By Melissa Donovan
When a print service provider (PSP) considers ink standards, it more or less has to do with whether the ink can meet the needs of its customers and the customers’ application requests. On the surface, most requirements center on durability—resistance to fading, chemicals, and water as well as efficiency—fast drying and non-clogging.
With the continued growth of certain ink sets paired with unique drying capabilities—yielding compatibility with more types of substrates than ever before—applications are created for use in environments where additional standards apply. These requirements are more along the lines of health and safety.
One of the more well-known standards is enacted by the UL Environment, a business unit of UL or Underwriters Laboratories. GREENGUARD Certification, which classifies more than just ink sets, helps both manufacturers and buyers in creating and identifying interior products and materials with low chemical emissions. This improves air quality in the areas where the products are ultimately used.
Several ink manufacturers undergo the process annually to certify their ink sets under the program, which is divided into two levels—the GREENGUARD Certification Program and GREENGUARD Gold Certification. The decision to undertake the certification process is a result of many consumers increasing their environmental awareness. Media buyers and their customers are no exception.
Above: Fujifilm’s Uvijet ink series is certified under UL Environment GREENGUARD.
GREENGUARD certified ink sets in the wide format inkjet space are becoming increasingly popular. Meeting the needs of customers and maintaining a safe work environment in manufacturing facilities are two of the largest reasons ink manufacturers turn to the UL Environment for this certification.
For ink manufacturers taking the step towards achieving GREENGUARD classification, the action demonstrates that they are “mindful of environmental and health issues, in this case for indoor emissions from print. The suppliers who take the time and put forth the effort and cost to obtain these credentials find that it reflects positively on the overall positioning of the brand as a premium product. Customers typically have greater confidence in inks and printers with this certification,” suggests James Gould, product manager, Sun Chemical.
“With digitally printed interior décor growing in popularity, so does the need for some form of third-party certification to assure the end user that the printed product has been tested and confirmed to have low chemical emissions for enhanced indoor air quality. This is important to schools, hospitals, and other sensitive environments,” explains Randy Paar, display graphics marketing manager, Canon Solutions America.
Especially as the possibilities to print to almost anything expand even further, and consumers continue their fascination with personalizing everything, Michael Maxwell, senior manager, Mimaki USA, Inc., finds it “important for customers to have peace of mind that the printed items with which they interact with are safe.”
“Some of these applications involve contact with human skin—wall murals for instance—and many applications are being changed more often. This means the old application must be disposed of,” adds Mark A. Rugen, director product marketing and education, Mutoh America, Inc.
PSPs take this opportunity and leverage it. “PSPs can position themselves as a company that cares for the environment. Moreover, there is a straight-forward commercial side—using inks with GREENGUARD Gold Certification enables the PSP to approach new segments such as hospitals and schools,” says Mike Kyritsi, president, swissQprint America.
“As the availability of specialty media products for a range of applications continues to grow, the awareness of how printed materials can affect that environment—and the health of the people within it—is more important than ever. Having the added credibility of providing compliant printed materials is definitely an advantage,” agrees John D. Peterman, EVP sales and marketing, Big Systems, LLC.
Beyond the customer, PSPs choosing to use GREENGUARD certified ink sets are thinking of their employees as well. “There is growing concern about volatile organic compound (VOC) chemical emissions causing poor indoor air quality and health problems. Print buyers and service providers are increasingly aware of this as well as their environmental impact, so many are interested in taking steps to use healthier, ‘greener’ products,” states Mark Goodearl, senior ink product manager, display graphics, EFI.
For operators working in print facilities using GREENGUARD certified inks, Mark Manning, senior portfolio manager, commercial and industrial printing group, Ricoh USA, Inc., shares that they can work for longer stretches of time, without expensive or specialized ventilation environments.
Searching for Sustainability
Depending on the PSP, there are those invested in and actively seeking out ink sets that are certified under the GREENGUARD program. Many times this will not be their only criteria when it comes to the ink set’s performance or appearance capabilities, but it is top of mind.
