Establishing a ‘Green’ Identity
Becoming more sustainable can provide your shop with additional efficiencies and additional profits.
Specialists in wide-format digital print have always enjoyed bragging rights to running businesses somewhat cleaner and greener than traditional print. The fact that digital allows printers to produce only what’s needed, in specific quantities, while eliminating waste and its environmental impact is what has made it the more environmentally friendly print technology. That’s certainly a good starting point for those who want to live up to current definitions of sustainability.
Running a truly sustainable print operation, however, means much more than that. You should evaluate the tools and supplies you’re utilizing in your day-to-day operations, the products you’re creating for clients, the energy your facility uses, your contribution to landfills, and much more. And, of course, there’s the marketing of that sustainability – are you pursuing some kind of certification to ensure you’re taking full advantage of your new “green” identity?
Reading the tea leaves
MegaMedia Concepts in Andover, New Jersey, has successfully positioned itself an eco-conscious provider of wide-format graphics. “It covers some things we’ve already been doing,” says co-owner Anthony Senatore.
In fact, MegaMedia Concepts (www.megamediaconcepts.com) might be a pioneer in some aspects of sustainable and green printing. Clients get a 100-percent-recycle guarantee on all print orders, and can choose from a comprehensive selection of eco-friendly print materials.
The company has latex and inkjet printers, but media has been the true focus of its efforts to go green: “The issues come with many of the print materials, and what happens with them after a project is completed,” says Senatore.
Several years ago, while attending a graphics-industry tradeshow, Senatore was struck by the emerging category of eco-friendly products, from printers to media. “We decided then we would try and introduce more green products to our customers,” he recalls.
That strategic decision was as much about opportunity as it was environmental awareness.” We always try to read the tea leaves to see what direction our business and customers are heading in. And try and get there before those changes take place,” Senatore explains. “We could see there was going to be a lot of interest in green products.”
“While most manufacturers now use labels like ‘green,’ ‘eco-friendly,’ or ‘sustainable’ to describe some share of their products, identifying such options was more challenging at the time.” There was extra work involved in learning about green materials, which are best, and who offers them,” he admits. “But part of running any successful business is market research.”
That work has allowed MegaMedia to give its clients the option of printing their projects on a full range of eco-friendly media. The selection includes a wide array of substrates – from aluminum panels, fabrics, and wallpaper made from recycled material to recyclable wood, acrylic, and vinyl.
With that, there’s the shop’s 100-percent-recycle guarantee: Whatever material clients choose for their wide-format projects, they can be recycled or repurposed once the project is complete and materials removed.
It’s a guarantee that takes many forms. On one project for IBM, 100 Sintra panels featuring human silhouettes, each measuring 4 x 6 feet, were donated to organizations in Las Vegas for their use. Some used them as fundraisers, as tourists paid for photos taken with these life-sized cutouts.
Other clients have taken advantage of the shop’s “Banners to Bags” promotion. At the conclusion of a Dunkin’ Donuts promotional campaign, for example, MegaMedia took back possession of the vinyl banners it had produced to hang in stores, then cut and reassembled them – producing bags the chain could then sell or give away.
“You can get real creative,” says Senatore. “We’ve gotten quite a bit of business because of the things we’ll do.”
A longstanding commitment
In Austin, Texas, ProGraphix (www.prographixaustin.com) has also taken a sustainable route to success.
“We’re known in Austin as a company that really cares and strives to be as sustainable as we can. We get people looking for companies like ours,” says owner Nicki MacFarlane, who has had a longstanding commitment to run an environmentally friendly company since taking over the business in 2004. Today, she promotes ProGraphix as “certifiably green.”
“We really just took baby steps at first,” she recalls. “We needed a new printer and looked for one that was eco-friendly.” She also explored ways to reduce waste and signed on for AustinEnergy’s GreenForce program, a 10-year commitment to rely on wind-generated power.
“We really didn’t start hitting it hard until after we bought our HP FB500 UV printer in 2010,” she continues. “I knew it would help further reduce waste, but I thought there was even more we could do.”
So that same year, MacFarlane began pursuing certification from the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership, the non-profit organization that provides a certification label for sustainability in the graphic-communications industry.
