The future of sustainable printing

3 min
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.

The future for print is bright, but how do we make sure that it’s also sustainable? We look at some innovations that could change how you look at printers.

The Japanese philosophy of Kyosei is all about living and working together for the common good. The combination of two Japanese words literally meaning ‘co-living’, it directs us to be responsible towards our planet and the people we share it with.

It is the essence of Canon’s existence and a principle that we commit to applying to all aspects of our work – and printing is no exception.

From wallpapers to billboards, greetings cards and more, print is intrinsic to our lives. Technology advancements have allowed for it to be faster, more affordable and more adaptable than ever. But they’ve also turned the attention to even more pressing matters – those of its impact on the environment.

Machines designed for a second life

Take our printers for example. They may come in all shapes and sizes – from small household machines to industrial behemoths – but they all have one thing in common: they’re designed with the future in mind. Every printer we make is scoped for excellence in energy and consumable consumption, optimum size and the efficient use of manufacturing materials.

But that’s not all. You might have already noticed how printers (and lots of other products too) are designed in a ‘modular’ way. That’s because these machines are built with the end of their lifecycle already in mind – so they’re deliberately easy to disassemble into parts that can easily be stripped, refurbished, reused, and recycled.

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, involving new materials and processes that will not only extend the lifetime of the machines – but will even make them more ‘circular’ than ever before.

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 we must have renewable resources that are specifically created for the paper industry.

But what about the other surfaces we routinely print on?

Printed PVC, for example, is a big problem: it’s completely non-recyclable and takes over a thousand years to degrade in landfill.

Luckily, 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.

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 monitor and control what happens to them.

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.

And while we do not have a crystal ball to predict what’ll come next, one thing is certain: our long-standing commitment to design for future needs is never going to stop.

Discover more about sustainability at Canon.