How to Turn Your To-Do List into a “TA-DA!” List: Productivity Tips from Life Coach Bonnie Pond

Bonnie revealed her simple formula for getting more of what you want out of life.

Scary To Do ListWell, here we are at the end of March. One quarter of the year, already gone!

Quick – think back. Way back…about three months ago. What was on your mind?

Could it have been…your New Year’s resolutions?

What goals did you tell yourself you WOULD GET DONE this year?

How about it – how are they coming along? Have you accomplished them already? Are you at least 25% of the way there?

Or have you fallen prey to the waves of “hafta’s” and “gotta do’s” that dash so many people’s hopes of achieving their goals each year?

According to University of Scranton research, only 8% of Americans achieve their New Years’ goals each year.* Pretty sobering, eh?

So, what do you think? Want to be an 8 Percenter?

I sure do. So I have been diligently writing down my goals and trying to keep up with my To Do list every day.

I was doing ok at it…

but man oh, man…did you ever see a To-Do list with teeth?

Sometimes I felt like my goals were eating me alive…without my even getting all that close to the ones that mattered! Bonnie Pond

All that changed when I met this lovely lady.

Bonnie Pond is an amazing woman. She is an educator and an entrepreneur, has managed several retail businesses, run a battered women’s shelter, and has had her own radio show. Today she is a very successful life coach and career coach, motivational speaker, workshop leader, and the author of The Power of Three, How to Be Happy and Get What You Want in Life (Without Doing Anything Illegal, Immoral, or Unethical).

Bonnie was kind enough to speak with me last month about goals.

If you are at all interested in learning how to set the right goals for you and actually achieve them, so you can get more of what you want out of life without killing yourself getting there, then I highly recommend listening to this interview:

Anne Michelsen Interviews Bonnie Pond on Achieving Goals

(In case you are wondering, don’t worry –  we’re not selling anything here. There’s no pitch at the end, and you won’t be hounded by any pop-up windows. Just good, honest information you can use to transform your business and/or your life.

 Yes, I know we are all swamped with such a deluge of information, that it’s nearly impossible to sort out the really important stuff from everything else clamoring for our attention these days -let alone actually get it done. Bonnie’s insights can help with that. So read on, and listen!)

During our conversation, Bonnie revealed her simple formula for getting more of what you want out of life.

I’ve been putting what she taught me into practice, and so far her system is helping me meet my daily goals feeling far more relaxed and happy with myself than previously. Just as importantly, I’m also making strides towards a particular long-term goal that’s been taunting me for years.

Here is an excerpt from the interview in which Bonnie reveals a couple of tips that I’ve found particularly helpful:

 How to Turn Your To-Do List into a TA-DA! List

Anne Michelsen:

Well, I was really, really interested in having you come on right now because it’s that time of the year when a lot of us look around and think, ‘Oh my gosh. What happened to those (New Year’s) goals? I’m just sort of back in the rut.’ And you have a lot of experience in helping people get out of that rut and really start to reach for the stars.

Bonnie Pond:

Yes, and you know, it just is human nature to start beating ourselves up when we don’t reach those goals and so if we can start to set goals a little bit differently then I think there’s some real great strategies and some techniques that make it much easier to realistically get what you want.

One of the things that I see a lot is that people sometimes set goals because of somebody else. (Because) somebody thinks you should do it or (because) you think that ‘I should want to do this’ or ‘I’m going to set this goal to please my family.’

Now, the truth of the matter is if you don’t set a goal that’s meaningful to you the chances are you’re not going to do it.

For example I’ve been bugging my husband to quit smoking for years and years and years, and every year his New Year’s resolution is ‘I’m going to quit smoking.’ And by January 3, he’s sneaking the old cigarettes again. That’s because it’s not meaningful to him. He doesn’t see that that’s something he really wants to do.

So, I’d say the first thing for making a realistic goal is make sure that you know that it’s something that you really care about. If you don’t care about achieving it, if it’s not significant enough to you, find another goal because you’re not going to do it anyway.


