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Certifiably Green

How Sustainability Boosts the Bottom Line

By Greg Scoblete

It may have taken a catastrophic hurricane in the Northeast to drive the point home, but whatever the reason, sustainability is on many minds these days. According to a recent survey from BBMG, GlobeScan, and SustainAbility, 66 percent of respondents agreed that “we need to consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations,” while 65 percent reported feeling “a sense of responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society.”


This likely comes as no surprise to Marci Kinter, chairperson, Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership. “Print businesses are increasingly looking for actions to improve sustainability,” says Kinter. Whether the push comes from individual print shop owners who feel a strong commitment to the environment or from major print buyers who have made sustainable sourcing a centerpiece of their business, a growing number of pivotal players in the industry embrace the concept of sustainability. As they do, SGP certification plays a vital role in implementing and validating “green” print businesses.


Launched in 2008, SGP was born from several leading print industry trade groups, including the Printing Industries Association, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), Flexographic Technical Association, and National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers. Its mission is to create a set of environmental best practices that print businesses adhere to and certify firms that meet this criteria. SGP certification is a validation of a company’s efforts to minimize their environmental footprint, shares Kinter. “It’s not enough to simply tell clients you’re recycling. Many want independent verification,” she adds.


At press time, 50 print businesses have achieved SGP certification, ranging from small mom-and-pop firms to large scale enterprises and government print shops. It takes a year to achieve the certification but requires ongoing documentation and an annual commitment to new green goals to keep it in effect, explains Kinter.


In just three years, the certification process evolved from a sustainable product focus to a whole-of-business approach. Print businesses are looking beyond sourcing sustainable media and aggressively recycling their own waste and scraps to other areas of business operation such as lighting, packaging supplies, water use, and energy.


The net result delivers positive impacts for the planet, and a print service provider’s (PSP’s) bottom line, claims Kinter.


“We’ve had facilities that became landfill free. Tons of waste is diverted from landfills by using recycling. If you look at your operation’s bottom line, that’s fewer dumpsters you’re paying for,” notes Kinter. In many cases the firms are paid for that waste.


Then there is the cost benefit associated with energy and water savings that accompany certification. “We had one business reduce water usage so much they were saving $5,000 a month,” explains Kinter.


Yet challenges remain. In the BBMG, GlobeScan, and SustainAbility survey, respondents may see a need for sustainable products, but they’re not always willing to pay a premium. That’s why the SGP is dedicating itself in 2013 to promoting certification to major print buyers through a series of trade shows and Webinars.


Going Green

PSPs that have undergone the SGP certification process told us it had less to do with the bottom line and more to do with a corporate philosophy that valued sustainable operations. To be sure, there were business motivations as well, but the process began when key personnel decided to orient the company toward sustainability.


For Nicki Macfarlane, owner, ProGraphix located in Austin, TX, the move to SGP certification was born of frustration with the amount of waste her business was generating. “I have a strong commitment to do what I can for the environment and when I met with SGP representatives at SGIA I saw it as a way to tighten our practices,” says Macfarlane.


The company committed to the SGP certification process in 2010, forming a committee to outline goals and research all aspects of ProGraphix’s operation—from media sourcing, to environmental conditions at the facility, and energy use.


The SGP certification process led to many internal improvements, which in turn helped the firm save money. The first year, the PSP reduced its waste by 20 percent by reusing as much scrap and packaging materials as possible. The process enabled ProGraphix to exercise greater control over its media inventory.


ProGraphix’s commitment to the environment now figures prominently in its marketing, with SGP certification serving as a public validation. “It definitely helped with our communication to customers,” says Macfarlane.


The process of educating customers remains one of the most significant challenges to pushing sustainable products. “Some like the idea; others hear green and think they’re going to be paying more.” Vendors, however, have begun to embrace the trend. “It’s still not where I want it to be, especially when it comes to outdoor banners, but there’s definitely an improvement,” she continues.


Green from the Ground Up

While ProGraphix came to sustainable operations after several years in the business, Portland, OR-based Forge Graphic Works was built from the ground up as a sustainable PSP. The company achieved SGP certification mid 2012 and has only been in operation for roughly two years. “We built this place around sustainability and SGP certification was the goal when we opened the business,” explains Todd Ebersole, strategy director, Forge.


Fortunately for Forge, there was a broad array of eco-friendly options to choose from when building the business. “We chose presses without solvent carriers—there isn’t a single fume hood in our facility—that still deliver high-quality output,” he explains.


The company also benefits from a customer base that places a premium on purchasing sustainable products from its suppliers. “Some of the big players require it from their vendors.” As such, the company’s green credentials are front and center in their pitch. And it’s been well received, notes Ebersole.


Meeting of the Eco Minds

When Designtex—with headquarters in New York, NY—purchased Portland Color of Portland, ME in November 2011, it fell to Portland’s operations and services manager Paul Glynn to make the pitch that Designtex continue the PSP’s SGP certification. It fell on very receptive ears, says Glynn. Designtex already had a department dedicated to environmental affairs with a commitment to meet the highest standards nationally.


In fact, Portland had begun tightening its internal standards long before its acquisition and before the birth of the SGP certification process. “At the time, we used guidelines from the state of ME and hired an environmental engineering firm to come in to audit our paper, media, and chemistries. We made a strong commitment to efficient lighting, better ventilation, and a very intensive recycling program.” The latter, explains Glynn, saw the company go from recycling just cardboard to four different kinds of plastic, metal, and various scraps.


When SGP certification was born, Glynn says Portland was already halfway to meeting its criteria but it was still a useful objective to focus the company around. To truly create a sustainable printing operation requires buy-in from everyone—shipping, corporate, administrative, and the marketing/sales force, he notes.


The certification process was not simply about removing inefficiencies in the workflow to juice the bottom line. It was about creating a working environment that was as clean as possible for the employees. It entailed aging out solvent printers and investing printing platforms and ink systems that fit the PSP’s agenda.

Whatever motivates PSPs to embrace the certification process, Kinter hopes the roster of certified shops swells to 100 by 2014. “We consider it a success now because there are so many people interested, but think it can grow even further. It’s definitely at a tipping point.”  

Mar2013, Digital Output

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