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How to Sell Sustainable Printing – Without Being Annoying

SGP brings sustainability to SGIA Expo 2015 with a one-day seminar on marketing techniques, procurement practices, and tips for sharing your successes.

The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership hosted its 2015 Community Gathering just before the start of this year’s SGIA Expo in Atlanta in early November. Designed to help SGP-certified printers, manufacturing allies, and print service clients better market, understand, and leverage both sustainable techniques and the benefits of SGP certification, the one-day event also marketed a rebranding for SGP, with their new tagline “leading sustainability for the print industry.”

Marketing Sustainability
Jonathan Graham, senior manager of global communications, TEC Connectivity Industrial, led the first session, “Marketing Sustainability.” Local printers have an image as polluters, much like dry cleaners, according to Graham. Improving that image can boost staff morale as well as efficiency, attracting sustainably minded customers and improving employee health. But being sustainable alone isn’t enough; print shops must find ways to advertise this benefit. That could mean through the use of photos showing recycling projects on a company Facebook page, a Twitter hashtag (#printgreen, #sustainableprint, and #acleanerprint were among attendee suggestions) used to draw attention, or a simple mission statement that lists the benefits of your company’s sustainability program.

For example, Visual Impressions created a sustainability tab on their website which both explains SGP certification and shows a running total of the number of tons of cardboard, paper, plastic, and metal the company has recycled.

And Graham said that companies can position themselves as sustainability experts by using social media to comment on efforts in their communities, link to photos and videos of their efforts, and share their achievements.

Lean Manufacturing and Conservation Efforts
Is there an overlap between lean manufacturing and sustainable printing? Francis Poirier, senior VP of operations for Specialty Printing LLC, thinks so. The Connecticut-based executive pointed to transportation, overproduction, excess motion, defects and – you guessed it – environmental waste as the top errors in lean production. But establishing a sustainability steering committee can help address these concerns, he said. Start by identifying interested parties who would be willing to study lean, sustainable practices; visit other companies to observe their procedures; and help the company connect sustainability (and profitability) with efforts to give back, which can increase staff buy-in. That means starting in-house by standardizing print station and workflow set-ups, maintaining clean and clutter-free work areas, sorting through and discarding excess equipment, and placing tools where they are easily accessible – and can be returned after use.

Poirier – who advocates expanding the three R’s to refuse unwanted materials, return old pallets and packing material, reduce paper sizes and water use, reuse equipment with preventive maintenance, and recycle – pointed to a few key techniques for printers to save dollars and the environment:

• Swap light bulbs for low-energy equivalents;
• Add motion sensors on lights;
• Recycle paper and metals (you probably have more metal waste than you think);
• Shut down unused equipment and computers;
• Buy Energy Star when possible;
• And ask your energy provider to conduct an energy audit.

Selling Sustainability
The highlight of this year’s SGP gathering was a workshop led by Gabriel Grant, a doctoral student at Yale and consultant/founder of Authentic Sustainability. Noting that conversations about sustainability easily degrade into nagging, blaming, or worse, Grant discussed the roots of this issue: a perception that valuing comfort, low cost, ROI, quality, and performance is incompatible with healthy, energy-efficient, non-toxic, renewable, and responsibly made products and processes.

In this mental mode, these values are thought to require compromise. “If you claim you do both, no one believes you,” Grant said, pointing to our cultural discomfort with ambivalence and ambiguity.

So, what can we do? First, observe ourselves, according to Grant. Identify your core way of being, and what’s not being said in your communications with others. For example, if you ask, “Why don’t you recycle?” you may be thinking, “You’re so lazy.” That’s the unsaid statement.

Next, find your “bait” or what you gain from these thought patterns – and core beliefs that have led to arguments or roadblocks with others in the past. These are often related to “holding a vision for how the world should be without taking responsibility to make it happen,” Grant said. So, perhaps you believe “Everyone should recycle.” Your “bait” in that case might be a sense of righteousness, certainty, or safety. You know you’re right, and asking a staffer, “Why don’t you recycle?” is a way of reinforcing your ego, whether your realize it or not.

According to Grant, once we identify these core motivations and learn what we gain by holding onto them, it is easier to have a new conversation. This less confrontational way of communicating involves accepting our own patterns of belief and behavior, as well as creating space for others’ concerns and complaints about us. So, a new conversation about a staffer who doesn’t make use of recycling could look like this:

“I’ve been judgmental in our conversations about the company’s recycling program. I’ve been saying I want you to participate in our program, but really I wanted to feel right about my beliefs about the environment. I can see how this would be irritating, so in the future you can count on me to listen to you about recycling roadblocks so that we can make this program useful for everyone at the company – that’s what I really want.”

Of course, change can be met with suspicion, and employees receiving even the most careful message are likely to test your resolve and sincerity, according to Grant. But as SGP attendees filtered out of the day’s final session, many seemed to have gathered energy to rethink their goals, how coworkers could help, and what they had contributed to past failures.

The SGP Community Gathering is an annual event. For information about SGP certification and 2016’s meeting, visit

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