Market: Environmental killer inserts? The truth looks different


In view of the digital alternatives, advertising brochures are no longer up to date – and even worse, they are climate killers. This is precisely what is often cited by those who have just discontinued their printed offer communication or are planning to do so. Neither the one nor the other is true, as Dr Ralph Dittmann, Managing Director of the WKS Group, impressively demonstrated at the Online Print Symposium 2023 with the help of current figures. 

The WKS Group, which unites ten successful print and media companies such as Westend, Kraft-Schlötels, Haberbeck and Häuser Druck under one roof and also offers service and fulfilment, is a real heavyweight in the German print market with a total of more than 1,000 employees and a total turnover of 400 million euros. The group’s focus is on a product that was the subject of much discussion last year: the insert, produced in rotary offset. 

WKS had already begun to expand in precisely this area in 2006 and has grown constantly since then. “We are now at 12 billion 16-pages – to translate that: We print 6,100 A4 pages every second, on average, all year round,” explained Dr Ralph Dittmann at OPS 2023. “It’s almost 400,000 tonnes of paper that we print on our presses. This means that we are now the fourth-largest commercial web printer in Europe and the biggest insert printer in Europe. 

The biggest challenge for insert printers at present, as Dittmann openly explained in Munich, is above all the increased price of paper, which has recently caused the cost of brochures to double in some cases. “It’s not the customer demand, it’s the paper prices,” said Dittmann. 

Insert volume grew steadily

Speaking of customer demand: “What hardly anyone knows,” Dittmann explained, “until Covid the supplement grew like mad”. So much so, in fact, that since 2009, despite shrinking gravure and “rest” offset capacities, the commercial volume remained largely stable at around 5.5 million tons until 4 years ago. After the paper and Covid crises, according to the expert, the commercial volume in 2022 was still at 3.9 million tonnes, of which, at 1.9 million tons, by far the largest share was nevertheless accounted for by inserts in offset. 

Brochures are indispensable

However, apart from the slump caused by the crisis, the insert was on the upswing for many years – and still plays an important role in the communication of offers today, Dr Ralph Dittmann showed with the help of current study results from IFG Cologne. The Prospektmonitor 2023 came up with interesting results: “Among other things, participants were asked how often they use print brochures. Occasionally 91% of the respondents said, weekly 79%. And the interesting thing is: these numbers are increasing,” Dittmann explained. “Due to extreme costs and inflation, price sensitivity is much higher. People even complain when supplements are missing, because they want to compare prices. But we also see: the digital ‘branch’ is growing – but on a completely different level. Only four per cent of people who inform themselves about offers do so entirely without print, whereas 96% do so with print. So the decisive factor is: both. It’s not an either/or – it’s the hybrid user.” (More on the relevance of printed brochures in the Beyond Print article “why-print-is-indispensable-in-promotional-communications“). 

This could also be observed with Covid: The shops were closed and inserts were still printed. Because the printed brochure ranks among the most important information media even for online purchases, as the Prospektmonitor 2023 showed. “Therefore hybrid,” Dr Ralph Dittmann summarised, “online or stationary purchase, paper and digital belong together.” 

The thing about sustainability

Another aspect that insert printers are constantly confronted with: Inserts destroy trees and are environmental killers. “I have a completely different view on that,” the WKS managing director explained and backed up his statements with current figures. Not only that WKS was the first web printing company to be awarded a Blue Angel, or whose 160-page press, with a web width of 4.5 m the largest in the world, was inaugurated by the Federal Environment Minister thanks to its resource-saving properties. “In our group we are also fully EMAS certified. Our environmental reports can be found on the internet, you can read everything, we have to report everything,” the managing director elaborated. And the carbon footprint of the WKS Group, at 0.5 kg CO2 per kg paper at the best WKS location and an average of 1 kg CO2 per kg paper, is also well below what even Climate Partner bases its compensation projects for print on, at 1.8 kg CO2/kg paper. 

