Vögeli AG: How nature would print

Die Vögeli AG druckt, wie die Natur drucken würde
© Symbolbild: CRNA

“As a family business, sustainability has always been important to us,” says Markus Vögeli, who together with his brother is the fourth generation to run the Emmental-based printing company Vögeli AG. The print shop played a pioneering role, for example, when it decided over 15 years ago to dispense with environmentally harmful isopropyl alcohol (VOC) in the printing process. Markus Vögeli explains in the video what this method is and how it has completely reshaped the way Vögeli AG thinks about sustainability.

In Switzerland, 1.3 million tons of waste paper, i.e. around 80% of the total volume, was collected for reprocessing in 2017. This seems a lot. However, by no means all of the waste paper can be reused. Only the pulp is recycled. “The remaining 30 percent, mainly inks and fillers, cannot be returned to the cycle,” Markus Vögeli regrets. The result is a mostly toxic sewage sludge that must be disposed of at the hazardous waste landfill. Thus, many resources are still lost in the recycling process. In addition, the process is energy-intensive.

With the principle of Cradle to Cradle, products are designed from the outset in such a way that they can be fully returned to the biological or technical cycle(see video). To ensure this, all ingredients are tested for health and environmental risks and replaced if necessary. Thus, a holistic recycling of paper, inks and additives is possible. “In theory, you could even throw CtC products on the compost heap,” Markus Vögeli explains. However, so that the materials can be recycled directly, it is still better to put them in the waste paper, he said.

“However, about two years ago, we reached a point where we didn’t know how to become even more sustainable. An external company conducted an energy check-up, but could not identify any further energy reduction measures. We were a little disappointed at first. But fortunately, we discovered the Cradle to Cradle method in print at pretty much the same time.”

Vögeli AG is the first print shop in Switzerland to apply this principle. It has joined forces with two print shops in Austria and Denmark in order to exchange experiences on the use of CtC. Together, they form the “PrintTheChange” association and also work on the new and further development of materials, among other things.

What are the challenges for Vögeli AG?

Since the application of CtC in printing is relatively new, Vögeli AG first had to look for suppliers of the suitable materials and products. The company achieved the conversion of the first 50% of its product range to CtC relatively easily and within just six months (although only 15% are Cradle to Cradle Certified). This was not least because Vögeli AG had already done a lot of preparatory work in advance.

For example, it already had a photovoltaic system on the roof. Furthermore, the company has a sophisticated system that reuses the waste heat from the presses for heating, thus greatly reducing electricity consumption. The company was also able to significantly reduce the production of waste paper in advance.

Vögeli AG – Business Sustainability Today

The development of additional new materials and processes is required to convert the remaining 50% of print products. This requires a close exchange with suppliers, the CtC network, but also customers. However, Markus Vögeli sees this exchange less as a challenge and more as an opportunity. It promotes innovation and close business relationships.

This also allows employees to contribute their ideas time and again. They were therefore much more motivated: “CtC brought with it a whole new way of thinking for us. True to the principle, we no longer think about how we can make a product less bad. Instead, we look for ways to make it good from the ground up.”

What are the effects (impact)?

Vögeli AG prints around 1,250 tons of paper per year. By designing as much of its production as possible according to CtC, it ensures that at the end of its life cycle a large proportion of it can enter the recycling process free of substances of concern.

If all printed products in Switzerland were designed according to CtC, waste paper could also be used to produce food packaging, for example. Until now, this has not been permitted due to the harmful substances contained in the printed products and thus in the recovered paper. In addition, the sewage sludge produced in the recycling process of CtC products would be biodegradable and would not have to be disposed of in hazardous waste.

What vision is Vögeli AG striving for?

Currently, at least 15% of its print products are Cradle to Cradle Certified™. “Our vision is that in the future all our products will be CtC,” Markus Vögeli affirms.

How can the solution set be multiplied and scaled?

The CtC solution approach is not only applicable to the printing industry, but also to other industries and sectors. In the retail, textile and fashion industries, for example, CtC products already exist, such as hair shampoos or T-shirts.

Vögeli AG also participates in various CtC congresses in order to exchange information and learn about developments in other sectors. For Markus Vögeli, this togetherness of the “CtC community” contributes significantly to the success of CtC: “In the process, we’ve also come across materials developed by companies in other industries – that’s how you can promote innovation together.” As an example, Mr. Vögeli mentions by-products from the textile industry, which they can use for themselves. These include CtC-compatible threads for binding books and magazines or cords for name tags and paper carrier bags.

As for intensifying the impact of CtC in the printing industry, it would be necessary to produce all printed products according to CtC so that all the waste paper could be recycled in the recycling process. At the moment, we are still a long way from that. However, the more print shops opt for CtC production, the more readily available CtC-compatible product components, such as inks, are likely to become. According to the principle: demand creates supply.