You know what, that’s a really great point. There are some of us, myself included, who are real people-pleaser types, and for somebody like that it can sometimes be hard to differentiate what is really your real goal and what is really coming from an outside source.


That’s a great point. Well, here’s something that I’ve always told clients. You have to know what you really want in life, and by that I mean what is your big picture? Where do you see yourself say five years down the road?

The reason I ask people to start with that and spend their time thinking it through is because if you can make a very specific picture in your mind – or even write it down – of where you want to be five years from now, it’s so motivating. Knowing what’s really important to you makes it much easier not cave in to what somebody else thinks you should do because you know what your big picture is. You know this particular person’s goal for you…is just not fitting into what (you) really want in (your) life.

So I think that starting with that big picture, thinking about it very, very clearly is a way to focus in on what’s important to you, not what’s important to everybody else. And I know that pressures from other people are really hard but if you know specifically this is what’s really and truly important to (you) then you know where you want to focus your energy.

Anne :

Do you have any tips for keeping that big picture in mind and not losing it?


Yes. I actually do and this is one that I have to say I learned the hard way. And keeping that big picture in mind is, for myself anyway, is to write about it as if I’m already there in five years. Make it first person and make it as it’s happening now.

But beyond that, taking that five years and then breaking it down, chunking it up because five years is a big span of time and you can put a lot of goals into that five-year period and then it becomes so overwhelming. So breaking it down into where do I want to be in five years.

Okay. That’s great. Now, what about in three years and what about in a year? And keep breaking it down, breaking it down, breaking it down from one year to one month to one week, and finally down to one day because if it’s one day you can do one day, but if it’s five years it’s like, oh my gosh.

And when it’s a five-year plan, if you don’t break it down further, here’s what happens. You go into someday thinking, I’ll get to that someday, but someday never comes. So (break) it down into smaller and smaller chunks. I just call it chunking it out. Break it down and keep it short, make a daily list.

I’m a list maker but I’ve learned also the hard way about list making. I used to make these huge long lists of things that I was going to do today. My husband would look at it and he’d say, ‘It would take a platoon of Marines a week to do this and you think you can do it all by yourself in one day.’

And I would always feel at the end of the day like, oh my gosh, I didn’t get anything done because I had 27 things on my list. Of course I didn’t get them all done.


I can so relate to that because I’m a to-do list maker as well and I’ve kind of come to that too. It’s like well, okay, let’s just put down the really important stuff.


Yes. And here’s what I suggest to everybody that I work with: What are the three most important things that you need to accomplish today to get you just a little bit closer, even it’s a baby step closer, to where you want to be?

No more than your three highest priority items go on your list. You can then focus your energy on them and you get them done.

Now if you finish them and you’ve got lots of time left, great, make another list of three. But no more than three items on your list because when you do that you see immediate daily progress and we all need to see progress for…if we’re not seeing progress we give up because that’s in our nature to say, ‘I’ve worked on this for a month and nothing is happening. Maybe I’m on the wrong track or maybe my goal is wrong,’ whatever.

But if you can see immediate daily progress that really makes a difference. And what I call those are ta-da lists. They’re not to-do lists. They’re ta-da. So when you get those three things done ta-da, I did it.


Nice Ta-DA list copyI love it.

I absolutely love that “TA-DA!” because it just changes your whole perception of the list, from one of “oh-my-gosh-can-I-even-get-through-this-today” to “This is the stuff that’s really going to get me places!”

And the sense of accomplishment when you get those three things done can’t be beat. It’s a real motivator.

Now, don’t miss the rest of the interview because there are some real secrets to making this system work that I don’t want you to miss.

Get them here when you listen to my interview with Bonnie Pond.

For instance, Bonnie reveals specific strategies for how to successfully navigate the “middle ground” of goal achievement (where most people get bogged down and never make it).

She also tells about the super-important element your goals achievement strategy must have to keep going strong after your first few successes (without it, you’ll almost certainly lose momentum).

