Bright blue and orange ink against a black background, exploding as though in water.

The future of sustainable print

Print is as important today as it’s ever been. Advances in technology allow us to print faster, more economically and on all manner of amazing surfaces. A simple walk around the neighbourhood will show you street signs and banners. In your home you may display decorative prints, have wallpaper or printed furnishings. We send cards and photos when we want to make our messages truly personal and wrap gifts with beautiful printed papers. It’s a printed world. It’s also the world we share, and the work that is happening to make print even more sustainable is complex, thoughtful and very clever indeed.

Designed for a second life

We rarely give any thought to how products come to be the way they are, but it’s actually a fascinating process. Our printers come in all shapes and sizes – from the little machines we have in our home offices, to industrial behemoths that produce huge volumes of printed material. They all have one thing in common: they are designed with the future in mind. Every printer is, of course, scoped for excellence in energy and consumable consumption, optimum size and the efficient use of manufacturing materials, but that’s far from the extent of planning. You might have already noticed how printers (and lots of other products too) are designed in a ‘modular’ way. This is because the end of each machine’s life is considered, and because of this they are deliberately easy to disassemble – parts can easily be stripped, refurbished, reused and recycled. In fact, we have facilities in Giessen, Germany and Venlo in the Netherlands that do just that – giving Canon machines a new ‘second life’. As time goes on and technology develops, design will become even more sustainability-focused, with new materials and processes that will not only extend the lifetime of machines further but make them more ‘circular’ than ever before.

A blonde woman in a burgundy polo shirt is photographed through industrial racking. She is using a tool to clean a piece of electronic equipment, housed in a metal box.
Bestselling models are collected from across Europe and sent to our dedicated remanufacturing facility at Giessen, Germany.

Dedicated supply and new things to print on

Today certification for deforestation free paper is an absolute must. We cannot continuously degrade natural systems for our need for print, so must have renewable resources that are specifically created for the paper industry. But what about the other surfaces we routinely print on? Printed PVC is a big problem – it’s completely non-recyclable and takes over a thousand years to degrade in landfill. But switching to sustainable substrates has never been easier and it’s even possible to find PVC-free materials that are brilliantly durable. DuPont™ Tyvek®, for example, is weatherproof and tearproof, but also highly recyclable. We’ll be seeing plenty more brilliant, sustainable and innovative new surfaces to come.

What if we simply stopped owning printers?

It’s not as ludicrous as it first sounds. When we buy printers, there’s always the conundrum of what to do with them when they are no longer needed. Recycling and donation services currently allow us to dispose of unwanted, old or broken machines, but what if a quick email could replace our machine and even supply us with a new one? Product leasing isn’t a new concept and we’re well used to leasing cars and phones. What we’re actually paying for isn’t a product, but a service. And this means that while we benefit from the most up to date models of the machines we lease, the company can control what happens to their machines. In this way manufacturers can ensure that working machines are refurbished and rehomed as standard, or their component parts are recycled in the most sustainable way possible. Many companies already lease their fleets of printers, but in the future we may well do the same for our home printers. 

We may not have a crystal ball, but we can say with some certainty that the future of sustainable print is a future we are very much at the heart of. But, of course, it’s important to stress that the future is now. And this is the approach we have always taken when manufacturing Canon products. Our corporate philosophy of Kyosei – living and working together for the common good – directs us to be responsible to people and planet, so it will come as no surprise to learn that sustainability and responsible design is and, always has been, front and centre of Canon’s R&D.

Discover more about sustainability at Canon.

Written by Andy Tomkins