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Environmental production

With an increasing amount of sign-makers adapting to a more environmentally-friendly approach to production, Rob Fletcher investigates the reasons behind the trend and how going green can help your business score a winner

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A greener goal

The sign-making sector is no different to any other industry in the pressure it faces in environmental terms. Green-minded customers are constantly testing the ability of companies to supply them with environmentally-friendly products, in order to improve their own green identity in the eyes of the public.

Despite these stringent set of demands, the sign trade has once again responded in an effective way. Whether it is selecting more environmentally-friendly material to work with, opting for greener machinery, or simply cutting down on emissions from vehicles, companies across the sign-making spectrum are altering their production techniques to match demand.

This urge to ‘go green’ has been one of the fastest growing trends in the industry in recent years, with the constant calls for greener products pushing companies into making the move. But, although this satisfies the customer and increases the likelihood of repeat business, what else is in it for the sign-maker themselves?

Money saving method

Sihl claims TriSolv SA, its environmentally-friendly alternative to self-adhesive films, is suited to a range of wide-format projects


Sihl Direct is one industry supplier that has thrown its backing behind the move towards green—not just because of its positive effects on the world around us, but from a financial point of view. Operations director, Ian Turnbull, says that with businesses looking to make more profits, going green can help them do so.

“Companies are in business to make money,” he explains, adding: “It therefore stands to reason that companies should adopt environmentally-positive processes in order to increase profitability, whether directly or indirectly. There are many ways of being greener, much of which is purely lip-service.

Companies are in business to make money. It therefore stands to reason that companies should adopt environmentally-positive processes in order to increase profitability, whether directly or indirectly

“The basic essence of ‘going green’ is to reduce waste. So, by concentrating on using only the resources actually required to fulfil a project will not only result in being greener, it will save money through requiring less inks, media, power, and so on.

“Of course, as a media manufacturer, we should be happy if our customers print more than they need to. We also understand that in this time of depressed margins and the need to save resources, we want to offer products that help sign-makers to minimise waste and make key savings in this area.”

This is a point Turnbull draws on in particular, saying Sihl Direct and its sister companies worldwide are focused on developing new greener products for the wide-format sector. In addition, he says the firm is also dedicated to offering advice on green issues that are high on business agendas.

He gives the example of TriSolv SA, a product Sihl offers as an alternative to self-adhesive films. Businesses often use free standing or suspended panels for internal product advertising, while laminate materials in combination with films are still used. Such materials cause problems when it comes to disposing of the products at the end of campaigns.

The basic essence of ‘going green’ is to reduce waste. So, by concentrating on using only the resources actually required to fulfil a project will not only result in being greener, it will save money through requiring less inks, media, power, and so on

Sihl claims TriSolv PrimeArt Paper SA 275 glossy 3685 and TriSolv PrimeArt Paper blueback SA 210 glossy 3682 are ‘ideal’ for cardboard or pulp board. Signs made this way can be recycled in small quantities along with waste paper and card from packaging, while larger quantities suit incineration due to their good thermal value and eco-friendliness. In addition, little carbon dioxide is produced during this due to the product consisting primarily of renewable materials.

Looking forward, this type of operation is something Turnbull can see becoming the norm in the industry, if companies are able to get out of older habits in terms of cost: “Faced with a choice of solutions, most people would go for the greener option if the cost was the same—this is what the industry needs to overcome and I see this happening over the coming years.”

Becoming the norm

Rainforest Graphics has implemented a number of green initiatives, including selecting materials and kit with strong environmental credentials 


Wide-formant print technology developer, EFI, takes a similar view about the environment—placing a great emphasis on it in its forward planning. International public relations manager, Marc Verbiest, says that the industry’s approach should be no different to that of the general public.

“A greater awareness of greener practices has now become part of everyday life, and this applies to sourcing materials and products through to waste disposal,” says Verbiest, adding: “Environmental considerations also relate to energy usage, so processes that require lower power and fewer resources are increasingly going to be favoured.

“EFI factors in the reduction of labour, waste and make-ready time and costs into its overall environmental philosophy. These elements are as important in helping business become greener in their production processes as investment in the right production software solutions and printers.”

Environmental considerations also relate to energy usage, so processes that require lower power and fewer resources are increasingly going to be favoured

Drawing on this point, he highlights some of the products EFI offers to the green-minded sign-maker. He explains the firm’s flatbed roll-fed printers across both its wide-format and Vutek family concentrate on UV-curable ink technologies that provide more eco-friendly , volatile organic compound (VOC) free solutions than formulations still in use today.

“These platforms, and the company’s software solutions, are all geared towards generating less waste and more efficient working practices, both of which are important in today’s environmentally-aware workflow,” he adds.