And, my favorite: the three types of people you need to surround yourself with in order to keep you focused and not just reaching for the stars, but actually getting there!

Take a listen, and try Bonnie’s system for yourself. Then come back here and let us know how it transformed your life!


My monthly e-newsletters each contain a link to full-length transcripts of all my interviews with guests, with annotated highlights for easy scanning. Sign up here for access!


*Be careful what you read into this 8% statistic. Turns out, 38% of Americans never make New Years’ resolutions at all! So statistically, your chances of success just went up substantially if you are one of the 62% who did. Now get hopping, and see if you can’t help us boost that percentage just a little higher! 🙂

Paper and Sustainability: Interview with John Fields of J&A Printing

John FieldsAre digital media really more sustainable than paper?

That’s the common conception – that posting something online has little to no environmental impact, while paper represents waste.

But have you ever stopped to analyze this assumption?

John Fields has.

John Fields is a sales rep for J & A printing in Hiawatha, IA, He is also a regular attendee at LOHAS and other sustainability conferences, is a member of the Regional Sustainable Business Alliance in Cedar Rapids, IA, and continues to educate himself about what sustainability is.

Last month, John was kind enough to agree to speak to me about paper and business sustainability.

You can listen to the entire interview here.

John had a lot of fascinating things to say about the topic, but I especially wanted to share his thoughts on the digital vs. paper conundrum. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:


Anne Michelsen:

So, a lot of people look at the use of print, they look at the papers, the inks, everything that’s used, and they think, “Oh, I won’t go there. Let’s just stick with digital because it’s a lot more sustainable.” How can a sustainably-minded company justify the use of print? And is it really any more difficult on the environment than digital? Because I know there’s a lot of issues with digital, as well.

 John Fields:

Well, when I first agreed to this interview, I did some looking online for facts and figures on sustainability and printing, and I came away way more confused than I was before.  I found that there’s so many statistics online to support whatever view you want them to have. Some of them go back to the 90s and were referring to studies back in the 90s, which are really no longer relevant. But if you look at the sustainability of print versus digital, I think that there’s room for both. Of course, I embrace the digital, I have all the gadgets, and the computers. And I like to file my things electronically so I don’t have a messy desk.

But if you look at sustainability with the advent of FSC-certified papers – Forest Stewardship Council certified – the sustainability of paper has come a long way. Just last week I saw an article, I believe online, that said that carbon emissions in the United States are going down while carbon emissions in China are going up.

Anne Michelsen:


John Fields:

And most of your digital products are, where are they produced? China.

Anne Michelsen:

This is true.

John Fields:

Several years ago I went to a conference where they went paperless. By the way, I have a blog with a terrarium in it that has a biodegradable cup that you can watch online biodegrading. So, when I went to this specific conference, I put an old Blackberry in there and a piece of paper with a note and the date on it and it said, “Tell me which one of these will biodegrade first.” So, I now look at paper as sustainable. It’s biodegradable, it’s renewable. It is compostable and it’s recyclable. All of the above. You look at the electronic device you use for your phone, it comes from nothing that’s renewable. They’re starting to do better on some recycling now, but it’s not biodegradable. And it becomes outdated so fast that you’re literally changing them year to year.

I’d like to say, too, if you take a book and a DVD, put them in a time capsule, and in a hundred years, open that time capsule. And just try and find a DVD player (to play that DVD)…

The first LOHAS Forum I went to, I was challenged. I made the statement, “We use vegetable oil.” And I remember the one person that I said that to said, “Well, what’s the mean?” And at that point, I realized I have to be able to back up what I’m saying. I have to know what I’m talking about for people to understand what I’m saying. So, I created the blog to kind of chronicle what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been learning on it.

Anne Michelsen:

And that’s an excellent take away point for anybody that’s marketing green products is that it’s so important to document anything, any statement that you make. The FTC has regulations that, you know, if you make a green claim about a product, you have to have scientific documentation. People who are interested in green products are very, very up on it and they will catch you if, like you experienced, if you don’t have that. So, excellent idea to post that on a blog.

