Awareness of environmental issues has dramatically increased as a result of climate change, with more and more consumers valuing sustainable products with eco-friendly packaging. Customers of print shops therefore expect them to produce sustainably. Heidelberg understands this and for many years has been helping its own customers make their production and business operations as climate neutral as possible. Harald Woerner, Product Manager Environment & Sustainability at Heidelberg, talks about strategy, measures, and successes.
Mr. Woerner, there is a wave of criticism about packaging rippling through the consumer world. While more and more people are shunning plastic, folding cartons are becoming increasingly popular. How did that come about?
Woerner: Essentially, we are currently experiencing a paradigm shift. More and more people are acknowledging the urgency of climate and environmental issues – and they are demanding a change in the way we consume. Plastic has come under fire because we are confronted on an almost daily basis with marine pollution and the risks posed by microplastics. And it’s true that folding cartons, for example, are a far more sustainable packaging solution than plastic. But packaging material alone is not enough, of course.
What else is needed?
For a company to position itself as a preferred business partner on the market, it’s no longer enough to offer the best service at the best price. This applies to all sectors and print shops are no exception. Today, putting all processes on a sustainable footing is equally vital for ensuring success. That means choosing the most sustainable packaging material is just the first step.
For 30 years now, Heidelberg has been unrelenting in its pursuit of sustainability. What’s the reasoning behind this?
For many years now, Heidelberg has been demonstrably investing in sustainable production. We have also been equally determined to help print shops put sustainability into action. Wherever possible, we boost the energy efficiency of our products. We reduce paper waste, process emissions, and process waste. What’s more, we optimize the overall efficiency of entire systems by incorporating all production steps – from prepress and press to postpress.
How sustainable are the machines from Heidelberg?
Nowadays, all our machines for the prepress, press, and postpress stages are available in carbon-neutral designs. In this respect, we have a unique selling point on the market. Together with the independent Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology, we have developed a process that enables us to demonstrate the carbon neutrality of our machines. Some 645 carbon-neutral printing presses from Heidelberg are now in use in 48 countries worldwide. In this way, we are helping our customers across the globe reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of industrial processes.
Can efficiency and sustainability be formulated in more concrete terms?
Let’s take the 1997 Kyoto Protocol as an example. According to this treaty, industrial processes should be at least 20 percent more efficient in 2020 compared to 1990. If we now compare the top-of-the-range press from 1990, the Speedmaster CD 102-6+L, with today’s flagship packaging printing solution, the Speedmaster XL 106-6+L, we can see we have achieved more than double that – 41.7 percent exactly – by cutting the energy consumption per 1,000 sheets from 13.8 kWh to 8 kWh.
And how did you manage that?
As is often the case, it’s the small tweaks that bring about progress. Allow me to offer two examples. On the one hand, our has halved the energy costs for the inking unit temperature control. On the other, our air supply cabinet now achieves an efficiency of 70 rather than the previous 35 percent. In other words, energy is used twice as efficiently.
What would you recommend to packaging printers?
Three points are particularly important to me. Firstly, I recommend using FSC or PEFC certified cartons made from fresh fiber that contain a high proportion of recycled materials. After all, it’s the cartons that account for the biggest carbon footprint in packaging production.
Secondly, I’d like to point out that – contrary to what many printers believe – it is better for the environment and the printer’s wallet if printing presses run to maximum capacity and go into standby mode at the end of production. When the standby mode, a feature that’s actually only available in Heidelberg presses, is activated, energy consumption falls from 10 kW to 3 kW.
Thirdly, packaging printers – but not just them – should bear in mind that sustainable business practices not only strengthen their own company, but benefit all of humanity. Those who purchase a carbon-neutral packaging printing press from Heidelberg, for example, are supporting reforestation and education projects in countries such as Ethiopia. Overall, Heidelberg and its customers have so far planted around 240,000 trees and helped build a school.
What is Heidelberg doing at its sites to reduce its ecological footprint?
We actually take a holistic approach to sustainability. In other words, we are naturally keen to drive forward carbon-neutral production processes in the print media industry with the help of state-of-the-art machine technology. In the grand scheme of things, however, we take sustainability to mean the long-term balance between ecology, cost-efficiency, and corporate social responsibility. That is why our sites play an important role in our overall concept.
Can you give some specific examples?
For instance, all our production sites are certified to the environmental management standard ISO 14001. All internal workflows and manufacturing processes are continuously optimized in terms of their ecological compatibility and energy efficiency. We are also using technology to make our sites more environmentally friendly.
In Wiesloch, for example, solar panels on the roof of the research and development center provide a supply of green energy. This alone enables us to reduce our ecological footprint by 177 metric tons of CO2 every year because we need to buy in less power. Alongside this, our gas-operated cogeneration plant generates both energy and heat. Waste heat is used for production and keeping the workshops and offices warm. This allows us to cut fuel consumption by up to 40 percent compared to systems that generate energy and heat separately.
What role do staff play in the sustainability strategy at Heidelberg?
A very important one. After all, without a strong awareness of sustainability issues among our workforce, we would fail to achieve our ambitious goals. That is why we provide our staff with information and training on sustainable business practices at Heidelberg. The response to this has been positive and is helping us drive forward projects, for example regarding biodiversity. Working on their own initiative, our trainees built an insect hotel for our wildflower meadow in Wiesloch, thereby supporting biodiversity in the area.
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