The SGP’s guidelines, she explains, helped her determine how best to evaluate four aspects of business: the process, product, people, and best practices. She and her staff had to document how they had been operating, and identify and then implement needed improvements for a sustainability audit.
“There was a lot of work up front, especially in preparing the documentation required,” say MacFarlane. But it was all worth it: ProGraphix was SGP-certified in 2012.
“Certification requires that we continue to maintain our best practices and set measurable goals for improvements we can make each year.” The first goal – for a 25-percent reduction of waste – was easily met. And the company is now on target for its second-year goal – a decrease in energy consumption by 5 percent.
On its website, the shop notes that it is committed to pollution prevention by taking three actions: reducing and avoiding waste including using renewable energy sources, reducing energy consumption, and offering biodegradable products; the use of recycled products and maximizing the use of scrap material in inventive ways; and recycling all waste, including all ink cartridges as well as electronics.
“All the steps we’ve taken will probably save us money in the long run,” she says.
Certifications, programs, and logos
The Sustainable Graphics Partnership isn’t the only organization out there that can provide a certification label. But the SGP was built from the ground up to address the needs of the print and graphics market; today, nearly 50 print providers are now SGP-certified. So let’s address this organization first.
“If you’re interested in becoming a more sustainable business, the best place to start is on the SGP website (www.sgppartnership.org), where you can download the criteria for earning SGP certification,” says Marci Kinter, who serves on the SGP board of directors and is also vice president for government and business information for the Specialty Graphic & Imaging Association (SGIA).
The SGP designation can resonate well with like-minded clients. “There’s a strong return on investment when you look at the different elements of SGP certification,” Kinter asserts, with potential savings in reduced waste and energy usage. Early adopters report a marketing advantage as well, because corporations are aware of the certification and have begun using it as a filter to determine who gets their print business, she says.
SGP certification usually takes about a year, and can cost several thousand dollars, depending on what’s involved. “Once you have the guidelines, it can take six to eight months to get ready, before you schedule an audit of your business,” she advises.
Another organization whose logo is frequently seen across the graphics market: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC, www.us.fsc.org), an organization that verifies not only forests and forest-management practices, but also offers chain-of-custody certification ensuring that FSC-certified material is identified and/or kept separated from non-certified material throughout the supply chain. Hence, products with the FSC logo such as lumber and paper (and other substrates and media) are certified sustainable. The organization also offers FSC certification to print service providers; qualifying companies adhere to FSC standards and have systems in place to distinguish FSC products and promote them (and the FSC trademark).
“FSC certification and the FSC logo indicate a product, and businesses involved in it have adhered to the FSC processes and standards,” says Ian Hanna, FSC director of business development in the US.
Hanna says the organization will soon launch a campaign to make consumers even more aware of the FSC logo and what it means. Meanwhile, many major corporations already specify use of FSC-specified products from their suppliers.
“There’s been a decade-long movement among the Fortune 500 to become more responsible corporate citizens, and many of them have focused on FSC as the gold standard for ensuring our forests will be around forever,” he says. “It’s part of a corporate strategy to eliminate risk in their supply chain, and make their brands ‘stickier’ with those consumers concerned about sustainability.”
Print providers should be aware of the following organizations and programs as well:
• International Organization for Standardization (ISO, iso.org): The group’s standards are designed to ensure that products and services are safe, reliable, and of good quality. For business, there are strategic tools that reduce costs by minimizing waste (including energy waste) and errors and increasing productivity. Its ISO 14001 maps out a framework that a company can follow to set up an effective environmental management system; the goal is better management control that can result in reducing a company’s environmental impact.
• The EnergyStar program (energystar.gov): Products with this label are more energy efficient; in order to earn the Energy Star label, products must be third-party certified based on testing in EPA-recognized labs. Also, if your operation sells retail and you own your building, you can apply to have your facility EnergyStar certified (meaning it meets strict energy performance standards set by EPA and uses less energy, is less expensive to operate, and causes fewer greenhouse gas emissions than its peers).