John Fields:

That’s very interesting because just yesterday I was contacted by the QA auditor for for Frontier Natural Products here at their location in Iowa. For most of their products, we use New Leaf papers. And New Leaf has an eco audit that they use that tells us how many resources were saved by using that paper, their QA person wanted us to verify that the eco audit statement was accurate, and she wanted to see documentation on how we came up with that. That we used the paper we said we were going to use and the number of sheets. We’ve got a complete procedure in place for that.

We also are FSC certified. I push FSC paper wherever I can.

Anne Michelsen:


John Fields:

I feel FSC is probably more important than recycled paper, in fact.

Anne Michelsen:

I was going to ask you about that. The difference between using recycled paper and FSC paper. And why would you go with the virgin FSC paper rather than recycled?

John Fields:

FSC just means that the paper that you’re buying comes from pulp that comes from a forest that was properly managed. And there’s quite a bit that goes into what that properly managed forest is. They’re not doing any clear cutting and things like that. So, I can say if I sell you a postcard and say, “This is on FSC paper,” I could show you the chain of custody all the way back to the forest it came from. Where that paper came from. Everybody has to sign off on it and document that they handled this paper. We have a whole set of procedures we have to follow. FSC auditors come in once a year and they audit us. And it’s a real audit, we have to verify everything we do for them. We do sell paper that’s not FSC certified, I’m not saying that it doesn’t come from a properly managed forest, but it’s just that it doesn’t have the chain of custody on it. But everybody I talk to, new customers, old customers, if I can switch them over to FSC certified paper, I do.

End of excerpt. Listen to my interview with John Fields in its entirety here.

(You can see the terrarium mentioned in the interview for yourself on John’s blog, along with the adventures of its resident, Bart the Biodegrader. – A.M. 🙂 )

The takeaway points:

Every marketing message carries an environmental impact. The important thing is to be as responsible as possible with the media you choose to use.

Consider John’s observations:

    • Most electronic products are made overseas and have to be shipped long distances to reach US consumers, consuming large amounts of fossil fuel.
    • Electronics have a short life span and need to be replaced frequently, resulting in resource consumption and landfill waste.
    • Electronics often contain environmentally toxic components. Yes, so does ink. But a large percentage of electronics are “recycled” overseas with little to no concern for the environment, under conditions which expose workers – often children – to notoriously hazardous conditions.
    • I might add that storage of digital information consumes huge amounts of energy. (See graph, courtesy of Alliance Trust Investments.)

data center electricity use graph

While using even FSC certified paper is not without its environmental implications,  domestically produced paper made with eco-certified wood is renewable, biodegradable, and relatively local.

Rather than vilifying one or the other, as marketers it makes sense to do as John suggests and use both digital and print media as responsibly as possible. (Especially in light of his observation later in the interview that he’s seeing a lot of customers come back to print after trying to go paperless because they find integrating print into their promotions to be more effective.)

What is your experience? Do you use print media to promote your environmentally responsible business? Why or why not?

If you would like a full, annotated transcript, sign up for my newsletter – I include a link to the transcripts for this and other interviews in each issue.


One Company’s Journey Towards Supply Chain Transparency: Interview with Founder Douglas Farquhar

No one knows the challenges of green product sourcing more than Douglas Farquar, founder of Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug about the Green Products Standard – his company’s proprietary green product rating system – and the rewards and challenges he and his team experienced in developing and implementing it.

stainless steel water bottles
Figuring out what’s “green” about these water bottles is hard enough, let alone comparing their environmental footprint to, say, a ream of copy paper.

What makes a “green” product green? A simple question, but not so easy to answer. Almost no product is “green” across the board – some features are greener than others, and one has to weigh the environmental pros and cons.

This, of course, is one of the biggest challenges faced by businesses trying to offer more responsible choices – and by consumers trying to make those choices.  The whole scene is confusing, and too often results in consumers just throwing up their hands and giving up – either blindly purchasing whatever “seems” like the best option, or walking away from responsible purchasing altogether.

