Getting Down to Business (Cards)

by Nelson Harvey

Recognition. Popularity. Readership. It was in search of these and many other things that Adam and I recently set out to have a business card made for our little green blog. From the beginning, we wanted to be sure that the cards had as little environmental impact as possible. After all, how could we justify the paper, ink, and energy that the cards required, particularly when our goal was to promote sustainable ideas and practices?

The search for a greener card raised many of the same questions that arise with any environmental purchase: how much extra is worth paying, and how much time worth spending, for environmental benefits that are notoriusly difficult to quantify?

We began our search by seeking the gold standard in eco-printing: soy based inks, 100 percent recycled paper, and wind-powered print facilities. I contacted a New York City printer that boasted all of these amenities… and was floored when they quoted me $650 for 1000 business cards. Because of the scale of their printing equipment, this was the minimum quantity of cards that they could justify doing. It was also about an order of magnitude more than we wanted to pay, and twice as much as we needed.

Next, I went to Greener Printer, a reputable outfit based in Maryland that I had heard of before. Their quote was much more reasonable: $165 for 1000 cards, including shipping. Still, when we checked with the local copy shop, they told us they could do the job for about $80. I assumed they had recycled paper, and it seemed silly to pay $90 for soy-based ink alone. We decided to go local; it was cheaper and easier, even if the environmental implications weren’t quite so rosy.

You’d think the ordeal would end there, but alas, another surprise was in store: the local shop didn’t have recycled paper after all. I had to trudge uptown and get cardstock of my own from the local copy shop, which set us back an additional $30. When all was said and done, the local shop had charged us $30 more than advertised, bringing the tab to about $130, or only $30 less than we would have paid for the greenest option on the table.

Would we have paid the $30 dollar premium for soy-based inks if we’d known about it in advance? Can the environmental benefits of soy-based ink be expressed in economic terms? And will the long-term implications of increased readership on the blog offset the environmental costs of the business cards? There’s no way to say. In the end, printing greener business cards had a lot in common with bringing your own utensils to eat, buying organic clothing, or many other things that environmentally concerned people do to reduce their impact within the existing system. It took extra effort, and in this case, it also cost more money. But luckily, we could afford to do it. And by that measure, we had no excuse not to.

Photo Credit: Harpseal

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