July 1989. First day, a cold Monday morning in a Freemans Bay front room: four of us, one job to start business with, no computers, no money, and a fraught and intense negotiation with Customs at Auckland Airport.

Flying back from Melbourne (and Berlin) on Sunday afternoon with our expensive Macs in the hold, we’d been led to believe that Kiwis returning with a ‘business’ were warmly welcomed. Almost true, but the government’s rhetoric came unstuck inside the grim realities of the airport cargo shed. No one had thought to even mention gst: $8000 worth, in cash or bank cheque before we could even see our computers. No negotiations, no flexibility, no other options. Welcome home!

Wednesday morning, after some urgent family help, and a lot of running around we unpacked the gear and started up. From the start our kaupapa was clear – we would offer a professional service primarily to the not-for-profit sector – or as we also defined it, do public interest work. 

We had no idea if it would work, no business plan, and only one certain job (Greenpeace News); or even if anyone wanted their printing on recycled paper. The only others we knew of working from a similar values perspective were Grapus in Paris and The Media Collective in Wellington. Social Change Media in Sydney followed shortly after.

In retrospect I think we probably started at exactly the right time, when others were also waking up to doing things differently, and that business as usual would not get us much further. 

From the start though, we made it really difficult for ourselves: recycled paper was limited and of poor quality (printers hated it), there were no vegetable oil-based inks, no digital processes in the industry (apart from some pioneering Macintosh computers and small black-only laser printers), scanning was still being done by specialists on $300,000 drum scanners, labour and chemical intensive prepress, and few printers were even interested in doing things differently.

By good chance we were introduced to Don Croul at The Printing Express in Kingsland. A highly respected printing industry veteran, Don somehow found the patience to take us under his wing and together we more or less pioneered a more environmental approach to printing. Partnering with Putaruru Press and Greenpeace, we also started importing recycled paper from Australia, and with a few others pressed hard to get vegetable oil-based inks into the New Zealand printing industry.

Obviously times have changed, a lot. Digital is the new green. Printing has changed almost beyond recognition in 20 years, with sustainable or environmentally friendlier options at almost every level of the industry. Even the foot draggers are starting to see that there are fewer and fewer alternatives: we simply have to do business sustainably, not just more efficiently. 

None of what we have done was for market share or to skite about. We did it because we believed it was the right thing to do. 

We still believe it, only now it’s more urgent.