By Lisa Guerriero
Public awareness of environmental issues creates a demand for “green” products in many industries, and digital printing is no exception. When given the option, businesspeople and homeowners often prefer eco-friendly media, including wallcoverings. Green wall graphics are less harmful to the earth and offer minimal threats to human health.
Image 4, a NH-based environmental design firm, notes that both health and ecological concerns drive use of eco-friendly wall media in healthcare, educational, corporate, and retail settings.
“Corporate values around environmental sustainability, lack of smell and off gassing, and child safety,” all contribute to customers specifying green wall media, says Jeff Baker, president, Image 4.
Environmentally friendly wallcoverings are an emerging product segment. Digital printing hasn’t established a unifying standard for eco-friendly wall graphics. However, several criteria are typically used to define these products. Sustainability—products that are recyclable, biodegradable, made from recycled materials, or all three—is a frequent standard. The most popular benchmark is free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Though it is often associated with environmental impact, the PVC-free designation also promotes the wellbeing of humans and pets.
Green media is often defined by what it omits. Vendors offer wallcoverings free of harsh chemicals, plasticizers, or heavy metals. Products offer varying levels of sustainability, depending on how comprehensively they exclude harmful components. Certifications and classifications allow print service providers (PSPs) to gauge the extent of the product’s eco-friendliness. Additionally, sustainable manufacturing practices help satisfy customers’ green expectations.
The final requirement is performance. While some clients insist on eco-friendly wall media and only need to determine which product is most ecologically sound, others have reservations. Karen Stuerenberg, marketing director, Top Value Fabrics, says it’s important to show clients that environmentally friendly media produces high-quality results.
“Many times, our customers tell us they’re surprised by how good the fabrics look and then how well they print too, as green materials are still associated with the idea that they don’t perform as well as traditional materials,” she explains.
Earth-Conscious Wall Graphics
A PVC-free product is often a minimal requirement, but some clients have strict conditions for materials used in their office, store, restaurant, or home. In these cases, the customer expects a broad array of ecological provisions.
Jim Tufts, business unit manager, Perception Wide Format Media, suggests a more fitting definition of green wallcoverings as “media produced using recycled content and environmentally friendly raw materials—including coatings, and manufactured in a sustainable manufacturing environment, treating employees, the community, and the environment with the utmost respect and care.”
Limiting the impact on air quality is a priority for many wallcovering jobs. To address this, PSPs print on media that is free of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).
HAPs are defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects.” Thousands of products—in many industries—emit VOCs, including some adhesives, glues, and other graphics materials. The EPA says some VOCs may have short- and long-term health effects, and notes on its website that “concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors, up to ten times higher than outdoors.”
Some wall materials feature a designation to address these issues, such as the state of CA’s regulations and UL’s GREENGUARD certification. DreamScape’s Terralon “adds to better air quality with low VOC emission and complies with CA 1350 standards for air quality,” notes Lisa Schultz, operations manager, DreamScape.
When a customer is attuned to the origin of the media—not just the fact that it’s non-vinyl—a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified product is often required. “FSC manages sustainable forestry and helps oxygenate our planet, clean the air, and provide shelter to wild animals and jobs for humans,” explains Bruce Walker, client solutions and apps tech, Sihl Inc.
For customers that emphasize sustainable origins, a few vendors offer naturally sourced products. “Our materials are produced using highly renewable natural resources—namely, plants—and no synthetics whatsoever. They are 100 percent natural, biodegradable, and compostable,” says Matt Devlin, VP business development, Natural AdCampaign Inc.
There is a range of sustainability for wall media. It is categorized as biodegradable or made from recycled content. Some end customers may expect evidence of these qualities. Often, the product must contain at least ten percent post-consumer waste content or have a biodegradability certification from a third-party organization like ASTM International or NSF International.
Demonstrating a product’s capacity for green disposal faces similar scrutiny. “The product must have a cradle-to-cradle retrieval and recycling programs in place. Blue bin recyclable products have retrieval/recycle program accessible through every household and are therefore top of the food chain of earth-friendly products,” suggests Frank Sumner, president, Sonoma Graphic Products.
