The Carbon Footprint of the Printed Product

Commentary written by Lasse Krogell, NOPA

The interest in the question of the environmental impact of print is increasing in importance. In my January article I wrote about the impact of paper from virgin fiber compared to recycled fiber where there seems to be an ongoing discussion of which type is better. A much more concrete and even measurable environmental factor is the carbon footprint. More than ten years ago the big question was, is consuming media information with an electronic device more environmentally friendly then reading the same information from a printed product. Today I think that it is commonly accepted that all activities have their impacts and that we should try to minimize it.

When the print buyer asks the printer, what is the carbon footprint of the product it would be a clear competitive advantage if the printer could answer that question. The easy answer is that it is less than or close to only 1 % of the total carbon footprint of an average household. But I don’t think the print buyer is happy with that answer.

To calculate the carbon footprint of a printing company it takes quite a bit of effort. There are international standards how to do the calculation and the way to do it is to use a dedicated service for the calculation. The only calculation service I can recommend for the printing company is Climate Calc ( This service has been on the market for close to 10 years and is dedicated to printing. It has its roots in Denmark where the Danish printing federation Grakom started the work and operates the consortium to run it. In the table here you can see the number of printers in the Nordic and Baltic countries that have the certificate to use CC.


ClimateCalc users in the Nordic and Baltic countries
Denmark Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lituania
13 1 9 5 2 2 1


It is still mainly bigger companies that have taken it in use but in particular in Denmark also smaller printers use it. With CC you measure the total carbon footprint of the company per year according to the use of different raw materials and energy plus other factors causing CO2 emissions. Then it is possible based on the annual figures to calculate the footprint for a single job. There are two versions of CC; ClimateCalc Basic and the full version. In the Basic version a lot of the emission factors are automatically calculated based on assumptions of maximum values. You get probably higher figures than your real situation, but with much less work. One big advantage of the full version is that you get detailed information about your operations and can build targets to improve, that is to lower your footprint. It is also possible to compare your figures to similar printers’ figures.

When you know your footprint, it is possible to compensate that by a system called carbon emission offsetting. This is in principle done in the same way as you can pay a little extra for your flight ticket to compensate for the emission your flight makes. Offsetting is done by purchasing emission reductions, and/ or permanent emission removals (carbon sink increases) in relation to emissions emitted ”ton for ton”.  Grafkom just introduced the cooperation with an organization named World Land Trust that has an offsetting system named Carbon Balanced Paper. Paper is the biggest single source of carbon emission in the printed product. Depending very much of the kind of work and equipment the printer has the share of emission from paper can vary significantly, from one third even up to 80 %.

A very easy way of compensation is to contact Grafkom and use the Carbon Balanced Paper system to compensate for your printed product. I suppose it is also possible to overcompensate the paper footprint and hence compensate to total amount the printed product cause. In that case you should try to find more information of which share the paper has in the total carbon footprint of your operation. Using Carbon Balanced Paper you get a certificate of balancing and can use the CBP logo in the printed product to indicate that paper has been balanced.

There are a lot of carbon offsetting schemes on the market. Not all are 100 percent reliable where part of the money paid is not used to projects that has proved effect. Therefore it is very important to use a trusted and widely respected partner for this.

For more information and support for carbon footprint calculation and compensation you are welcome to contact Magnus Thorkildsen at Grafkom or the author.

written by Lasse Krogell, NOPA,