• GreenGuard (greenguard.org): Part of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), GreenGuard issues GreenGuard certification, helping manufacturers create – and buyers identify – products and materials that have low chemical emissions. You can search the organization’s website by product category (e.g., “signage”) to find products that have been GreenGuard-certified and utilize these in your production. GreenGuard Gold Certification (formerly known as GreenGuard Children & Schools Certification) offers stricter certification criteria, considers safety factors to account for sensitive individuals (children and the elderly), and ensures that a product is acceptable for use in environments such as schools and healthcare facilities.
• Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI, sfiprogram.org): Print providers can search the SFI database for paper, print, and packaging products that carry the SFI label. The SFI chain-of-custody certification tracks fiber content through production and manufacturing to the end product; companies can make claims about how much of their product comes from certified lands and how much contains recycled content.
• EcoLogo (ecologo.org): The EcoLogo Program certifies a number of “green” printing products and services as well as “green” paper products; other types of product categories have also been certified with the EcoLogo. EcoLogo assures customers – public, corporate, and consumer – that the products and services bearing the logo meet stringent standards of environmental leadership (third-party certification).
The manufacturer view
Manufacturers and suppliers also have a role to play when it comes to being considered sustainable – for print providers as well as for the industry as a whole. We talked to a handful of companies in order to get their take on the topic.
“Sustainability is not about any one company becoming better in one area, it’s about the entire supply chain,” says Mandy Hulke, product response liaison for 3M. “You have to look at the whole business holistically, to take steps to reduce waste as much as possible and operate in a socially responsible manner.”
3M’s Commercial Graphics division offers a downloadable “Environmental Solutions Catalog,” explaining special attributes of its graphic products; it’s the latest example of a 3M commitment that began in the 1970s. “There’s an overall view within 3M to become a more sustainable company, built around environmental stewardship and reducing waste,” says Hulke. “In the commercial graphics division we’ve done a lot to minimize the environmental footprint of our products.”
“We’re working to develop new and innovative materials to help our clients, and meet our own sustainability goals all the time,” she continues. The company’s new Envision line of large-format wrap and window films is not only high-performance and highly durable, but the films are PVC-free and also free of added chlorine and other halogens as well as phthalates.
Efforts within the print community parallel initiatives in our society as a whole, says Robert Honn, product marketing for Canon Solutions America, which markets Ocè printers and supplies. “Sustainability is a big initiative and we’re one part of it. There’s business and personal elements to it, and it usually starts with one individual within a company who embraces the concept of giving back to the environment.”
Information on Canon’s website describes the environmentally friendly features of the entire Ocè product line – and how they can be integrated into a print provider’s environmental strategy.
If certification is too much of an undertaking, says Honn, print providers can start on a small scale. “Once people embrace these ideas, they can expand the things they do over time. Start with one piece of it and do what you can to make your business more sustainable. At first, it can be as simple as trying to reduce waste, using recycled papers, or recycling ink and toner cartridges.”
“Green” is the new mindset for many buyers of wide-format print, as well as suppliers to the graphics industry, says Jonathan Graham, market development manager for Hewlett-Packard: “The issues in sustainability have not changed, they’re only increasing in importance. We have more customers requesting that we do things in a sustainable manner.”
HP shares those concerns, says Graham. “From the HP Planet Partners Media Take Back program to engagement with FSC to certify HP fiber-based substrates, we take environmental issues seriously. Our HP-PVC Wallpaper is GreenGuard Children & Schools certified and also part of the free HP Media Take Back program to optimize recycling options for customers,” he points out. Plus, he touts the company’s latex printing technology as an advance which is helping print services providers meet sustainability goals: “Latex printers and inks are clear leaders for sustainability in the sign and display industry.”
“There’s an initiative throughout Fujifilm to reduce the amount of waste we produce, and reuse or recycle as much as possible,” explains Terry Mitchell, vice president of marketing for Fujifilm North America’s Graphic Systems Division. “Our print customers rely on our equipment and consumables in their business, and we want to help them in their local efforts to run a more sustainable operation.” That assistance ranges from advice to providing new categories of products designed to help print providers achieve their goals.
