Green is Good
Print providers turn to sustainable production because it's "the right thing to do" for the enviornment and for their business.
It seems like every kind of business is "going green" these days, from SUV manufacturers to your local supermarket. The term usually encompasses some combination of lowered consumption of resources and reusing or recycling as much as possible.
Print shops are no exception: Across the country, digital print providers are embracing the principles of sustainable printing. The basic approach includes paying more attention to the supplies they use, trying to print as much as possible on sustainably-produced substrates, and utilizing environmentally sensitive inks.
Many shops are going even further than that, rethinking and refocusing their business practices from top to bottom. The benefits they're realizing aren't just feel-good intangibles, either – some lead to increased operational efficiencies – and new marketing opportunities often arise from “going green.”
Sundance Graphics: Value engineering to aid the environment
SunDance Graphics (sundancegraphics.com) in Orlando began as an art-publishing company 10 years ago. Then, about five years ago, it was purchased by the family of the company's current director of operations, JohnHenry Ruggieri. The new owners began doing some commercial printing and formed a separate commercial-printing division just over three years ago; more recently, they created a multichannel marketing division as well.
"So now we're a family of three companies," Ruggieri explains, "including SunDance Fine Art Publishers, SunDance Graphics, and SunDance Marketing Solutions.” The graphics and marketing divisions produce hotel signage, pop-up displays, banners, and the other printed material needed in a resort town such as Orlando.
"Our main piece of manufacturing equipment is the Agfa Annapurna Mv, the 63-inch hybrid UV system. We have an HP Designjet Z6100 that we use primarily for proofing, and we do some production work on that, too. And we have an HP Designjet 5500 with a SpinJet accessory that we use for two-sided work, plus an Epson Stylus Pro 9800 and 9600 we use for occasional giclée work.”
The company’s owners had a long history of conservation before purchasing the business, says Ruggieri. "They owned a ranch in Kenya, and they've always had a concern for the environment. And that's been our approach from the beginning. That means making sure that we're recycling everything, that we're not producing extra waste. And that if we have a job that gets messed up, we don't throw it away but save it and use it for make-ready or to create profiles. We have a big 50-gallon drum from the offset side for recycling our ink – a company takes it and turns it into black ink used in newspaper printing.
"We also try to push the more environmentally sound substrates," he continues. "If the customer specs a non-environmentally friendly substrate, we will, of course, print on it, but we try to push other substrates. We'll frequently value-engineer a product to help reduce waste and its impact on the environment."
In order to keep the business focused on the goal of sustainability, SunDance employees attend regular meetings to make sure they're on board with the mission and know they're empowered to enforce it. "We do a lot of training to ensure the employees are educated," says Ruggieri. "If they see something wrong, they’re empowered and required to fix it."
In addition to being the first Sustainable Green Commercial Printer certified company by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) in the state of Florida, SunDance reports, it also has obtained certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).
SunDance promotes its sustainable approach, but its effectiveness as a marketing tool is unclear. "It's in our marketing material, but it doesn't necessarily seem like people are seeking us out because we're an SGP-certified printer, for instance," Ruggieri explains. "It's something the customer cares about, but unfortunately normally aren't willing to pay a premium for it. Everybody's pleased to hear about it, but if somebody wants something done in a more environmentally friendly manner, they'll pass up that opportunity if it costs more."
Modernistic, Inc.: Educating for sustainability
Founded in 1938, Modernistic (modernistinc.com) was originally a die-cutting company. It eventually morphed into a screenprinting company, and 10 years ago the Stillwater, Minnesota-based company began getting into digital printing.
"Primarily our business was in point-of-purchase, so it was quick-turnaround," recalls marketing manager DeAnn Strenke, "We also now do a lot of prototyping of different stores' signage packages. We'll print out one store's worth, and they'll set it up in a store near corporate headquarters, and the bigwigs will walk through."