But what is the main factor that can act as a starting point for sign-makers to build their new, greener strategy on? Verbiest puts in simply: ‘more business’. Companies from all industries are becoming more aware of the environment and are keen to consider it in their own operations. By offering such firms a greener  service, you are more likely to bring in their business.

However, he does offer a warning for those companies considering the adoption of such a strategy: “For sign-makers, green issues need to be balanced against cost. In a tough economy, companies are aware that a pragmatic and practical approach needs to be taken to make sure environmental practices can be incorporated into existing and new business plans without compromising sensible costs and production times.”

Simple methods, big results

EFI has a number of green products on offer to help like-minded companies reduce their effect on the environment—including the Vutek GS3250LX, which features a Cool Cure system


Having heard what manufacturers and suppliers have to say, what about the actual sign-makers themselves—what are they actually doing to become ‘greener’? Rotherham-based Rainforest Graphics is a company that is keen to spread the green message to the industry. The firm, which produces a range of products including window graphics and exhibition banners, has adopted a number of environmentally-friendly practices itself.

Managing director, Martin Horst, is keen for more companies to take a similar approach. He believes that a widespread approach where more companies adopt such green techniques, and practice them to a workable and reasonable extent, would achieve far more than putting the matter in hands of fewer companies going to the extremes that are difficult to maintain.

“Green production from my perspective means taking manageable and reasonable steps any business could take to minimise its footprint,” he explains, adding: “It starts with taking a realistic point of view. If I were to decide to shun today’s production technologies, or dictate that I’d only produce output from wholly recycled raw materials that were in turn wholly recyclable, I’d be far from competitive and probably out of business.

Naturally, we switch out lights, turn off taps and that kind of thing too but, that’s something any business with an eye on costs can do. I think the point to be made is that you don’t have to be dyed in the mass green to make a difference

“We’re doing some simple things I believe make a difference. Waste materials for example, the stuff that would normally get thrown away, we pass on to local groups, schools for example, who use it in art projects and the like. It’s a small thing, but take out the expense of the group having to go to the market and buy such material, making it, shipping it and so on, it adds up.

“Naturally, we switch out lights, turn off taps and that kind of thing too but, that’s something any business with an eye on costs can do. I think the point to be made is that you don’t have to be dyed in the mass green to make a difference. It’s about being aware and doing what you can. That’s an approach anyone can take.”

The firm is also particular about the materials it opts for in production, as Horst explains: “The materials we use come in the main from Metamark. I know they’re heavily into getting the best yields from production and we print using an HP Latex printer, which has very good credentials and the Planet Partners Scheme behind it too.”

Setting a trend

W&Co opted to change facilities in an attempt to improve its carbon footprint further—with its new site boasting a range of green features


Newhaven-based large-format signage and print specialist, Prismaflex, is another firm that pays particular attention to the materials and kit it uses. Last year, the company launched a new production system that it claims has reduced its carbon footprint and improved environmental sustainability.

Operating out of a 25,000sq ft site in East Sussex, the firm says the new system allows it to produce 100 percent recyclable banner posters, made from 70 percent recycled materials.

Despite all the justified excitement over digital, banners remain the mainstay of the out of home market and it’s absolutely vital that we incorporate the latest technology

The 90gsm banners are made from Prismaflex Graph’It material, a one face polyethylene and one face polyether hybrid that can be disposed as non-hazardous waste or incinerated to provide energy—a process in line with European directives. In addition, the banners also use plastic eyelets rather than brass or chrome, allowing for the complete installation to be recycled after used.

“Despite all the justified excitement over digital, banners remain the mainstay of the out of home market and it’s absolutely vital that we incorporate the latest technology,” explains managing director, Tom Weaver, who adds: "We must also build on our already-high level of commitment to environmental standards in the way we service this market, not just in the UK but also internationally.”

Elsewhere, south-east firm W and Co Design Solutions opted to transfer to a new premises in order to keep in touch with its environmental beliefs. The firm, which made the move last year, is now housed at state-of-the-art offices in Essex that feature a number of useful green features.

We must also build on our already-high level of commitment to environmental standards in the way we service this market, not just in the UK but also internationally

Slim LED panels are installed on the ceilings of the buildings, while a heating and cooling system with an AA energy efficiency rating is also in place to help keep the firm’s carbon footprint down. In addition to the facility, W and Co sells low energy LEDs to customers—a product it also uses in its own offices and warehouse as another way of keep up its green efforts.

The move did not go unnoticed by the Government, which rewarded the firm with a grant for being a low-carbon business.

This last point is just the latest in a long list of rewards that may await sign-makers who do decide to go green. With plenty of backing from manufacturers and suppliers alike, companies will not be short of the advice and kit needed if they are to make the transition successfully. So, why not take a leaf out of their book, make the move and leave your competitors feeling green with envy?


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