Mitchell cites several examples of products available from Fujifilm that can support these sustainability objectives, including UV LED: “UV inks are formulated to be free of HAPs and VOCs, and they’re cured using low-energy-consumption ultraviolet light rather than traditional heating and evaporative dryers used in solvent-ink applications,” he explains. “UV LED systems – such as our Acuity UV LED 1600 printer – offer lower energy consumption, produce less heat and have much longer service life compared to conventional UV ink curing systems.”
“Your customers and corporate clients want to be more green themselves, so you should be more green,” he advises. “Rather than wait to react, take a proactive approach in what you’re doing. This way, you can market yourself to companies also looking to run more sustainable operations. Sustainability isn’t about any one thing – it’s about your whole business. It’s a journey.”
Developing a green mix
“I tell print shops to look at their client base,” says Marci Kinter. “Every customer and prospective customer with a sustainability policy has information about it on their website. Be sure you understand what they want from suppliers like you.”
Once you understand what companies are truly seeking when it comes to sustainable print, you’ll be in a better position to have the broadest “green mix” of products and services available. And your shop will be the first they call upon when they’re seeking a sustainable solution to their marketing endeavors.
Sustainability: The Print Buyer’s Perspective
“Many times, big brands don’t recognize the opportunities for their sustainability goals to be achieved through their printing partners,” says Martine Padilla, president of Sophizio (sophizio.com), the Lawrence, Kansas-based consultancy that educates Fortune 500 companies on smart print procurement.
“They simply don’t realize what they don’t know about printing. When companies and organizations don’t understand print, they’re not able to identify or implement relevant or successful sustainability initiatives.”
At the same time, says Padilla, print providers often don’t recognize the tremendous opportunity toward becoming a preferred print partner of big brands through their own sustainability efforts.
“Big brands and print shops need each other to advance best practices when it comes to global sustainability,” she maintains.
Padilla provides the following five steps that a print shop can take toward earning a sustainability-driven partnership:
1. Know who you are and embrace it
• Clearly define and communicate who you are by sharing your core business expertise and mission statement.
• State how you are a specific “niche market print provider,” not just a “solution provider.” Although the latter title is used by some print shops to ensure they’re viewed as more than companies simply putting ink on paper, the “solutions” moniker also has a downside: It does not enable clients to quickly identify exactly what you can do for them.
2. Define your sustainability positioning
• Set and share objectives and goals; emotional, environmental, and fiscal goals are all important. Keep the four Ps in mind: people, planet, profits – and my favorite, prosperity.
• Own certifications endorsed by non-profit organizations (or non-governmental entities) and industry communities, which bring third-party verification and credibility to your efforts.
3. Identify the right clients for you
• Know your clients’ vision, mission, corporate-sustainability initiatives, and priorities. Clients are seeking supply-chain partners whose ideals align with their own; you should do the same.
• Grow sustainability best practices together with your client.
• Have more fun by earning clients with products for which you are already a brand advocate or category enthusiast.
4. Build a transparent relationship
• Increase discussions and reduce demands: Allow clients to understand your costs and margins in order to build a strategic partnership.
• Share more. In return, your client will likewise share more about what risks concern them and exactly what they are seeking in a sustainable relationship.
• Tell your sustainability story – from its inception, inspiration, and intangible results to the documented metrics, tangible ROI, and plans for continuous improvement.
• Live what you say you do 24/7; offer and be prepared for onsite audits.
5. Add unexpected value
• Educate, educate, and educate again – on how print projects are unique and how they are not widgets.
• Do not simply take orders; instead, perform what Sophizio refers to as Specification Rationalization on each and every project, including sustainability-driven improvements. By this we mean right-sizing a piece: maximum press sheet of right weight to fit on the right press and the right finishing equipment, enabling the most efficient production, finishing, mailing, and logistics plan – all toward reducing waste and costs.
• Position yourself as your client’s personal subject-matter expert of the printing industry and print-related sustainability.
• Understand your buyers’ corporate individual objectives and help them become a hero within their own organization.
Part of the Callahan Creek marketing agency, Sophizio helps its clients “reduce costs through strategic supply-chain partnerships while championing sustainability initiatives.” Its clients have included Fortune 500 companies such as Wal-Mart, Toyota Motor Sales USA, and others.