Product profile: Eco-friendly products


We have all heard of third-party environmental certifications (like FSC, SFI and AFF), which are very important in maintaining ecological accountability in the printing industry, but what if we could all do more?

The following will document two Canadian printing companies who are forging ahead to the next generation of what it means to be environmentally sustainable. Hemlock Printers Ltd. and Metro Label Group Inc. have both committed to their eco-mandates and used outside-of-the-box strategies to lighten their environmental impact, including making decisions to use eco-friendly products.


Hemlock Printers, based in Burnaby, British Columbia, has a reputation for high quality sheetfed printing, which is captured in the company phrase: Integrity in Colour. Hemlock maintains a large sheetfed printing facility, as well as a digital printing facility, to service clients by manufacturing corporate materials, catalogues, magazines, posters, cards, direct mail pieces and more. Hemlock has taken a stand on its environmental impact and was the first printing company in Canada to achieve a “carbon neutral” distinction. This was achieved through defining ways to decrease its current emissions, as well as working with Offsetters (Canada’s leading provider of carbon-management solutions) to discover ways to offset the remaining emissions. As part of this work, Hemlock has committed to decreasing its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent by 2020.

For Hemlock Printers, sustainability does not just mean offering FSC-certified paper to its customers (although 70 percent of its annual paper purchases in 2009 were FSC grades). Instead the company takes a much more holistic and overarching approach that includes some of the following initiatives:

  • Decreasing the amount of waste that is bound for landfills
  • Launching its Zero Carbon Neutral program to support customers in producing carbon neutral products
  • Providing innovative facilities to staff, such as an “E-Waste Recycling Centre” to dispose of unwanted “techno-trash” like old batteries or computer monitors
  • Pollution prevention practices throughout the company, such as VOC management, water management, efficient use of office paper, increased on-site bike storage and community clean-ups with family and friends
  • Supporting local charitable organizations through offering printing services and donations (in 2009, Hemlock’s staff raised over $15,000 for charitable activities).

As leaders in sustainable printing, Hemlock has lived up to its environmental policies. The company maintains a Sustainability Committee, led by President and CEO, Dick Kouwenhoven, demonstrating the upper-level support backing Hemlock’s environmental initiatives.


Metro Label Group is a prominent pressure-sensitive label printer in Toronto, Ontario (with facilities in Langley, B.C., Napa Valley, California and Montreal, Quebec), that offers a wide array of production processes to meet clients’ needs (including lithographic, flexographic, screen, digital, waterless offset and rotary letterpress equipment). Servicing the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, beverage and other label-dependent markets, Metro Label holds itself to high quality standards: “We truly believe – It’s not just your label, it’s your brand.”

This organization also holds itself to high environmental standards. In 2005, its Toronto office relocated to a state-of-the-art production facility, and in 2006, this building was one of the first manufacturing facilities in Canada to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. As part of the LEED certification, Metro Label’s facilities utilize water waste management systems (including using reclaimed rain water to supply the building’s toilets), recycled heat from its presses to heat the rest of the building, as well as reclaimed construction materials. Furthermore, the office area’s lighting is motion controlled and the building is surrounded by native plant species that do not require additional irrigation.

Metro Label has been recognized by a number of industry organizations and was awarded the FTA’s Eighth Annual Environmental Excellence Award for Process Improvement in 2008, as well as the Label Industry Gold Award for Sustainability/Environmental Responsibility in 2008.

Metro Label also made a number of smaller, but equally important, eco-friendly decisions when planning its new facility. A few examples of these initiatives include, but are not limited to

  • Using low or zero VOC paints (such as the Natura paint collection from Benjamin Moore & Co.)
  • All furniture, fabrics and carpeting are comprised of natural versus synthetic materials (such as the furniture you will find at OstermanCron, who offers a line of eco-friendly modular office furniture, as well as offering a selection of gently used furniture to customers)
  • All of the doors and paneling were glued using water-based adhesives
  • The drywall contains recycled content (such as drywall available at ecomii)
  • The glass panels in the reception area are from a reclaimed source
  • Bicycle stands and locker rooms with showers are available to staff who choose to bike to work.

bullfrog-powerAs Metro Label’s President, Sandeep Lal, explains, there are significant costs associated with improving facilities to become more environmentally friendly. The key is making decisions that will have the biggest impact in a reasonable payback period. For example, Metro Label contemplated using solar or wind energy onsite, however this option proved to have an impractical rate of return and was not subsidized by the government. The decision to use reclaimed heat from their presses however, has proven to be very successful in decreasing emissions and energy costs, with a payback period of approximately three to five years.

Other eco-friendly ideas for printing companies include purchasing energy from renewable sources (Bull Frog Power, for example, is power sourced solely from wind and hydro facilities) or purchasing “carbon offsets” to lighten an organization’s carbon footprint. Offsetter’s carbon offset purchases are used to fund sustainable initiatives worldwide, like the Mare Monastir wind farm in Turkey or the Luara Ceramic Fuel Switching project in Brazil.

Society’s current systems for sustainability are far from perfect, and pollutants are still being emitted into our environment faster than they can be naturally combated, but any progress forward is important on the road to extensive, worldwide environmental sustainability.


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.