According to Strenke, Modernistic has always recycled its substrates (when feasible) and other manufacturing products. "Probably in the last 10 years we've been getting more into sustainability and lean business practices," she says. "In 2008 we decided to look at the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership, and we got certified at the end of 2009. It's in our marketing piece, among our top three reasons 'Why choose Modernistic.' We're in the process of redoing our website to make that much more apparent."
Beyond using its green initiatives as a marketing tool, Modernistic also educates its clients about sustainable options and encourages their use. "We make recommendations to our customers about what's out there as far as different materials they can print on," says Strenke. "Say, for instance, a retail buyer was ordering a temporary sign and was used to doing it on a styrene substrate. We might say, 'You know, if this is only for a short period of time, it might make sense to run it on card stock.' Not only is that sustainably produced, almost every store has a cardboard recycling system, so the card stock will be much more recyclable than the plastic."
But sometimes customers have their own reasons for declining to switch: "If you're switching from a styrene to a corrugated substrate," Srenke explains, "the edge is no longer finished, so it has a rough kind of 'granola'-y feel to it. Some people like that, and it makes sense for some businesses to switch depending on their clientele – like it makes more sense for a natural foods market to use a recyclable substrate with an unfinished edge than it does for a high-end fashion chain."
Stella Color: Find the right path
Lynn Krinsky, president of Seattle-based Stella Color (stellacolor.com), started out with what seems like primitive technology by today's standards. "I did rubdown transfers," she recalls. "My customers – graphic designers – would go buy Pantone paper, we would mix the ink, take the sheets of Rubylith that they had cut, and we would make, say, a three-color comp."
But when Krinsky saw her first digital printer, there was no looking back. "One day in 1990," she says, "an Iris printer salesman darkened my door. He said, 'You don't have to mix all those inks. We have a way you can do it through your computer.' I went to New Bedford, Massachusetts, to see and I was hooked."
Stella has grown a lot since then. The shop now has an HP Designjet L65500 latex printer, two HP Designjet 5000s, and a 6100; an EFI Vutek QS3220 126-inch printer; a Leggett & Platt (now Polytype America) 98-inch flatbed printer; three Mimaki dye-sublimation printers as well as a Mimaki JV-3 62-inch 4-color solvent printer; and a Xerox Docucolor.
Krinsky was interested in sustainable printing from the beginning, but she also cites the business benefits of seeking SGP certification. "I've been on the path for a while, and getting certified looked like a really good thing to do," she says. "It's hard, but it makes you get more organized in your business. You have to keep track of things. We keep logs on our equipment, so I'm no longer guessing when we last cleaned the heads or changed the filters – it's all written down. And because all the equipment is monitored and maintained, it's going to last longer and print well. And if you're printing better, you don't have as many redos. It's the whole gestalt."
Nevertheless, sometimes the best intentions have led Krinsky to go too far in an effort to be environmentally sound. "I had an electrician come in and put in automatic light switches in the lunchroom and the men's and ladies' rooms, because nobody was turning off the lights. And then the city of Seattle had a program to promote energy-efficient lighting, so I ponied up and got all the new lights. They were supposed to last longer, but they kept going out in the lunchroom and in the two bathrooms. Finally, I did some research and found out that those kinds of energy-efficient bulbs shouldn't be on a timer, because the constant on and off makes them wear out. So I had the electrician come back and put the regular light switches back in – in the long run, it's greener to leave the lights on."
As far as her customers go, Krinsky says their attitudes are "all over the map."
"There are plenty of people who completely understand what I'm saying," she says, "and other people who understand what I'm saying and reject it. A lot of the sustainable materials might have a rough edge. You can show it to some people and they say, 'Oh my, that looks fabulous.' And another 50 percent will go, 'Will you look at that edge? I can't have that in my store.'
"Other people are stubborn because a directive comes from above. Maybe they were told to use Sintra. We show them something that's stiff like Sintra, prints beautifully, and is completely recyclable, but because someone else specified it, they can't make the move."
