Eco-Friendly Book Printing

Harvard University Press and Maple-Vail Join Forces for Debut of Eco-Friendly Printing Process

The Dismal Science, by Stephen Marglin, became the first book published using the new THINKTech™ printing process on June 18. The debut printing was the result of a collaboration between Harvard University Press and Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group. Described by Harvard University Press's Assistant Director for Design and Production, John Walsh, as "one of the biggest things I've ever heard of in the printing world in terms of eco-friendliness," the new technology dramatically reduces the emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and eliminates the use of natural-gas-fed ovens.

Maple-Vail has strong ties to the scholarly publishing community and is currently working with 60 university presses. Bill Long, Maple-Vail's Vice President of Sales and Marketing, explained that they chose to partner with Harvard University Press on this new process because of Harvard's long-standing relationship with Maple-Vail and their visible commitments to environmental issues and sustainability. Maple-Vail is one of Harvard University Press's biggest vendors, and Walsh echoed Long's sentiment in describing the Harvard/Maple-Vail relationship as a "strategic partnership."

Both Harvard UP and Maple Vail are members of the Green Press Initiative (GPI), and both are signatories to its Industry Treatise for Responsible Paper Use. As an inaugural member of the Book Industry Environmental Council, Maple-Vail was a sponsor of the recent study on the book industry's carbon footprint (AAUP also sponsored this study). As part of its commitment to GPI, Maple-Vail stocks paper with high post-consumer recycled waste content, which Harvard agreed to use in the printing of The Dismal Science. Walsh described Harvard University Press's participation in this new printing process as emblematic of their desire to be a part of the leadership of GPI, and said they were thrilled to be asked to participate with Maple-Vail.

Given the current push across industries for green and sustainable business practices, it comes as no surprise that Maple-Vail's Bill Long cites "strong evidence in the marketplace of an interest in pursuing more eco-friendly book manufacturing alternatives." Harvard UP knew the initative would be of interest to the university community, and promoted the initiative around campus, where it was subject of a press release and a feature in the weekly Harvard newspaper.

The THINKTech™ process, developed by Maple-Vail and Amerikal Products Corporation, uses a line of sustainable chemistry called Genesis in place of traditional pressroom chemistry. The process greatly reduces use of both natural gas and electricity, as it eliminates the need for gas-fired ovens, chill drums, chill water compressors, electrical pumps, silicone applicators, and electrically powered blowers. Both VOC ink levels and VOC emissions are dramatically reduced, while all federal and state regulated toxins (silicone, federal 313 chemicals and Hazardous Air Pollutants [HAPs]) are eliminated. In addition to these environmental benefits, the technology is also a boon to productivity: it expedites the drying process while improving the quality, producing non-way books that are odor-free.

Both parties were extremely pleased with the outcome of the initial printing. Demonstrating the press's satisfaction with the results, Walsh said, "I actually passed the book around to people and no one could tell the difference [from the earlier edition]." Following the success of The Dismal Science's printing, Maple-Vail has been printing a number of both straight text and illustrated titles using the THINKTech™ process. Bill Long explained that, "Maple-Vail is now using the ThinkTech process on a full-time basis on a portion of our web and sheetfed presses. We are in the process of expanding its use across our press platform with a goal to eventually convert the entire pressroom at both of our plant locations to the ThinkTech™ process." While noting that the decision to use the process lies with the printer, and not the press, Walsh said he would have "no qualms" about this process being used for more Harvard books.

Asked about the choice of The Dismal Science as the book for the initial printing, Walsh explained, "We were looking for a book that connected us back with Harvard University, and [the author] Stephen Marglin is a senior professor in the Economics Department." Walsh highlighted the press's desire to connect with the mission of the expansive Harvard Green Campus Initiative set forth by the university and "be out front ourselves."

Currently the only printer utilizing this new technology, Long said the process creates no additional cost for the customer. Although the ink used in the THINKTech™ process is more expensive, Long explains that this cost is offset by the gains in "decreased waste, higher productivity, and an improvement in print quality." Long also indicated that he believes this technology will eventually spread beyond book-publishing to the printing industry at large.

Meredith Benjamin
Communications Coordinator, AAUP