David Lopez, associate product manager, professional imaging, Epson America, admits that in his experience PSPs expect inks to be GREENGUARD certified. These PSPs recognize the benefits of printing with an ink of this caliber. “Ink sets that are GREENGUARD certified are beneficial because they make ink safer for smaller areas where printers are used. GREENGUARD certified ink sets also allow PSPs to enter into different markets that require the certification.”
Different markets that require the certification include—but aren’t limited to—hospitals and schools. Becky McConnell, segment marketing manager – wide format, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, believes that while GREENGUARD Certification isn’t a common request, those print providers offering printed materials to hospitals and schools demand it since they require the certification to complete the installations.
“PSPs completing print projects for applications in public spaces, restaurants, hospitals, and schools are aware of the impact VOCs and emitted chemicals can have. Being a conscientious provider of safer, certified materials is important,” notes Peterman.
McConnell goes on to say that other print providers do use GREENGUARD Certification as a selling point for retail clients as well. “There are also some print providers that use GREENGUARD Certification as a selling point for in-store material, as the low emission of VOCs typically makes brands/retailers and consumers feel better about the state of air safety, whether or not it is required.”
Certain applications determine whether a PSP expresses interest in using GREENGUARD certified ink. “If printed wallcoverings or paneling are major applications for a print provider, then GREENGUARD Certification should be high on the list of required qualifications so as not to limit their business opportunities,” advises Paar.
The decision to use the ink sets under the certification’s umbrella helps PSPs to stand out from the competition, which is another reason they may choose to work with them. “Digital printers face an increasingly competitive market every day, so they are looking for sectors and products that differentiate them from others,” adds Flavio Ronchini, CEO, EPTANOVA S.R.L.
Philip Van der Auwera, product manager, sign and display, Agfa, argues that PSPs want a total solution comprised of the printer, inks, and the applications they handle. “Customers seek printers that can provide a solution for their current application scope and media mix.PSPs take that and improved indoor air quality into account, and they have sought out solutions with the GREENGUARD logo over the last couple of years.”
“The efforts in environmental protection must go beyond ink. The carbon footprint of the entire system must be taken into account. Energy consumption, energy efficiency, longevity, and maintenance requirements of the printer play an important role when taking a holistic view of eco-friendliness and sustainability,” agrees Kyritsi.
Maxwell points out that many printer manufacturers are also seeking GREENGUARD Certification, independent of PSPs. “This not only adds value for the PSP but for the printer manufacturer. With a certification like GREENGUARD, printer manufacturers can differentiate their hardware and ink offerings from others with a verified and trusted third-party testing source.”
GREENGUARD Certification is simple to apply for and the process doesn’t take very long. Interested vendors should visit greenguard.org to learn more. Once an ink set is approved, the manufacturer has to be re-evaluated in a year’s time.
As mentioned prior, there are two levels of GREENGUARD Certification. The first is the GREENGUARD Certification Program, which was referred to as GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification. According to the GREENGUARD website, this level of certification “gives assurance that products designed for use in indoor spaces meet strict chemical emissions limits, which contribute to the creation of healthier interiors. Achieving GREENGUARD Certification gives credence to manufacturers’ sustainability claims, backing them with empirical scientific data from an unbiased, third-party organization.”
The second level available under the GREENGUARD program is GREENGUARD Gold Certification, formerly known as GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certification. Again, according to the GREENGUARD website, it “offers stricter certification criteria, considers safety factors to account for sensitive individuals—such as children and the elderly, and ensures that a product is acceptable for use in environments such as schools and healthcare facilities. It is referenced by both The Collaborative for High Performance Schools and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Building Rating System.”
In both instances, GREENGUARD Certification standards feature emissions criteria that are required to be met for GREENGUARD Certification. There may also be additional verification requirements, which must be completed before certification can be awarded.
After applying for certification, ink manufacturers are provided with a kit by UL Environment, which includes specific guidelines for printing samples. “The only thing you need to provide is the substrate and the ink used in printing that piece of substrate. A file is printed and that print is immediately placed in a mylar bag which is sealed, marked, and sent off for testing. The kit even includes the latex gloves recommended to be worn during collection. Documents are filled out with the required information and inserted into a sleeve, which is then attached to the mylar bag,” shares McConnell.
