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Green from the bottom up - 6 August 2008

Michael Powell, product marketing manager at Kyocera Mita South Africa, discusses the aspects of smart green practices.

We have spoken previously about how environmentally sound business practices and the responsible use of resources can be achieved at the same time as making a positive contribution to the bottom line.

Although, green practices are very much top-of-mind today but they have been part of the office equipment industry for many years.

The problem with the current emphasis on green concerns is that obvious cost-saving aspects can be rebranded as environmental value-ads, which takes the focus away from the fundamental impact of the actual technology. One might say that customers can’t see the wood from the trees.

Yes, it is important to standardise on double-sided (duplex) printing and save on paper. Yes, it is great if a new device uses less power. Both of these are worthy goals – but they can be discounted against the possibility of increased CO2 emissions, use of hazardous substances (lead, mercury) or the use of unrecyclable packaging materials. In fact, some technology gives only the semblance of being eco-friendly.

Consider the paper issue. Until we reach the “blue sky” goal of a paperless office, there always will be a need to use paper. The key questions are how much and is it produced without harmful chemicals?

On the power issue, it is what you can fairly call a “no brainer” that all manufacturers are producing machines with lower power consumption and improved sleep modes.

However, if you want to look at the full environmental picture, you need to go beyond the obvious and find out about what is going on inside the equipment – not just what goes into it and comes out of it.

Let’s look at what goes into making a drum, which is the heart of any printer. The typical type of drum comprises three layers. Apart from being longer-lasting, manufacturing a single-layer drum produces a third of the CO2 involved in making the usual type of drum.

Then look at fuser technology. This is the heated roller that bonds the toner to the paper. If you can save power on this element, the device will save power even when it is in operation – not just by going into standby mode. A machine with a smaller fuser that heats and cools rapidly will be much more energy-efficient than one with a conventional fuser; some machines use a fan system to cool the roller.

This seems like quite a lot of homework to do before you make a decision on what equipment to buy.

As a rule of thumb, it’s worth looking at what environmental accreditations a manufacturer has. How many of their devices have been approved to international standards?

One of the primary environmental accreditations is Energy Star. This is supported by US and EU governments and is only given to equipment that meets high standards of energy efficiency. For printers, the Energy Star accreditation also takes into account the device’s ability to perform duplex printing.

The German Blue Angel accreditation goes even further. It takes into account elimination of hazardous substances and waste material from production and usage. If a device has that accreditation, you can be sure it meets the latest eco-friendly standards.

One standard that is a good thing – but which can be misleadingly used in marketing – is compliance with the EU RoHS (report on hazardous substances). This should now be regarded as an entry-level requirement, a law in Europe. The best machines will exceed the RoHS requirements.

Another major consideration is recycling. What do you do with things like toner cartridges and even the machines themselves when they reach the end of life?

Achieving smart and responsible green practices is not a simple process. There are many factors to be considered. While some of them have a direct contribution to cost savings, others are less obvious and the merit lies more in being a responsible business with a vision of the future.

It’s that vision of the future that is probably the core of effective green practices. In this century, a sustainable business model has to take into account sustainable environmental approaches. Anything else is self-defeating and short-sighted.