Saving Green by Printing Green

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Posted 2008-03-03

Saving Green by Printing Green

Mention Green IT and the conversation turns bashfully to the lowly network printer. After all, printers are a big consumer of resources, such as electricity, toner/ink and paper - all of which cost money and leave users with a less than "green" feeling! Sure, plenty of printers offer a sleep mode or sport an energy star label, but there is a lot more to being green than just that.

Today, printer vendors are trying to redefine what it means to be green and most are applying technology to reduce waste and just be more environmentally friendly.

There are several elements the corporate technology buyer needs to look at to make sure everything is coming up green. For example, there is the whole issue of supplies - are the supplies for the printer in question as "green" as possible? One consumable to look at is toner.

Green Toner

Many vendors have re-engineered their toner to be more environmentally friendly. For example, Konica Minolta offers its polymerized toner, compared to conventional toner, polymerized toner offers improved image quality and reduced production costs, while being environmentally friendly due to its energy savings and emission-reducing effects.

Okidata takes a different approach; the company's "Wasteless Toner System" was designed to eliminate wasted toner. In other words, excess toner that would normally be stored in a waste bottle is recycled and reused in the printer, reducing waste and boosting efficiency. Kyrocera Mita follows a different design path with their "Ecosys" technology, which boasts environmental friendliness by offering a "cartridge-free" printing system. Conventional printers use an imaging cartridge that integrates a photoreceptor drum, developer and toner into a single, disposable unit. When the toner is depleted, the entire cartridge is disposed of and replaced with a new unit. In contrast, ECOSYS printers use a durable imaging system based on an amorphous silicon print drum (a-Si), a combination of ceramic and metal. The print drum is guaranteed for up to 500,000 pages.  Kyocera Mita's toner features ceramic particles which polish and recondition the drum during normal printing, which eliminates the need for replacement of the drum and other cartridge components.

Leading printer vendor Hewlett-Packard seems to be putting all its eggs into the recycling basket. The company has ramped up its cartridge recycling program and now uses a new engineering process that maximizes the amount of post-consumer recycled plastics when manufacturing new cartridges.

Lexmark follows a similar approach, relying on recycling to make the biggest impact for the "greening" of consumables for its various printers.

Tree-Hugging Paper

Another consumable to consider is paper. While paper is considered a universal consumable that can be used across a wide spectrum of printers, there are some manufacturers who are touting the green-ness of their paper. For example, Xerox is offering an eco-friendly paper that cuts in half the amount of trees needed to manufacture the paper, resulting in higher yields and a reduction in the water and chemicals needed for production. The paper is also supposed to cost less for the consumer. Innovations like that make paper a real consideration for those looking to green up their printing.

Saving Green by Printing Green

Duplexing, MFPs and Buying Green}

For those looking for a "green" printer, consumables are only part of the equation - a major part, but not the end-all, be-all of green-ness! Buyers will have to dive a little deeper into the manufacturing process to truly embrace green technology. Part of the green manufacturing initiative can be attributed to RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) compliance, a directive that restricts the use of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and two types of polybromic fire retardants (PBB & PBDE). Konica Minolta embraces RoHS and other environmental standards as part of its manufacturing process. Vendors such as Lexmark, HP and Okidata, which are selling their products into European markets, are adhering to RoHS rules or at the very least, pursuing exemptions for certain technologies that cannot meet the stringent requirements of RoHS.

For "green-minded" buyers, it all comes down to looking at how a manufacturer constructs its products to determine how environmentally friendly they are. Although manufacturers are doing their part to bring green technology to the forefront, the biggest impact on how green a product can be is how it is used.

That translates to the selection, deployment and overall use of a product. For instance, if a printer is deployed and is set up so it goes into sleep mode after a minute of inactivity, but due to usage - the printer is waking up out of sleep mode to process jobs several times an hour, the printer may use more energy and incur more wear due to the multiple sleep/wake cycles experienced in that hour. Of course, this is a basic example, but understanding a product's usage is key to how green it can be.

Proper selection of a product's features can also impact the green efficiency of a printer.

Two-Sided Print and MFPs

One of the most basic options that can make a difference is a duplexer. If it is feasible for a business to print on both sides of a page, then the savings can add up quickly; paper use is reduced by half. All of the major manufacturers offer a duplexer option for most of their models and it is usually a worthwhile investment.

For small- and medium-size businesses, selecting a multifunction device can make a big difference. By implementing a Multi Function Printer that prints, scans, copies and faxes, what was once accomplished by four separate machines can now be done by one, which reduces electrical costs, reduces supplies needed and maximizes the features used. Add to that the ability to scan and capture documents electronically and other benefits, such as storage space for paper files, electronic distribution of documents and so-on, become readily apparent.

Some printers also offer specialized features that can help reduce operating costs, reduce the number of pages printed and increase efficiencies. For example, Konica Minolta's higher-end Magicolor 8650DN offers the ability to store print jobs on a local hard drive, which allows a user to store a print job and then have it print when they are physically at the printer. That prevents printed copies from being mistakenly distributed to or picked up by other users. When printer output disappears, it usually results in the user printing again. Here, the path to green-ness is paved by reducing reprints.

Reducing paper usage is a common theme for those who are environmentally conscious; here, another technology offered by many of the printer manufacturers can offer significant paper savings. N-up printing technology can be used to print multiple pages on a single sheet of paper. Many printer manufacturers include N-up capabilities in their printer drivers. Here a user can select to print two (usually four) or more pages on a single sheet of paper. That proves to be an ideal way to reduce paper usage for proofs, edits or infrequently used technical documents. When combined with duplexing, users can expect to reduce paper usage by eight times.

Buying Green

Buying printers that are environmentally friendly and still cost effective can be a challenge for corporate IT departments. But the process can be simplified by focusing on the benefits offered by today's technology and can be broken down into some simple rules that will maximize the benefits offered:

  • Combine as many functions as possible into a single device (MFP products)
  • Select printers that are engineered green from the start (RoHS compliance)
  • Select printers that use environmentally friendly supplies (Soy Inks, Efficient Toners)
  • Use technologies that reduce waste (Long life drums and fusers)
  • Use vendors that embrace recycling programs (refillable cartridges or exchange programs)
  • Use printers that reduce paper needs (Duplexing, N-Up)
  • Use Energy Star technologies (Sleep or power down modes)

While no one manufacturer incorporates every single green technology, some are coming close to maximizing what it is to be green, and corporate buyers can narrow down what products best fit their internal green initiatives, reduce costs and still meet printing needs by evaluating what is on the market. There is plenty to choose from, but ultimately the choice will be yours!

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