Great Products, Green Footprint

Posted by on Apr 23, 2014 in Green Voices | No Comments
Mark Baldwin is the founder of The Borealis Press in Blue Hill, Maine. Photo Courtesy of Mark Baldwin.

Mark Baldwin is the founder of The Borealis Press in Blue Hill, Maine. Photo Courtesy of Mark Baldwin.

Mark Baldwin of Blue Hill, Maine, has done a lot of jobs in his life. He’s been a journalist, a sawmill operator, a graphic designer, and a craftsman of wooden bathtubs (one of which was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.).  But it is his current job as the creator of one of the greenest, most literate, and most amusing lines of greeting cards and refrigerator magnets that inspired me to write about Baldwin and his company during Earth Week 2014.

Baldwin founded The Borealis Press in 1990. Despite his green business practices, he didn’t set out to be “an environmental organization,” but rather to put his graphic arts and publishing background to work producing a great line of offbeat and funny cards. The company’s “quote-unquote” line of cards pairs eye-catching, mostly-black-and-white images with the memorable words of the famous and the anonymous alike. His products have sold Borealis-card-image_resizedmillions. All are produced in the U.S. using the greenest paper, ink, and production methods available.

Much printing, Baldwin notes, is “a poisonous business.” Start with the paper. To print a card with a photograph,  you need “nice, white paper that will hold a crisp, clear halftone image.” How do you get that? “If you use virgin pulp, that means bleaching the natural color of the wood fibers. With post-consumer pulp, that means washing out all of the ink that was previously printed on the paper. A lot of paper, even paper with “recycled” credentials, is bleached with chlorine, which leaves toxic dioxins as by-products in the mill waste.

“Chlorine-free is one of the single most important things you can do for the environment,” Baldwin says, and his company has been a Maine pioneer in raising awareness that there are safer, hydrogen-based bleaching alternatives. It was Borealis Press products—products printed on chlorine-free paper from Europe that had earned the company more than 20 Printing Excellence Program awards—that ultimately convinced Maine mills to switch to a more environmentally friendly bleach.

Rather than using cheaper petrochemical-based inks to print its cards, Borealis has used bright, safe-for-the-environment, vegetable-based inks since its very first press run in 1990.

borealis-environment-logo_resizedThe company has also been committed to employing safer ways to clean printing presses between press runs. “Press wash is a totally toxic process, but there are cleaner ways to do it. It’s a bit of an investment to recycle and purify solvents, but it keeps benzene, xylene, and all kinds of other terrible stuff out of the environment,” Baldwin says. The plant that prints Borealis Press products uses a system that filters cleaning solvents to a point where they’re safe to put into municipal waste systems.

The company also prides itself on its low carbon footprint; all of the electricity (more than three million kw per year) required to run its printing plant comes from wind. “Doing things like paying a premium for wind-generated electricity costs a little more. But what that really means is that you earn a few cents less profit, and that’s fine,” says Baldwin. “Those decisions won’t put me out of business.”

While he appreciates that his company’s green practices give him a market advantage among people who care about the environment, Baldwin says consumers should not “allow themselves to feel good because of token things they do. Buying greeting cards like ours is not the answer to the big problems we face—problems like using less resources overall.”

Even though alternative energy like wind power holds great potential, it will never completely replace petroleum as an energy source, he says. The biggest thing we all need to do—consumers and manufacturers alike—is to use less. “If you do that, you don’t have as much to replace with alternative energy sources.”

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