A green future? Needs & Green Vinyl’s eco-approach to vinyl production

The vinyl renaissance has been well and truly here for some time. Last year, in the UK alone, there were 4.3m record sales — the 12th consecutive year of growth. Demand is soaring and production is higher than ever – couple that with the impact of Covid over the last two years, increasing numbers of chart toppers jumping the queue and pressing delays across the world, and it’s becoming an increasingly unsustainable industry.

But beyond these factors, there’s one even more substantial concern in the vinyl production process: the environmental impact of churning out such a high number of records. This was a moral dilemma that London-based non-profit label Needs had been battling with for a while, to the point that, after searching for alternative options far and wide, digital seemed like the only feasible route going forward. That was until label boss Bobby. stumbled across Green Vinyl, an environmentally-minded pressing plant, based in the Eindhoven region.

The plant have devised a groundbreaking method that uses injection moulding rather than steam energy, equalling 93% less energy cost than the traditional vinyl production. On top of that there’s no PVC, a wider frequency spectrum, longer stamper life and a faster turnaround on products — it’s a no-brainer. So for Needs’ ninth release —a VA compilation featuring music from the likes of Saoirse, Sansibar and LUXE— they made a revolutionary step in vinyl production, partnering with Green to produce a 100% recyclable record from pressing to packaging and distribution.

We spoke to Needs and Green Vinyl about their collaboration, the process of producing recyclable vinyl and their hopes for the future of eco-minded vinyl pressing.

Needs x GVR present The Future Of Vinyl is out now.

What’s the story behind Green Vinyl? What were your motivations in setting it up?

So Green Vinyl Records is a project from Symcon Group, we are based in the Netherlands and the U.S. and more, but our Green Vinyl Records factory is here in the Netherlands. We are originally from the CD and DVD industry. At points in the past, 60-70% of all the raw materials for CD’s went through our hands.

When the vinyl scene began to reemerge, our customers began to ask ‘hey, have you got a vinyl machine too?’. We didn’t at the time and when more and more customers began asking we thought it was time to get set up with some vinyl machines for ourselves. I visited vinyl factories to look at the technology and it was like you were going back sixty years or so. I talked to some friends who had been mould makers in the scene for forty five years or so and we asked, ‘can we do this differently?’. We decided that maybe we can, so we bought a LaserDisc mould and we began testing injecting our own compounds into the LaserDisc mould. Within a few hours we had some noise coming from it and we thought, this is possible! From there it was a matter of developing our process and making continuous improvements.

We tried to look at every stage of the production process, down to things that may seem small such as the vinyl label, which usually is on special paper with expensive ink and it also has to dry, which costs you heat – we decided instead for instance to print directly onto the record. We tried to do things completely differently from other people. 

Can you tell us a little more about the machinery and the process of mastering and pressing?

We come from a background in CDs and this was where our ideas initially stemmed from. We used our background to try new things such as using a LaserDisc mould and we developed our own compounds to use in the process. The process took around 5 years, and right now where we are, the vinyl itself is perfect. Great sound and great physical quality, no background noise and the records can be played more than 400 times, whereas usual vinyl records start to deteriorate after around 100 plays.

How big is the whole operation? Are you busy all-year round?

Right now we only have one machine and as of now, only our technicians can run the machines. We are tweaking this and the next step will be that operators can also run the machines. We have a good level of automation in the process already but this is something we are continuing to develop further. With regards to the business throughout the year, we are working on a number of test projects, such as with Bobby at Needs, and with each we continue to make our process better.

What sort of labels and artists have you worked with?

Artists are coming from all over, such as the U.S, Holland, Switzerland, England. It’s getting there. People are starting to be familiar with what we are doing. They always listen before they place their first order, and this is where their reactions are very positive. 

In your opinion, how has vinyl’s increasing popularity affected the pressing industry and how have you felt these effects personally?

Appreciating music ourselves and coming from a background in CD / DVDs, we have a lot of respect for both formats, but it is a bigger experience with vinyl over CD. With vinyl, you have a piece of art in your hand, you take it out the sleeve, you clean it, you put it on the player, you can see it move, you can see it play. Music is always an emotional experience, and over the recent times paired with the effects of Covid, we saw the interest in vinyl popping off like crazy. People are beginning to notice more that we have this improved product and the interest is growing.

Due to the current climate and global discussions around the climate crisis, are you finding there’s much more interest in using your services from labels and artists?

Green Vinyl: I’m telling you very honestly, we knew that we were energy friendly, but we didn’t know that it would be by this much. Earlier today I was measuring our energy consumption in the factory in real time for one hour – we were running at 93% less energy than conventional methods. My mouth dropped when I saw the figures. As more and more people see our benefits and the quality of the product I hope we can bring about positive change. 

Can you share your experiences of struggling with vinyl production before linking up with Green Vinyl? 

Needs: The struggle started in 2020 when we decided to shift our focus to one of environmental concern. We did an audit of our operations and very quickly realised there were major problems with traditional vinyl production. After a lengthy, unfruitful search for environmentally friendly alternatives, we genuinely considered becoming a digital label as we could not find any options which were genuinely innovative and pushing the format forward. That was of course until we stumbled across Green Vinyl…

How did you come to learn about Green Vinyl and how has the process been working with them?

Needs: As I mentioned, we stumbled upon Green Vinyl after a long period of research in search of eco vinyl production. I can’t remember exactly how I navigated onto the Green Vinyl website, but I do know that we were very early on it. Harm (the owner) was shocked when we emailed him – he didn’t even have a patent for the process yet. We had to wait around six months for the patent to be approved before we could hear a test processing to check the quality. The process working with them so far has been amazing. Tthey are fantastic people who really believe in what they are doing and have a truly groundbreaking product on their hands. It’s a new process for both parties, so it naturally comes with some learning curves – but this is only to be expected. 

Do you hope this move to Green will encourage other labels to do the same?

Needs: I hope so. The feedback so far has been really positive and I have introduced Green Vinyl to many artists and labels since we announced the project. Obviously we exist within a fairly underground scene where most labels are either struggling to break even on 300 copies, or are on P&D deals (where the distributor takes all the financial risk, and subsequently takes the lion’s share of the profits). Most labels opt for the P&D as they don’t want to risk putTING the money up front, but as yet there is not a distributor offering a P&D option for Green Vinyl. I think if this was in place, you would see a lot more labels able to get involved. 

Can you tell us more about the release itself and the purpose behind it?

Needs: The release features some incredibly talented artists who we are super proud to be showcasing via this record. All the artists really believe in the project and are extremely enthusiastic about being involved which is very inspiring. Our  purpose is to change the future of vinyl; push the format into the future and hopefully do some good for the planet at the same time.  

What is your message to labels out there who’ve not yet made the move to Green?

Needs: My message would be to have a look at your business model and see if it’s possible. I’m very aware that it might not be feasible for all right now, but for labels out there who can make it work financially and want to act more sustainably, I urge you to try it out for one release. It sounds better, the turnaround is quicker and you’re making the world a better place by doing so. 

What are your hopes for the future of vinyl pressing?

Needs: We’re only at the beginning of the eco vinyl journey, but we look forward to a time where injection moulding is commonplace within vinyl production. The industry and the planet needs change now more than ever, and we’re incredibly happy and proud to be pushing this technology forward from its inception. 

Needs x GVR present The Future Of Vinyl is out now.

Comments are closed.