August 31, 2005


A Key Player in Information and Culture (Toppan Printing Co.)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.36 (August 2005)

Staff writer Kazunori Kobayashi

The Environmental Impacts of Information

Everyday we receive information through a wide range of media such as books, magazines, catalogues, ads, and computers. Information itself does not put a burden on the environment, but how about the vehicles to convey information such as paper made from wood, inks containing organic solvents, adhesives to bind books, and color filters that are used to give color to liquid crystal displays? As the information revolution continues and the amount of information intake increases exponentially, it is difficult to avoid the issue of how to reduce the environmental impacts of information distribution.

How are printing companies that help to convey information working on this issue? In this article, we introduce the initiatives of the Toppan Printing Company, which is making advanced efforts to reduce environmental impacts under the vision of "contributing to fulfilling lifestyles as key player in information and culture."

Toppan is one of the two biggest printing companies in Japan, with 142 companies in its corporate group employing some 32,000 workers. It was founded more than 100 years ago to print paper currency and textbooks. Since then, its business has expanded into eight fields: securities and cards, commercial printing, publications printing, E-business, packaging, decorative materials, electronics, and optronics.

Innovation in Printing Technology

Today we often find labels on the back covers of various printed materials, indicating how environmentally friendly they are. With Toppan's state-of-the-art technologies, how far can printing go to become environmentally friendly? According to Toppan's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report 2004, which describes its social and environmental activities, the company has been making positive efforts to use the latest technologies available.

Let us first examine the paper used for the CSR report. The main part of the report is made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, and the section carrying data is printed on paper made from the thinning of Japanese forests (10 percent) and post-consumer recycled paper (90 percent). By using the forest thinnings, Toppan contributes to domestic forest conservation.

What about design and editing processes? Personal computers have made desktop publishing (DTP) possible which simplifies the conventional publishing process and saves resources. Going further in this direction, Toppan is developing a technology where most printing steps are performed digitally. For example, Toppan has introduced a pre-press operation technology called Computer-To-Plate or CTP that transfers digital data directly from computers onto printing plates. The company has also developed direct digital color-proofing technology or DDCP, which has reduced considerably the amount of film used in the photoengraving process.

Conventional inks contain petroleum solvents, which have long been known to cause air pollution and human health hazards. As a leader in the industry, Toppan introduced a vegetable-based ink as a substitute ink in 1995. In 1999 the company established a system to collect and refine vegetable oil waste from school kitchens and restaurants, and to recycle it into a vegetable-oil-based ink. The system is regarded as an outstanding recycling system, which effectively uses discarded resources from outside the company and produces a high-quality product with less environmental impacts.

As another essential process for environmentally friendly printing, Toppan employs a "waterless printing" process, which emits no waste fluid. In the standard printing method, ink is applied on paper soaked in liquid containing a kind of organic solvent, thereby producing waste fluid. On the other hand, Toppan's waterless printing uses a silicon rubber layer instead of liquid, eliminating worries about waste fluid.

In book binding and finishing, the final process of printing, a recyclable "fragmentation-resistant, hot-melted adhesive" is used. The adhesive can easily be removed from paper without fragmenting during the used paper recycling process. Toppan has also adopted a new technology it calls "eco-binding" in place of saddle-stitch binding, which uses metal staples.

In addition to these printing technologies, Toppan is making efforts to develop low environmental-impact technologies to disseminate information without printing. For example, in 2004 Toppan succeeded in developing the world's first commercially-viable "electronic paper" product and started mass-production.
(See Toppan Launches World's First Mass Production of 'Electronic Paper')

The company is also involved in the production of packages. Aiming to encourage the use of branches and other wood fro tree-thinning, done to help forests grow better, Toppan, together with 30 beverage and paper manufacturing companies, established an association to promote paper beverage containers, thereby contributing to forest preservation. Toppan developed Cartocan, a paper beverage can, nicknamed the "ecology container." More than 30 percent of its raw materials are derived from forest thinnings and wood chips in Japan. In January 2001, the company established a recycling system that converts Cartocan containers to toilet paper.
Association Established to Promote Forest-Friendly Paper Beverage Container

Sustainability through products

What is the system that has helped Toppan to develop these technologies?

Taking its corporate social responsibility seriously, Toppan strives to contribute to society through its corporate activities. One such activity involves providing products, technologies and services that help build a sustainable society. To integrate its environmental activities, the company launched the Ecology Center in 1991 and made its own Declaration on the Global Environment in 1992, a sign of its leadership in the industry. Toppan decided not only to prevent environmental pollution in its business activities, but also to develop products and technologies that can contribute to global environmental protection.

During the development of products and services, 14 environmental friendliness criteria are used to evaluate them at each step of production, transportation, consumption and post-consumption. Each production division performs prior evaluations for the environmental friendliness of each product. Products developed in this way are then examined by the Ecology Center, and only those products that have passed the tests will be certified and registered as environmentally friendly products. They then will carry Toppan's labels explaining clearly which aspects of the product are environmentally friendly .

The sales of these environmentally friendly products amounted to 56.5 billion yen (about $528 million) in FY2004, or about 5 percent of the company's total sales. The annual growth rate of these products' sales is over 10 percent, higher than that of the company's total sales.

Why have Toppan's environmentally friendly products been well received by customers? "One reason is the company's effort to meet customer demand for quality products," says Mr. Masanaga Sangou of the Ecology Center. He elaborates, "The time has come when environmentally unfriendly products are likely to be rejected. On the other hand, environmentally friendly products won't be accepted if they are too expensive. Nowadays customers regard environmental friendliness as an indicator of quality for an excellent product, along with other considerations such as how (fast) it is delivered, and how appealing or exciting it is. We work hard to improve the quality of our products by accurately identifying customer needs."

For the Future

What is needed for Toppan's environmentally friendly products to expand further and attract greater support? One thing is "to create green supply-chain management," says Sangou. This means to incorporate environmentally friendly features into the entire process, from R&D and production, through to the sales stage, moving beyond the conventional approach where an environmentally friendly product was manufactured after receiving an order.

Another important thing is "to take future risks into consideration." Just as asbestos has recently became a major public concern in Japan, what were once considered to be innovative products can turn out to pose risks to the environment decades later. "There may be technical limitations involved in clarifying risks," says Sangou. "Even so, as we are a company that exists to bring technology to the world, we try to consider future risks at all times." The Toppan Printing Company will not cease in its efforts to serve society as a key supporter of information and culture in a sustainable society.