Some of the required information included on the documents involves a detailed manufacturing review, which includes three categories—the manufacturing process, the quality system, and the packaging and shipment method used. Van der Auwera explains that the manufacturing process involves looking over raw material procurement and the batch tracking system. The quality system focuses on quality processes in manufacturing and ink quality checks.
Once at the testing facility, prints undergo chemical emission test methods. Per the GREENGUARD website, UL Environment uses advanced dynamic environmental chamber testing, as well as exposure modeling and analytical measurements, to test for total VOCs, individual VOCs, formaldehyde, ozone, and phthalates. There are defined allowable levels for key pollutants with known or suspected irritants or more serious health impacts. The majority of chemical analyses are conducted with high-performance chromatography and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Some pollutants are measured with real-time monitoring instruments.
“A screening test involves all of the printed inks that you want certified tested in micro chambers for 24 hours. Using UL Environment models, the emission after 14 days is predicted to estimate which ink is likely to pass or fail the test. Then the ink with the lowest but passable score undergoes the certification test during seven days. When this ink passes the test, the other inks evaluated in the screening test with better scores also obtain GREENGUARD Certification,” says Van der Auwera.
Once certified, the ink’s packaging is allowed to include either GREENGUARD Certification Program or GREENGUARD Gold Certification branding logos, according to Goodearl.
The aforementioned process must be repeated annually for recertification. “Each year the ink manufacturer must submit a representative print sample for testing by UL Environment and pay an annual certification fee, in addition to the annual sample retest fee,” adds Gould.
There is demand for ink sets that are not eligible for GREENGUARD Certification and it is important to acknowledge this. While GREENGUARD Certification is attractive to many print providers, others continue to require alternative ink sets. Sustainable ink sets do not detract from their usage.
Paar’s logic is that no single UV-curable ink is suitable for every application, and not every application requires GREENGUARD Certification. So inks without the certification are still on the market.
For Rugen, ink development is about applications as well as media compatibility. “Some industrial applications may require inks that are more durable or have other properties for specialized applications. GREENGUARD may not be a consideration in those applications. Generally, many inks are developed for the widest range of media compatibility, so consideration is given to human contact or environmental disposal. In those cases, while GREENGUARD Certification may not be required—it is always considered.”
“Not every ink is appropriate for or capable of use with every substrate or for every application. Ink formulations vary for certain performance reasons and certain formulations require special raw materials to meet the application requirements. Some formulations could potentially not achieve GREENGUARD Certification, but these are likely specialty products not destined for applications where odor or emissions are critical,” agrees Goodearl.
Gould provides the example of outdoor display billboards, where there is no requirement from the market for health and safety regulations. In this scenario, the print provider wouldn’t gain much value in supplying print certified for low indoor emissions. For him, the GREENGUARD Certification “tends to be perceived as a positive value-add feature, even if the end user does not have a specific legal requirement for the certification.”
According to Maxwell, GREENGUARD Certification creates an opportunity for an ink manufacturer to offer a more premium product to PSPs. “We do not see it as a detractor, but rather a proponent of why a premium ink is better and justifiable for all customers.”
“It is important for vendors to collaborate closely with customers so they can understand their values and needs and communicate to the customer how they can be addressed. Part of that close collaboration is talking with customers to find which inks meet their quality, speed, and sustainability needs—very often, GREENGUARD certified inks fit that bill. Some customers look specifically for the GREENGUARD label,” comments Manning.
While some print providers look to new technology or unique applications to set themselves apart from the competition, working with an ink set that has GREENGUARD Certification is another option. Using an ink set approved under the third party’s vigorous testing practices allows for applications like wallcoverings or wall panels for educational and medical sectors—presenting new market opportunities.
The GREENGUARD seal of approval brings piece of mind to a customer that the printed output gives off low chemical emissions, which helps in improving air quality.
All GREENGUARD certified products are listed in the UL SPOT sustainable product database, which you can visit at spot.ul.com.
Apr2020, Digital Output