing the impacts of climate change

Who are North America’s most sustainable printers?

Numerous printers responded to their customers’ encouragement over the past year to improve their sustainability practices and transparency. As a result, many ranked higher in this updated assessment. Proving that being successful and growing market share go hand and hand with sustainability, seven of North America’s largest printers occupy the top 10 of Canopy’s Blueline Printer Ranking.

North America’s top sustainable printers are:

  1. EarthColor – enjoying its second year in the top spot
  2. Hemlock Printers and The Printing House tied in the ranking for second place
  3. TC Transcontinental – the North American print giant moved into the top three in this ranking

Notable improvements over the past year include Arandell, which recently developed a policy with Canopy, and moved up from 15th to 6th in the ranking; and Sandy Alexander, which rose 10 points to 15th place. The full list and ranking of all printers can be foundhere.

What makes a printer a sustainability leader?

Most printers lay some claim to being “green.” Perhaps not surprisingly, some printers’ claims are overly enthusiastic when you take a closer look at their tangible eco-actions. Some areas of environmental performance are more important in reducing the ecological footprint of a printer than others. Canopy prioritizes the KPIs of most impact in its robust ranking system. In today’s competitive print market, the strongest performers are:

  1. Developing and implementing robust environmental policies with NGO partners that include language on avoiding papers that contain endangered forest fiber or controversial sources
  2. Avoiding papers from contentious areas in the Boreal forest, Vancouver Island and Indonesian rainforests
  3. Expanding and deepening their inventories of papers with high recycled content, giving preference to FSC-certified fiber and chlorine-free recycled papers
  4. Enabling supply chain transformation by conducting cutting-edge trial runs and stocking new papers made with agricultural residues
  5. Stepping forward as champions of forest conservation – such as has happened in the precedent-setting Great Bear Rainforest or the Boreal’s Broadback Forest.

What’s changed in the last year?

Customers have been engaging their printers more actively and as a result, this year’s rankings reveal significant improvements in the environmental performance by numerous large printers. Twenty percent of the top 50 North American printers have now developed endangered forest commitments with Canopy. Many of the top-ranking printers have become bolder as they strive to meet market expectations and the increased rigour of their customers’ endangered forest commitments and environmental policies. For years, trailblazers such as Earthcolor have partnered with their customers and NGO partners to really push the edge of environmental performance – most recently, they have introduced next-generation products such as straw paper for major projects. What we have seen more of this past year are printers stepping up to advance conservation solutions in threatened forests alongside their customers, suppliers and NGOs such as Canopy.

As the bar for sustainability performance rises for the sector overall, the gap between the leaders and those who are “slow to move” is widening. Players such as Quad/Graphics,Cenveo and Deluxe Corp. are starting to lag behind their peers, especially when it comes to transparency on robust sustainability indicators. Regardless of whether printers are towards the front or back of the pack, there is always room for improvement, and Canopy looks forward to productive discussions with all customers and printers over the coming months and year.

What can I do to reduce the impacts of my printed materials?

As a customer of printed materials, your influence and choices reach from your corporate sustainability objectives through the supply chain, right to the forest floor. Here are three things that you can do to improve the environmental performance of your printed materials…

  1. Choose 100 percent recycled paper and dramatically reduce your environmental footprint. Contact Canopy to find out more about which papers are truly “eco.”
  2. Encourage your printers to improve their eco-performance by working with Canopy and adopting the five performance characteristics listed above. By doing so, you will not only improve the environmental performance of your printer but also the thousands of other brands and companies that work with them.
  3. Work with Canopy, your printer and mills on trials with new materials such as straw paper, and set the pace for environmental printing (and papers) for years to come.