One Company’s Journey Towards Transparency

No one knows the challenges of green product sourcing more than Douglas Farquhar, founder of He launched his online business in 2007 with two goals:

  1. To create a one stop shop for eco friendly products, and
  2. To offer a way for consumers to intelligently compare products based on their environmental impact.

In order to meet the second goal, developed a comprehensive proprietary rating system – the Green Products Standard – for all products sold on their site. The Green Products Standard reviews and rates products based on their environmental impact in four key areas: source materials, manufacturing, materials and disposal.

Products are scored from 1-100 in each of these categories, plus each product is given an overall score. (It’s important to note that a positive score, even a low one, still indicates that a product is more environmentally friendly than typical products on the market.) This scoring method is notable because it enables consumers to compare all’s products at a glance – making it much easier to make informed environmental choices.

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug about the Green Products Standard, and the rewards and challenges he and his team experienced in developing and implementing it.

Anne Michelsen: What prompted you to implement the Green Products Standard?

Douglas Farquhar: At the time (that we launched, I wasn’t always able to understand objectively why & to what extent a product was green. There are a lot of certifying organizations, but they are mostly product or industry focused. For example, if I want to buy copy paper, I know the FSC certification is very good and I look for that. But if I want a water bottle, how do I make sure I’m making as good a decision?

We take trust very seriously – it’s even reflected in our tagline – and I think the Green Product Standard is a pillar of trust for our customers.

Anne: Please tell me about the process you went through to bring the Green Products Standard into being.

Doug: We started out taking it from a laymen’s perspective. Some of these certifications you need to be a PhD to make sense of them, your eyes kind of blur over. We wanted to put it in plain English and in layman’s terms, to make it accessible to the average Joe.

It’s really a part of our product selection process. The initial part of identifying products is not particularly scientific. It’s a gut reaction – “oh, that one looks really good.” That’s how our product selection starts. Then we get samples of the product itself. We want to know that it’s something of quality, that it will last longer than the warranty. We also use the products make sure our customers will have a good experience.

We then ask the supplier to participate in an online questionnaire. There’s often some back and forth communication to make sure we understand the information they supply, and they understand what we’re looking for. We use an algorithm to come up with a rating. Once we accept a product, at the bottom of the product page there’s a link to a full 2 page report for each product.

Once we got the basic framework worked out, we ran it by a number of people for feedback – sustainability consultants in different areas. Our basic theory was, the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. We took that approach and threw it against the wall to get people thinking.

I shudder to think back on it – it’s involved several thousand ratings. It was – is ― a huge endeavor.

Anne: What has been the reaction from suppliers?

Doug: We’ve had varying reactions. Some are happy to complete the product questionnaires, some do it grudgingly.

Our merit rating is 0 -99 (it’s technically impossible to reach 100.) One supplier – her products rated in the 60’s – only met the threshold for two of the four basic components. She was fixated on the fact that her product rated a 68, and applied it to her academic experience – “my product is not a D+ product.” What I couldn’t seem to get across to her was that we only apply the standard to products we’ve already identified as green. By virtue of being rated, you’re several steps ahead of most; a 68 actually puts you in the top quartile. But she opted not to go further.

We’ve had some manufacturers, though, who got a rating and said, “what can we do to get a better rating?”

I look at this whole thing as a journey, a marathon rather than a sprint.  Whether it’s the consumer changing their purchasing habits, or the manufacturers changing their products, we’re still moving along for a greener world.

Having a number is a good place to start a conversation. Scores are something people are familiar with and have a good understanding of. Especially in the e-commerce world, we’re all familiar with comparison shopping. A rating system like ours allows customers to have an apples-to-apples comparison to, say, the water bottle and the copy paper.

Anne: And that’s great, especially if they’re looking for a gift and need to compare two very unlike things.  How have customers responded?

Doug: Historically, our light green customers have taken more of a blind approach. They just want to know it’s “green.”  Our dark green customers often have a very specific belief – all things from China are horrible, all plastic is bad.

