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Making the green scene

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 AM


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Two years ago, I invited AMERICAN PRINTER readers to share their stories of environmental stewardship. Mercer Color (Coldwater, OH) was among the first to respond. “For more than 15 years, we have been practicing and perfecting ecological manufacturing,” wrote Pat Berger, vice president and owner. “We have beta tested and recommended modifications to many products.”

Berger noted that petroleum washes can be eliminated from the pressroom completely and VOCs nearly so. Quality isn't compromised — all jobs are printed at 300 lpi or higher.

“The only VOCs we have in pressroom chemistry are 0.2 lb. per gallon in our fountain solution,” reports Berger. “There are two ink sets currently available that perform at 20-micron and lower stochastic resolution. The VOC content is four percent or less.”

In 1996, Mercer Color branded its environmentally friendly and sustainable offset printing “Ecologically Controlled Offset Printing” (ECOLITH). In addition to low VOCs, ECOLITH uses no hazardous air pollutants nor acetone and is practically odor free. The environmentally friendly printing process encompasses ink, fountain solution, metering roller cleaner, roller cleaning paste, blanket-roller-wash-general cleaning, filters and training.

I was puzzled to learn ECOLITH not only meets but exceeds the South Coast and Bay Area Air Quality Management District regulations. Why would an Ohio printer voluntarily meet these West Coast restrictions? I assumed Mercer Color must have a California branch office or was attempting to impress a client near the Pacific Ocean.

‘You stink’

I was wrong. Mercer Color is a $2 million, 10-employee operation. Neither a government agency nor a granola crunching client prompted Pat Berger's environmental epiphany. It was his kids. “You stink, Dad,” they would tell him when he came from work. “When you work in any facility you take the fumes home with you just like second-hand smoke,” says Berger. “My family, fellow employees and their families shouldn't be subjected to anything that is toxic or potentially harmful.”

Since making the switch to eco-responsible products in 1990, Mercer Color's ink consumption decreased 25 percent. The printer, which previously used 165 gallons of wash annually, is down to a single 30-gallon drum. Aqueous coating isn't used. Most jobs can be worked and turned in 15 minutes or less and 35 percent of jobs are printed, folded, cut and shipped the same day.

But according to Berger, “Going green isn't about money. It's about having a safe environment for present and future generations.”

Mercer developed the ECOLITH printing process after testing, reformulating and developing vegetable-based inks, fountain solutions and wash-up solutions. In the early days, Berger was largely on his own. “Very few people [had done this], so I had to teach myself.” He contacted ink, fountain solution and other suppliers. If the vendor wasn't cooperative in making the requested alterations, he tried another one until he had assembled his green team. “It's extremely easy to do, once you have the ink, chemistry and everything in place,” Berger says. “It's easier than conventional printing.”

Someday, Berger would like to use wind power to run his plant. That probably won't be happening soon, but he's already researching the possibilities. He doesn't have to look far to see ECOLITH's impact. His son Pete has joined the company full time, while another son, Adam, is a part-time employee. One of his daughters, Mandy, helps out during busy periods. And nobody goes home smelling like a pressroom.

How about you?

AMERICAN PRINTER announced its Environmental Excellence Award program at Graph Expo 07. As publisher Scott Bieda explained, “AMERICAN PRINTER's goal and that of our Premier sponsors, Heidelberg and Kodak, is to heighten the awareness of environmentally sound practices in the commercial printing industry and to honor the commercial printers who are leading the industry in environmentally conscious manufacturing,”

Printers attaining a defined level of environmental criteria will be listed in AMERICAN PRINTER's sister publication, PRINT & MEDIA BUYER. This listing will take the form of a directory titled “Environmentally Conscious Printers” distributed to more than 10,000 print buyers and specifiers across the country.

Awards are scheduled to be presented at the 2008 Graph Expo show. Environmental Excellence Award winners will be recognized at a brief ceremony. Our September 2008 issue will profile the winners.

We'd like to invite commercial printers to participate by completing the entry form found between pgs. 48-49.