Are textiles greener and better?

Are textiles greener and better or is it just marketing?

by Mike Horsten, Marketing Manager Mimaki Europe


Why there is so much discussion about sustainability and a more environmental conscientious approach, when most of us are worried about surviving this economic downturn? Politicians say the crisis is over, but the wide-format industry has not yet seen any clear indicators of recovery.

Economic uncertainty does encourage introspection and new ways of working. We do need to adapt and engage in new ideas and innovations. And as sustainability is a topic that comes up so frequently when we talk about innovation the two have become synonymous. In many ways, it is driving research and development. However, it should not be the only consideration, the business and its employees need to be fully supportive and the ethos has to be implemented throughout the whole operation.
Of course there are great innovations that reduce CO2 emissions and create products that are better for the environment, our own health and more. I stand behind these great new technologies that will help make our planet better. But new innovations in our print industry have also given us an economic burden.

Do we really need to buy equipment every time something new hits the street?

Do we work better just because of innovation?

I don’t think so. Yes, we have been printing for many years, but can we or are we willing to change our views of dirty printing?

We all recognize becoming 100% green is something that is not going to happen overnight -even 10% would be a great start. But as long as we only focus on the smaller elements such as eco-inks, emission free substrates or one printer using less energy than another, no-one will become 100% sustainable – only a bit more environmentally conscientious. It really does not add up and you are not changing the world. You are simply responding to the market. You are not thinking or believing in the green movement as whole. The result is green washing because you believe that you became environmentally sound after buying a printer with improved energy consumption. While a step in the right direction there is a still a long way to go and not really much to shout about to customers even if this printer is the latest Mimaki Latex system.

Sustainability is an important consideration in our world today. Large corporate buyers are starting to demand certification involving yearly audits in respect to ecological commitment. Unfortunately most certifications are not geared for the wide format industry – yet. We could set up our companies to achieve them but they built on different business models. So until one is devised then we should do as much as we can to reduce our impact.

That’s where textiles come in. The current generation of dye sublimation are more sustainable than most of their fellow UV or (Eco)solvent printers. Using Dye Sub or Latex inks on polyester substrates results in relatively green products. Coupled with energy conservation and waste disposal efforts you are well on your way to big gains – a step at a time. Let’s take this production example and compare a traditional vinyl print with a textile print.

The logistics of producing and installing a 2 x 3 meter vinyl wall in a retail area would require it to be printed, protected in a sturdy carton roll and transported by lorry due to its size. Two people would then be needed to mount the image taking them out of the production area for at least half a day each. Also to be considered is the liner and the previous vinyl image that needs to be recycled at extra cost and time that should be passed on. On top of this the image can glare and smell.

Using textiles can skip many of these steps and the savings can be easier to achieve. Customers would need to buy or lease an aluminum profile frame to be mounted in-store locations binding them into your logistic cycle.

Then the steps are: print the image and attach a silicon strip to hold the fabric in place on the customer’s frame. This means the shop staff can install the new images themselves. And as fabric can wrinkle, using a stretchable fabric eliminates this problem. What’s more, 2 x 3 meter image can be folded and shipped in a small box overnight. The same box could be used to send the old graphic back to the printer for recycling.  No expensive transportation costs, no extra staff and no complicated recycling systems. Additional benefits include the customer knowing old images will be properly recycled.

So by changing some ways printers can save themselves and their customers money, transportation, recycling and staff time.

All we have to do is rethink our ways!