Laurel Brunner Verdigris Blog: The Meaning of Life

Life Cycle AnalysisLife Cycle Analysis (LCA) is expensive, takes a long time and can be fiendishly complex. Companies who undertake it generally do so in order to demonstrate the environmental credentials of their product or service. But there are other more nuanced reasons for doing LCA, such as providing proof points for marketing statements and guidance for product designers and engineers. An LCA can also help demonstrate regulatory compliance and be an aid to sales and marketing projects. It’s obviously a useful tool for carbon offsetting and for carbon credits.

HP Indigo has done an LCA for a flexible coffee pouch printed using three different printing methods: the HP Indigo 20000 digital press, Central Impression (CI) Flexo and gravure. The goal of the study was to provide data that would help HP show how the HP Indigo 20000 digital press, positioned in the market for packaging applications, stacks up against the analogue competition. There’s a lot to play for because digital print methods currently account for only a teensy share of a market HP estimates will be worth $114 billion by 2020.

The study was conducted by EarthShift Global, a specialist LCA company, following ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. These standards outline requirements for comparative LCA studies. The functional unit for the study is a coffee pouch made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and printed on all exterior surfaces.

The conclusions consider the environmental impact for 3,000m2 and 5,000m2 of printed material. These quantities of print are not necessarily typical in the current market for flexible packaging printing, which has to support very large runs so most of it’s still produced with CI flexo and gravure. But today’s model is changing and run lengths are falling. Brand owners want closer engagement with their target buyers, so they demand faster time to market for a growing range of Fast Moving Consumable Goods (FMCG). Increasingly they want to be able to customise products for different sectors, geographies and seasons. Customised packaging for FMCG, only possible with digital printing, can yield consistently high response rates which brand owners love. These are powerful arguments for using of digital printing over conventional methods, which lack digital printing’s timeliness and flexibility.

Pouches printed on the HP Indigo 20000 had the lowest environmental impact for quantities up to 5,000m2. This LCA demonstrates that digital printing offers a compelling alternative to conventional analogue methods, with the added benefit of producing highly effective bespoke packages. Equally important is the fact that digital printing has a much lower environmental impact overhead than gravure or flexo printing. It is the way forward for brand owners and for the environment.

Laurel Brunner


The Verdigris project is an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. It provides a weekly commentary to help printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa GraphicsDigital DotsEFIFespaHeidelbergHPKodakRicohSplash PRUnity Publishingand Xeikon.

Laurel Brunner

Laurel specialises in digital prepress, digital production and digital printing and is managing director Digital Dots ( She provides international editorial, consulting and educational services to a wide cross section of publishers, manufacturers and industry associations. Laurel also participates several ISO working groups developing standards for the graphics industry and convenes a group responsible for standards relating to the environmental impact of graphics technology, including print media.

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