Production plays a key role in assuring end clients they will receive an earth-ethical wallcovering. Some vendors share their eco-attributes with PSPs and end customers, such as voluntary or verified emission reductions (VERs) and renewable energy certificates (RECs).
For example, Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.’s sustainable wall media is “manufactured carbon neutral VERs, manufactured with 100 percent renewable Green-e certified wind powered electricity RECs, and made under a third-party certified ISO 14001 Environmental Management System,” explains Al Bobst, director of new business development, Monadnock.
Image 4, which uses wall media from Monadnock’s sustainable Envi portfolio, chose the product because its environmental impact goes beyond the material itself. “The mill is driven by water power, chlorine is eliminated in processing, and much of the industrial waste is recycled or repurposed by Monadnock,” notes Baker.
Wallcovering durability contributes to a product’s sustainable production, notes John D. Peterman, EVP sales and marketing, Big Systems, LLC. “While we want eco-friendly products to be manufactured with materials that are not harmful to the environment, we also look at materials that are durable enough to perhaps last longer, thereby creating less waste and a more efficient lifespan and energy efficiency,” he says.
Retailers and restaurant chains increasingly request efficient manufacturing and sustainable products, observes Jason Yard, marketing manager, Mactac Distributor Products. “Those types of businesses have started to specify more sustainable solutions to lessen their global footprint,” he says.
Focusing on Human Health
The drive to protect human health increases the demand for green wallcoverings in many environments, but especially those where people come in close proximity to the graphics, have prolonged exposure in a confined area, or potential for direct contact.
“Presto Tape believes all interior wallcoverings should be non-vinyl for the health of the customer,” notes Rachna Patel, marketing coordinator, Presto Tape.
Using products free of PVC or harmful chemicals can only enhance the atmosphere the wallcovering is being used in and offer the safest environment possible for the individuals that inhabit that location,” suggests Eric Tischer, president, Verseidag US.
“Eco-friendly wallcoverings are better for the environment because they do not harm the air quality,” observes Tamara Pitman, product manager, Coveris Advanced Coatings.
Clients in more sensitive environments have stricter expectations for green products. “Some examples include schools, daycare centers, residential homes, retirement homes, hospitals, and doctor offices,” observes Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation.
FLEXcon agrees that the setting drives customers’ product choices. “A wall in a child’s nursery is very different than an airport hallway when it comes to considering the appropriateness of a material,” notes Dennis Brunnett, product manager – advertising, FLEXcon.
VOC- and HAP-free attributes are important for public health concerns in addition to environmental impact. Chlorine and phthalates, found in many non-green materials, are among the HAPs identified by the EPA.
“Certain types of phthalates are considered to be endocrine disruptors, which means they mimic certain hormones, typically estrogen, when they enter your body,” explains Tim Boxeth, business and marketing manager, 3M Commercial Solutions. “Part of the push away from PVC is due to these ‘bad acting’ additives like phthalates and heavy metal stabilizers that used to be very common in the industry.”
Other VOCs of concern include glycol ethers in wall media and formaldehyde in adhesives, observes Walter Gierlach Jr., president, Photo Tex Group, Inc. To meet the company’s standard for eco-friendliness, its PVC-free products must also be “manufactured without phosphates in order to reduce a source of pollution to make for a cleaner environment,” he says.
Health-conscious wall materials focus on the overall human experience, including media that doesn’t require coating and meets REACH chemical standards, says Jessica Blevins, product specialist, Brand Management Group. “Green manufacturing and materials are odorless, non-toxic, PVC-free, lead-free, chlorine-free, contain little or no VOCs, and offer recyclable solutions,” she explains.
As with environmental concerns, measures to promote human health can’t preclude a high-performing wallcovering in terms of printability and installation. “Green media could be used in any environment as long as the needed performance criteria and objectives are achieved. In other words, there’s no reason to limit eco-friendly environments as long as they perform as desired,” suggests Daren Silverstein, president, Think Big Digital Printing, a division of The CLI Group.
Concern for the environment and public health both drive the demand for eco-friendly wall media. Customers have varying criteria for green media, ranging from a single characteristic like PVC-free or recyclable to highly certified production processes and base materials. PSPs must understand customers’ expectations and their own green consciences to determine just how eco-friendly products need to be.
Nov2015, Digital Output DOGW1511