Of the green buyers, some really like the Green Product Standard a lot and some are oblivious.

With the poor economy the greenwashing situation has become a bigger problem. (We’ve noticed that) more traditional manufacturers and suppliers are trying to put a new spin on their products, and are seeing green as an opportunity to, if not grow, then at least maintain their business. You certainly have traditional stores that suggest that (a product is) green, but it’s often a complete mystery why it’s “green.”

A lot of times the info as to why and to what extent a product is green, is nowhere near the product. You have to go search for it. Or, you’ve found the accreditation and now you’ve got to go find the product.

(Both) transparency and easy access to information are important considerations if you’re trying to avoid greenwashing. Most people don’t have the time or interest in doing the research. They just want to know it’s safe and eco friendly, so they can buy it and move on. (Our program) gives consumers easy access to reliable information they can base their decisions on.

Anne: It’s interesting to hear you make the distinction between different types of consumers. Can you elaborate? Do you have an idea what percentage of your customer base you’d describe as “light” vs. “dark” green?

Doug: No, not really. We get approached from all sorts of different angles.

When we started we were somewhat confused by the LOHAS consumer. We thought people would want to vote with their wallets. Clearly there are consumers out there that do that with some regularity, but regrettably they are the minority. I think it’s somewhat exacerbated by the economy.

Personal safety and health are often the biggest motivators, and by the way, if it’s softer on the planet that’s icing on the cake.

I think we’re starting to see a bit of a change. Selfishness continues to be a motivating factor, but over the last 12 months with some of these weather conditions and gas prices you’re starting to see some of the non LOHAS consumers turning the lights on in their heads. With Sandy, we started selling solar powered flashlights, etc. That motivation was more necessity, but it seemed to come along with a realization that green has merit.

(Interest in going green) comes from all sorts of different places. Sometimes it’s just awareness. Like, “I didn’t know there’s a solar powered flashlight, or biodegradable garbage bags.”

I think we’re facing both a challenge and an opportunity. Ask 100 people if they’re interested in going green, and most will say yes, but there’s a big gap between saying and doing.  Any time we can bridge that gap, whether it’s simple education or making a personal connection, it makes a difference.

Anne: Are you aware of anyone else who’s doing this? Wal Mart comes to mind with their sustainability index – do you know of any others?

Doug: WalMart has some areas where it has a bit of a black eye. As the largest retailer in the world they have an unbelievable opportunity, but I think they’re backed off lately. For them it was more this conceptual effort, where it was going to get pushed down through the supply chain.

The Good Guide is a really good resource, although they were just bought by Underwriters Laboratory – I don’t know what effect that will have. I think they’ve done a good job. But they wouldn’t talk with the manufacturers, they just pulled publicly available information. And they have more of a social focus.

Anne: Tell me about your new website,

Doug: From a business model, we hope to have a portfolio of green business websites.  We’re developing, we’ve got in the works, etc. We were going to develop blogs for each one, and thought maybe there was something we could do that would apply to all our ecommerce websites.

And hopefully something interactive. Every time we do a show or something, a person waltzes up and looks at a water bottle or something and asks questions. is very new – we’re still working on the questions and answers section. But we hope to offer something of value. To get instant answers, obviously, Google & other search engines provide answers, but sometimes there are things that can’t be answered in a Google search. We’re hoping to offer a place where people can come with their green product questions and get them answered.

Anne: Linked In just dumped their Answers section – are you thinking of jumping in and filling the gap here for green topics, inviting lots of interaction, or will it be more set up as an authority site?

Doug: We’re going to let the interest and demand dictate what direction it will take.

Anne: Thank you, Doug – it’s been a real pleasure speaking to you!

Doug: You’re very welcome!

Please enter your comments and questions about Douglas Farquhar’s insights and/or the Green Products Standard below!


 Anne Michelsen was not paid for this article.

