A small change can make a big difference. We explore how combining energy-efficient products with changes in consumer buying habits can have a significant impact on environmental conservation.
When it comes to sustainability goals, it really can be true that the proverbial thousand-mile journey begins with a single step.
At least that is what Epson is trying to espouse in a recent report. In a paper entitled ‘Turn Down the Heat’ – named after a campaign the printing giant is running with National Geographic – the claim is that a worldwide switch from laser to inkjet printers by 2025 could save 1.3 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. This is the equivalent of 280,000 cars being taken off the road each year.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge, who worked alongside Epson in the report, used market research data for global unit sales of laser and inkjet printers by model, and used TEC (Typical Electricity Consumption) to calculate energy consumption and associated carbon emissions linked to printer use across several geographies.
Based on TEC3 – the most recent revision (3.0) of the TEC methodology – inkjet printers are up to 90% more efficient than laser printers. Yet not all inkjets are created environmentally equal.
In a thermal inkjet printer, each nozzle contains a tiny heating element which vaporises ink, and ‘like water boiling in a saucepan’, the vapour bubbles out of the nozzle to place a droplet of ink onto the page. Where Epson comes in is with its heat-free ink ejection process. This is based off patented technology using piezoelectricity, using crystals to convert mechanical and electrical energy. Pressure is applied to the piezo element, which flexes backwards and forwards to fire ink from the printhead.
With that knowledge, the findings are therefore not as much of a gotcha – but the cumulative effect is. “Printing seems like a small place to start, but when everyone on the planet makes small changes, it has an enormous impact,” said Tim Forman, University of Cambridge senior research associate. “Simply put, smarter technology decisions are crucial to turning down the heat.”
Henning Ohlsson, director of sustainability at Epson Europe, adds that the home buyer was the primary audience for the research. “The decisions people make around printing is not so different compared with other technologies, it’s just that consumers tend to be unaware of the potentially huge difference they can make to their carbon footprint by something as simple as choosing a business inkjet printer instead of a laser printer,” Ohlsson tells Sustainable Future News.
“That was one of the key motivators behind our report – to empower people to make the most environmentally friendly choice when purchasing household appliances.”
Epson’s sustainability credentials are better than most. In October, the company scored a second successive platinum rating from France-based sustainability rater EcoVadis, putting it in the top 1% of companies in its industry. Epson also got a double A rating from the CDP – the body formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project – in December, putting it in the top echelon of more than 12,000 companies evaluated.
Ongoing efforts include investing JPY 100 billion (£630m) by 2030 on decarbonisation, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Epson’s supply chain by more than 2 million tonnes. “To make a greater contribution, we seek to drive process innovations by minimising the environmental impacts incurred by customers when using Epson products and by raising operational efficiency and productivity,” explains Ohlsson. “Achieving this means taking on new challenges to offer value that existing technologies cannot provide.”
Printing can cause other environmental headaches depending on where you look. Back in 2014, the average US office worker used 10,000 sheets of paper per year, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data. It’s the same in the UK, according to the ORS Group. Printer cartridges have also traditionally had an impact; the cartridges themselves take hundreds of years to decompose, though inkjet cartridges are far better than their laser equivalents in oil consumption.
With an increased reliance on digital tools amid the working from home revolution prompted by Covid-19, a paperless office becomes ever more alluring. But Epson argues, for some industries, that idea remains a non-starter.
“The last 18 months has verified the continued importance of the printed page,” says Ohlsson. “Ways of working are undoubtedly changing, but whether employees are at home or in the office, physical paperwork will continue to be a central part of working life, particularly for industries such as law. The idea of the paperless office happening in the near future remains unrealistic.”
Yet Epson is keen to emphasise its understanding of the trade-off and willingness to help. If physical printing remains a necessity, let’s make the best of it. Separate research found that longevity, energy efficiency and waste reduction were the most essential features for homeworking equipment to exhibit in the area of environmental and social impact. Seven in 10 employees told the company it was ‘essential’ to have at least one of these features.
The Turn Down the Heat report sums everything up in a three-step call to action. Behaviour change involves the above-mentioned small step in changing to inkjets and its cumulative effect. Technological innovation notes the trade-off; appliance ownership will inevitably increase, so heat-free technology is the way forward in reducing emissions. The third step noted is international cooperation – ideally at governmental level – to encourage the uptake of more efficient appliances.
“There’s no getting away from the fact that we’re facing a global climate crisis, but the future is in our hands,” the report concludes. “One thing we have control of is our choice of technology and how we consume energy – and we can make the world a better place one appliance at a time.”
You can read the full report here (pdf, no data required).
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