The Beacon Press

Market Expansion: Process Innovation


Courtesy of The Beacon Press


The Beacon Press is an environmental leader in the printing industry. They have embarked upon a substantial environmental program of direct action which includes three main categories:

  • The introduction of a comprehensive program of on-site working practices which actively discriminate in favor of the environment.
  • A program of environmental education activities aimed at company personnel, customers, and the community.
  • Taking a leading role in the printing industry's internal debate on its environmental impact and the ways in which it can be improved.

The Beacon Press environmental management system (EMS) meets both ISO 14001 and EMAS criteria.  Beacon and its EMS have won numerous awards, including the UK Environment Printing Company of the Year, the Royal Society of Arts Environment Management Award, and the AP&PB Award for Pureprintâ„¢.

The Beacon Press' environmental efforts have culminated in the pureprint branding. This is an advanced printing system that combines alcohol and water free technology with a comprehensive environmental management system. The pureprint label is a guarantee that the product stands up to the most rigorous environmental standards in the industry.

Pureprintâ„¢ and the Waterless Process

The Beacon Press' drive towards environmental excellence has resulted in the development and use of a new waterless printing process. The conventional lithographic process involves trapping ink between a mixture of water and the VOC isopropanol (IPA). The waterless process actually recesses the ink inside a thin layer of silicon. This, then, eliminates the use of water and IPA. The waterless process first began to replace the conventional process in July 1995. By August 1998, the waterless process accounted for approximately 75% of production. The long term goal is to completely replace all production with the waterless process. In fact, The Beacon Press has recently ordered another waterless press machine, which will come online in January 1999. At that time, Beacon will be 100% waterless.

In June 1997, The Beacon Press introduced the pureprint branding. This combines both the waterless process and an entire suite of management activities, such as waste reduction, using safer chemicals, switching to vegetable inks, and recycling silver from photographic plates. All together, this environmentally friendly bundle of technology and methodology has yielded substantial environmental and economic benefits.

The use of isopropanol, a volatile organic compound, is one of the most pressing environmental concerns in the printing industry. The substance is a pollutant and presents a significant health and safety risk. All of the substance that is used in the printing process eventually evaporates into the atmosphere. Therefore, reducing IPA consumption represents a significant environmental improvement.

Since the introduction of the waterless process, IPA consumption at Beacon has decreased from 0.14 to under 0.03 liters per thousand impressions. The initial drop in IPA was gained through re-designing the conventional process to accept lower concentrations of the substance. More recent decreases in IPA usage have resulted from the gradual switching to the waterless process. In total, since 1995, the use of IPA has been reduced by over 79%, on a liters per thousand impressions basis.

Waterless printing machines require closer controls and lower temperatures than conventional machines.  Some critics within the industry have expressed concerns that this would lead to a relative increase in the use of electricity. The Beacon Press has shown this to be false. Despite the growing production of waterless plates, energy consumption has remained constant at about 11 kWh per thousand impressions.  This is a result largely of various eco-efficiency efforts such as the installation of a power factor correction device, a maximum demand monitor, low energy lighting, thermostatic controls in the offices, and others.

The waterless process has also lead to the generation of less waste. A survey of a sampling of conventional and waterless jobs has revealed that the waterless process produced only 12.3% waste while the conventional process produced 17.5% waste. Waste is measured by comparing the number of sheets supplied to the presses against the number delivered as product. Other operating procedures within the plant have led to a total waste reduction of 30% compared with 1995.

Additional waste reduction efforts at Beacon involve the collection of used photographic fix and waste film.  These substances contain silver, which is a potential pollutant. Silver recovery units for film processors have been installed and they are now able to recycle the metal. Since 1994, the program has recovered over 38,000 grams of silver.

Ironically, the actually water consumption of the conventional process is minimal compared with water needed for hygiene, catering, and cleaning at the plant. Even so, through various improvements in water economy in 1994, water consumption was reduced from 25 to 13 liters per thousand impressions. Since then, total water consumption has been held roughly constant, despite increased production. Conventional presses use 30,000 or more liters per year (based on a 4 unit 28 inch press, working a two day shift pattern). Once Beacon printing processes become completely waterless, manufacturing water use will go to zero.

The new process also has superior quality. Since the ink is recessed within a layer of silicon, there is less 'dot gain,' or smearing of the ink. This allows sharper resolution, increased ink densities, and the colors tend to be brighter, clearer, and have greater consistency. 

Consequently, production has increased substantially. From 1995 until 1997, production has increased from 58  to 77 million impressions. At the same time, operating cost per thousand impressions has declined by 13%. This has accompanied a 10% increase in profit and 11% decrease in price per unit. This is clear indication that the new process has gained market acceptance and that the Beacon Press' business has improved as a result.

The Bottom Line

The case of Beacon Press is a remarkable story of how a process change can go hand in hand with total environmental management to yield both economic and environmental benefits. The use of isopropanol has been reduced by 78%. Paper waste production has decreased by 30%. Energy use has remained constant, despite the threat of greater electricity use. All of this represents significant environmental improvements. 

True to the promise of eco-efficiency, The Beacon Press has realised economic advantages as well.  Operating costs and per unit price have declined while profit has increased by a comparable margin.

The Beacon Press has expanded their market by providing a superior product that has met corresponding demand increases. Despite an industry with traditional fluctuations in demand, the Beacon Press has increased monthly production by 75%.

The broad lesson here is that an environmentally favorable production process in combination with superior management activities can help build a thriving, growing business.

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