‘Everything we do, we do for our next generation’

Developing the first sustainable ink in the world

During a holiday in China, our chemic Jack Baarends, was approached by an ink developer, who was a former business partner of his. He told Baarends that the Chinese government had asked him to make environmentally friendly inks for children’s study books. However, he considered himself not fit for this job, and asked the retired Baarends to help him, due to his experience with the development of the materials used in printing ink. “I was immediately triggered”, Baarends says, “In my work as a developer, I always wanted to mean more for the environment. In 1994 however, people didn’t look at the environment the way we do now. I was happy I finally got the chance to do something. A few weeks after my holidays, I went back to China to get started.”

Out of need
In two weeks, Baarends finished his first version of the product, but within the company of the developer he met, things went wrong. The assignment for the Chinese government that made him start working at this project at the first place, disappeared because of it. But the product was ready,  so what now? “I kept on testing and improving the product on my own and after a year, in 2012, I was satisfied. My son in law reminded me of the discussion concerning the safety of our packaged food, that was going on in Europe by that time. The discussion started by an article, published by a gatekeeper named Foodwatch. He thought, my product could be a solution for this problem”, says Baarends proudly. After bringing the product to Europe, he went looking for interested parties. Baarends came in contact with Eco-Point. This company experienced something similar when they launched sustainable cleaning products, a few years earlier. They decided to team up and together with other entrepreneurs they founded Green4Print in 2012.

“Of course we were curious whether the Chinese government was still interested in our product. Full of pride, we told them about our clean inks and how all of our tests proved successful. Much to our surprise, they were not interested at all. ‘Everyone can say they have a good and healthy product, but to believe you, we need proof!’, they said. Green4Print presented their product in front of a council of the Chinese government, specialized in science and technology. They certified the ink as being unique, healthy and sustainable.”

But this was only the beginning. European rules and values are very different from the Asian. “In Asia, people want cheap products, compared to the quality. In Europe, we are much more aware of the environment, the quality and the fact that every can of ink needs to be the exact same color. Again, we were not able to proof that”, Baarends explains. The solution was simple, Green4Print needed to be certified for quality, sustainability and health. Multiple independent authorities tested their inks, resulting in multiple certificates, for instance for low migration, meaning that the ink will not migrate to the food that is in the package. They’ve also been tested for the quality of the colors, health and compostability. Green4Print also reached out to EPEA, a Dutch independent organization, that guides companies in the printing and design industry to create and recycle in a healthy and safe way. This process is called Cradle-to-Cradle and involves taking account for our next generation. You can read more about Cradle-to-Cradle on our website

EPEA, the organization that rewards companies with the Cradle-to-Cradle certificates, was impressed of the inks and rewarded them with a ‘silver’ rating. ‘Green4Print knows how they can differentiate themselves from other companies in the market. Their offset inks are radically different compared to conventional inks according to safety for humans and environment, recycling, renewability. They also choose to use soy-free resources, which we highly encourage’, writes EPEA. Baarends however, wasn’t yet completely satisfied: “Why would you comply with legal limits, if it’s also possible to completely eliminate ALL of the harmful substances?”, he wondered. Nowadays, this resulted in a ‘golden’ rating from EPEA and Green4Print is on their way fast to having a ‘platinum’ label for the ‘material health’component. In addition to regular offset inks, Green4Print also develops water based products, like flexo-ink. Those newer products are now rated ‘silver’ but are on their way to becoming gold. ‘They keep trying to find a different approach, trying to do even better than the legal limits or other eco-labels where the approach is to just comply to limit values’, EPEA states. 

Carry through
The discussion of environment is also being conducted in different instances in the graphic world. Baarends: “The problem is that printing offices and pressrooms are not as ready for change as they should be in my opinion. They try to be sustainable by using recycled papers and try to save energy and water, while they turn their heads from the main business: ink! I think that’s a shame, because why would you want to use conventional, harmful ink on beautiful, sustainable products? I do agree that this may needs some time, but most of all, the sector owners and consumers need to WANT to do better. They must demand that from the printing houses. 

Until then, our work isn’t done. We keep looking for sustainable and healthy alternatives. We owe that to our next generation…”