Another Article on Soy Ink

Thanks to Triple Pundit for publishing my latest article on soy ink. If you read my interview with Gary Jones (or even if you didn’t), be sure to check this one out, too.

soy inksThanks to Triple Pundit for publishing my latest article on soy ink. If you read my interview with Gary Jones (or even if you didn’t), be sure to check this one out, too:

Soy Ink: Myth vs. Reality

I interviewed a couple more industry experts, both green printers  certified by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership: Dee Bisel, owner of Minuteman Press in Overland Park, KS, and Mark Nelson, Web Press Advisor and Director of Manufacturing at the John Roberts Company, a commercial print shop in Minneapolis. They very kindly gave their perspectives about working with soy inks on a daily basis. (Both were quite enthusiastic for a variety of reasons.)

Printing Industry Expert Reveals Surprising Truths About Soy Ink

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Gary Jones, Vice President EHS at the Printing Industries of America, about the environmental impact of printers’ inks. And what he had to say about soy ink was nothing less than eye-opening.

Soy beans for soy ink
One of the major misconceptions about soy ink is that it’s made entirely from soy.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Gary Jones, Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety Affairs at the Printing Industries of America, the largest graphic arts trade association in the U.S. As you can imagine, Gary is one of the most knowledgeable people on the face of the planet when it comes to the environmental impact of printers’ inks. And what he had to say about soy ink was nothing less than eye-opening.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Anne: There’s a popular conception that soy inks are generally better for the environment than petroleum-based inks. Is this true?

Gary: At the heart of the issue with soy inks is that they were not designed to be greener than conventional inks. They were designed to maximize the amount of soy oil that could be formulated into an ink.

The term “Soy inks” was coined by the American Soy Association. In order for an ink to use the orgnization’s Soy Seal logo, it only needs to contain the specified amount of soy oil or soy oil derivatives. No other specifications regarding the other components of the ink are identified.

For example, in order for a heatset web offset lithographic paste ink to be considered a “soy ink”, it must have 7% soy oil content. Why 7%? Because if soy oil were present in any greater concentration, the ink would not dry. Therefore, a heatset litho ink that contains 7% soy oil and 93% of other ingredients such as methyl ethyl death would be considered a “soy ink” and can carry the Soy Seal logo!

Anne: So, you can think you’re being green, but actually get a product with very little renewable content.

Gary: You have to understand that there are many different types of inks, formulated for different purposes. There’s a huge variation in the percentage of soy that can be successfully used in any given type of ink.

The most common and most noted use of soy oil is in offset lithographic inks – the kind used in commercial printing. So the term soy ink generally refers to these inks.

If you look at the way the American Soy Association has their Soy Seal set up, the amount of soy oil required in order to call an ink a “soy ink” varies by type of ink. It’s based on the total percent of the weight of the ink. For example, sheetfed offset lithographic inks must contain 30% soy oil, and inks for printing newspapers or news inks must contain 40% soy oil in order to qualify under the Soy Seal trademark program.

Anne: There’s a popular conception that “Soy ink does not contain hazardous substances.” Yet you say it can. What are some of the chemicals commonly found in soy ink?

Gary: The biggest misconception people have is that all of the components of soy ink are made from soy.

What else is in inks? The basic components ― besides the ink oil, which is considered the ink solvent ― are pigments to color the ink and make it opaque; resins and film formers (which bind the ink together into a film and to the substrate that will protect pigment from rubbing off ); and additives, such as waxes, slip agents, and in some inks, a catalyst to assist in drying.

Offset inks are a paste ink, a very thick, viscous ink. They dry by absorption and oxidation. Once the ink is applied to the paper, the non-drying oil quickly drains into the surface as the ink sets. Then other components of the ink ― resins and film formers ― dry and form a film to protect the pigment. Heatset web offset lithographic inks (ed. note – used on coated paper such as magazines and newspaper inserts) dry by evaporation, so they can’t contain so much soy oil or they’d never dry.