Still, Krinsky has no doubts that she's on the right path. She even sees a political upside to print shops' embrace of sustainable printing: "I am of the mind that if we all don't do it and have organizations that are third-party certifiers, then the government is going to start telling us what to do. The farther we get down this road ourselves, though, the government will probably follow along. I would rather be ahead of the curve."
Sentinel Printing: Building a community
Founded in 1858, Sentinel Printing (sentinelinnovation.com) in Hempstead, New York, is one of Long Island's oldest companies, "perhaps the oldest company that's still in the original business," says company president Glen Boehmer. Sentinel had its beginnings as a town newspaper, but in 1950,when the paper folded, the company re-branded itself as a commercial printer. Boehmer's family, printers for generations themselves, bought the business in 1983.
Today the company employs 12 people and occupies four buildings. Two of the buildings are devoted to digital or hybrid printing: one contains a Heidelberg DI, and the other holds two Xerox DocuColor 5000s. "We use the DI for short-run nonvariable color work, says Boehmer. "Business cards, brochures, fliers – anything that fits in a 12.5 x 18-inch footprint. The Xerox footprint is 13 x 19 inches, but it allows us to do even shorter-run color work plus variable data. Personalized newsletters and postcards are a big part of what we run through them, plus small jobs like PowerPoint presentations and seminar materials.”
The company currently has just one wide-format printer, a 60-inch HP Designjet. But, Sentinel is in the process of acquiring a wide-format print company, and bringing that shop’s equipment in-house as well. Although details could not be released as this article is written, the deal will certainly expand Sentinel’s wide-format toolbox, providing clients with even more output choices.
Sentinel is also currently a candidate for SGP certification. "What I like about SGP is that it's a full philosophy of how your company behaves in its responsibility to the environment." To Boehmer, it's not enough to simply buy sustainably produced paper: "That doesn't mean my company is green," he says. “All it means is that I'm buying green paper. But that's just one element in a printing company."
But Boehmer's efforts didn't start with his determination to seek SGP certification. "There were common-sense things that we had started to do before we went into SGP," he recalls. "For example, we looked at the cleaning we were doing, and we removed bleach from the building. Then one guy I knew started pushing certification and told me, 'You've been environmentally responsible for years, why not just go through the process?'"
"Now, every action we take is putting us in the proper place,” he continues. “From a purchasing standpoint, we want to make sure we're using people that are going in the right direction. We don't want to just run out and buy from sources that are polluting because they're cheaper."
The whole-business aspect of Boehmer's approach to green printing is exemplified by his decision to install solar panels on one of Sentinel's buildings, which houses the DocuColors. "Once we get to the spring and summer months, we'll have enough power to drive the two Xeroxes," he says.
"There's always another project, though," Boehmer continues. "Within the next year we want to reduce our energy consumption by five to 10 percent. So right now we're changing all the lighting in our buildings. After that, I want to take a look at the VOCs we emit and figure out what's a reasonable reduction I can make. We'll reach out to our ink manufacturers for help with that."
And sometimes Boehmer's commitment extends to helping his clients be greener, too. "We had a local not-for-profit, the Family and Children Association," he recalls. "They have about 15 or 20 different brochures, and before they came to us, they were printing 500 or 1000 copies of each. But they probably used no more than 100 of each one before they were updated, so they'd throw the extras out and print 500 more. So we built a Web storefront, put all their brochures on line, and created an on-demand solution for them. So now they order between 25 to 100 at a time. They're only printing what they need and not throwing anything out."
Like many print shops that have embraced the sustainable philosophy, Sentinel led the market rather than responding to it. "Customers weren't asking for this when we started it," Boehmer says. "But now there's definitely a community out there that's asking for it. It's still not the majority of our clients. They're really trying to get jobs done, and there's no question that the economy raised the fear of green being more expensive. But [being green] doesn't necessarily have to be. I think in the next year and a half, we're going to be hearing a lot more about it – we're going to be hearing from corporate sources that are looking for companies that have been doing this stuff already. So I'm excited about that."