Figures disprove the myth of the “evil” print product

It was also exciting how Dr Ralph Dittmann refuted the myth about the supposedly harmful inserts by soberly comparing the CO2 emissions of print with those of other industries based on data from the Federal Environment Agency as well as bifa-text. All the figures he listed cannot be presented in this article, but the most important statements can be summarised as follows: 

  • Germany is the paper world champion with a per capita consumption of 227 kg of paper per year (before Covid). But, says Dittmann, “we are the paper world champion not because we print so much, but because we order too much”. Because packaging paper accounts for the lion’s share of paper consumption. 
  • Statistically, every German citizen causes almost 10 tons of CO2 a year. The 15 to 20 kg of inserts that are produced per inhabitant and year account for about 0.2 %, between 15 and 20 kg CO2/year. Comparison: According to the Federal Environment Agency, one kilogram of meat causes an average of a good 15 kg of CO2, and for bio beef it is even almost 22 kg of CO2. With an average meat consumption in Germany of 60 kg meat per year, the CO2 emissions here alone are far more than 900 kg CO2 per year and citizen. Our eating habits thus cause many times the CO2 emissions of inserts. 
  • The estimated CO2 emissions caused per citizen by information technology are estimated by Statista at just under 850 kg CO2 per year. 
  • Printed products account for less than one per cent of a person’s total CO2 footprint in Germany, the German Printing and Media Industries Federation calculated not long ago. According to Dr Ralph Dittmann, inserts account for just a quarter of this. 
  • When it comes to forestry and afforestation, Germany is, as he described, in the lead. There is hardly any other European country where the ratio of felling to replanting is as high as in Germany – even if these figures are already several years old and more up-to-date figures will probably not be published until next year.  
  • The afforestation and reforestation measures are financed primarily by the FSC/PEFC licence fees. And it is precisely the share of paper certified in this way that has dramatically increased its share in the graphic arts industry. 
  • The WKS Group uses only paper with FSC/PEFC certification. 

Online printing can learn from high-volume printing

Especially in insert printing, a lot has happened in recent years in terms of sustainability. Online printers, where a different choice of paper and finishes play an important role, can or should follow this example. After the takeover of Häuser KG, the WKS Group now also has an online printer in its group of companies and wants to set a good example here as well. Dr Ralph Dittmann is convinced that (even) more sustainability is also possible in classic online printing. No wonder, then, that in the title of his talk he pleaded for more “innovation instead of prohibition”. 

My Take: Print products are all too often unthinkingly labelled as unsustainable. But the reality is quite different. With a medium that is as recyclable as paper, production processes that are improving all the time, licensing that help to reforest and a proven higher and longer lasting impact of the printed message, the print industry has no need to hide. It is time to help the voices arguing about ‘littered’ mailboxes and the CO2 consumption of paper and print production to put print in its place – and hold up the mirror.

Market: Environmental killer inserts? The truth looks different
Article Name
Market: Environmental killer inserts? The truth looks different
In view of the digital alternatives, advertising brochures are no longer up to date - and even worse, they are climate killers. This is precisely what is often cited by those who have just discontinued their printed offer communication or are planning to do so. Neither the one nor the other is true, as Dr Ralph Dittmann, Managing Director of the WKS Group, impressively demonstrated at the Online Print Symposium 2023 with the help of current figures. 
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Judith Grajewski war 14 Jahre für Deutscher Drucker tätig und hat als Redakteurin vor allem über den Wachstumsmarkt Digitaldruck berichtet, als Online-Verantwortliche das Portal und die Social-Media-Kanäle mit aufgebaut und sich als „Transaction Editor“ mit Content-Management- und Marketingstrategien beschäftigt. Nach einem kurzen Intermezzo als Chefredakteurin des Werbetechnik- und LFP-Fachportals Sign&Print, bleibt die studierte Dipl.-Ing. für Medientechnik (FH) ihrer Leidenschaft für Print treu und widmet sich nun der Beratung und Projektbegleitung von Druckunternehmen auf ihrem Weg in eine digitalisierte Zukunft. Darüber hinaus gibt sie als Redakteurin für Beyond Print regelmäßig Einblick in relevante Themen des E-Business Print. (Profil bei Xing, LinkedIn)

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