In terms of the pigments, there are many choices, but the more common one for black is carbon black which is organic. Yellow is diarylide yellow which is also organic. Red pigments are barium based and blue is copper phthalocyanine. The catalyst can be cobalt or manganese based. Linseed oil and other renewable ingredients are often used as part of the varnish, which is the clear porting of the ink that contains the resins, solvents, film formers and additives.

Anne: What about Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)?

Gary: Soy inks do have a lower VOC (volatile organic compound) content and since soy is used to replace the mineral oil, we’re increasing the renewable content of the ink.

But it’s important to realize that VOC content and VOC emissions are two different things. The EPA has a specific test method, Method 24, that is required to be used to determine VOC content. A sample of ink is heated at 110 centigrade for one hour and the amount of weight lost is considered the VOC content, after being adjusted for water and exempt compounds. Using that method, there’s less VOC in soy ink.

However, vegetable oils, including soy oils, will auto-oxidize, which means they absorb oxygen from the air and that oxygen cross links at certain points in the vegetable oil to cause it to dry. When the vegetable oils cross link, they can actually gain weight and in this process of oxidation they produce and emit VOCs in the form of alcohols, ketones and aldehydes. So in reality, even though the actual measured VOC content may be lower, it’s not uncommon to see a higher veggie oil content resulting in more VOC’s actually being emitted.

Anne: Is it true that soy inks are better for paper recycling?

Gary: That’s a case of “Don’t believe everything you read online.”

Soy inks are harder to recycle than their conventional counterparts. It’s all over the Internet that soy inks are “easier to recycle,” because of a preliminary bench top test performed in a major university laboratory. Soy released more organics, so they assumed it’s easier to recycle. But they did not take the aging of the ink or actual recycling processes into account.

Several additional studies have shown that aged soy ink is much harder to remove than conventional. A large contributor is the oxidation and cross linking that occurs in the drying process. While soy oils are not the best drying oil, they do and can crosslink.

In short, the research wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t complete. It wasn’t a full evaluation, but people ran with it.

Anne: Would you say that soy inks are more environmentally friendly?

Gary: That’s a loaded question with no easy answer. While soy oil is renewable, one of the important questions is – where is the soy oil coming from?

While some is produced domestically, much is sourced from many other parts of the world, including razed rain forest areas that have been converted to agricultural plantations. Plus, the distance that the oil is shipped adds to the environmental burden. If it is shipped literally halfway across the world, the impact will be much greater. I have not seen any life cycle assessments to indicate that soy inks are preferable.

Anne: Are you aware of any inks that are produced 100% domestically, in the U.S.?

Gary: Most ink that printers use is formulated here in the US. The best mineral ink oil is domestic, made from Pennsylvania crude. But like anything else, it’s a worldwide commodity. Where does the gas that goes into your tank come from? There are two main suppliers of (fossil-based) ink oil and like many other products, they’re going to buy where they get the best price. Same with soy oil.

Anne: Are there “greener” inks out there? What would you recommend as an environmentally friendlier choice in inks?

Gary: So what you really want to know is, ‘What do I do now that you’ve ruined my entire concept of soy ink?’

From a sustainability perspective, you want to use inks with the highest percent of renewable resource possible, sourced from a sustainable operation. However, you have to be aware of the ecological price you pay for that renewable resource. That’s the challenge and you may have a trade off because if you have an ecosystem that you destroy in order to create a monoculture – what’ s better? That or a nonrenewable resouce? In many instances, the answer is not always clear.

The thing that we have to be careful of is to reserve making value judgments. Everyone wants to know, what’s better – this or that. And I don’t know if we’re in a position to say what’s better. It’s hard to make comparisons unless there have been life cycle assessments performed, and they are using the same scope and assumptions. You don’t normally run across that. And of course people see things the way they want to see them though their own lenses and filters.

My advice is: use the inks with the highest renewable resource content and understand the sources of the ingredients. From a global sustainability aspect, the more (renewable content) that’s incorporated the better because that way you’re at least moving in the right direction.

What do you think about soy ink? Do you agree that it’s best to choose it when possible? Does it matter? Why or why not?


photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc