Many Shades of Green
Five shops demonstrate better ways to incorporate sustainable large-format services.
Today’s large format providers are recycling more, conserving energy and water, and instilling in employees a shared sense of responsibility for more sustainable operations as sustainability evolves from a buzzword into a guiding principle for the print industry.
Prompted in part by trade groups’ collective efforts to promote the Sustainable Green Printing initiative (SGP; sgppartnership.org) – endorsed by the Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (PIA/GATF), the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), and the Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) – large-format service providers and suppliers are more aware and accepting of their responsibility to protect our environment and preserve its resources.
With or without SGP certification, companies large and small have embraced sustainable principles. Their efforts are complemented by advances in digital print technology and a growing selection of alternatives to traditional print media. Some can now offer cost-competitive green printing products; for others, the higher price associated with greener printing remains a barrier, preventing more clients from exercising this option.
No footprints in the sand
Living and working in a beach community, Laura Reilly says sustainability is one of five principles guiding her small business.
“It’s important for me, personally, that we protect our environment,” says the founder of Starfish Graphics (www.starfish-graphics.com), San Clemente, California. “We look at the footprint of the products we create here, and try to do all we can to minimize their impact.”
For a small, independent company like Reilly’s, that commitment is more about day-to-day practices than striving for an official certification. To that end, she chose an HP latex print system for its use of water-based inks and because it does not generate noxious fumes during production. The company also recycles whatever materials it can, including spent ink cartridges.
Reilly also advises clients to consider the impact of their purchases: “Printing any type of sign or banner on vinyl can leave a huge footprint on the environment,” she says. “We encourage our customers to design and print their signs on vinyl so they can be reused.” That can mean leaving the name off a birthday banner, or designing the sign so a price or date can be easily updated without printing a replacement.
Graphics printed on HP’s GreenGuard-certified PVC-free wallpaper adorn the walls in the Starfish lobby, and while Reilly often recommends sustainable print media, she’s also realistic. “We can get their attention talking about our own commitment to sustainability and the environment, but in most cases, price is the bottom line.”
Nevertheless, she continues to promote green alternatives to conventional media. On one recent project, her company completely wrapped a van as a mobile classroom for the Ocean Institute’s marine education center. 3M donated its Envision PVC-free adhesive backed wrap film for the project.
“It’s very expensive compared to other vehicle wrap material, but the results are beautiful,” says Reilly. “If we could offer customers these materials at the same price, I believe that’s what most would choose. We’re just not there yet.”
Digital Hub (www.digitalhubchicago.com), is a full line supplier of offset, digital- and large-format print services, which purchases renewable energy credits for wind power from Renewable Choice Energy and even offers an employee lunch program that targets reducing workers’ carbon footprint.
Staffers are encouraged to bring lunch from home or participate in Digital Hub’s “one stop” lunch service. Under this plan, a restaurant is chosen each day, and one employee is assigned to take and pick up orders for the entire staff. The company also maintains a composting bin for reclaiming nutrients from food waste for use as an alternative to chemical fertilizers.
“We pride ourselves on being an environmentally responsible company,” says Bengt Bengtson, director of sales and marketing. “It’s our whole business philosophy in a nutshell.”
For Digital Hub, that encompasses everything from sourcing materials through all aspects of its workflow; energy consumption through corporate culture. With large format now representing 30 percent of business, it’s been a beneficiary of Digital Hub’s brand of greener print services.
“We have some customers who want to use us because they are aware of our commitment,” he notes. Many are government agencies and large corporations with a mission to run more sustainable operations, and to seek out vendors with a comparable commitment.
Whatever their print needs, Digital Hub can offer a “green” answer. “We’ve gone more to UV for wide format and are able to offer that as a cost-competitive solution,” Bengtson says. For other print applications, the company has vegetable-based and ultra-low VOC inks and waterless printing processes in place.
Digital Hub’s green initiatives also extend well beyond its downtown facility. Through a program with American Forests, the company planted nearly 2000 trees on behalf of its clients to replenish natural resources used in their projects.
“When we started down this path, the biggest challenge was getting ourselves educated about what it means to be a fully sustainable operation,” says Bengtson. “You have to learn how to recycle, how to eliminate chemistry as much as you can, how to reduce energy needs wherever possible. ...It’s an ongoing process, and one that’s only easier because all the pieces are now in place.”
Serious about sustainability
When Lynn Krinsky launched Seattle’s Stella Color (www.stellacolor.com) as a large-format print shop in 1988, she bought her sense of environmental awareness to the endeavor. “Personally, I’ve always had a commitment to protecting the environment,” she explains.
Several years later, the print industry demonstrated it shared those concerns with establishment of the SGP (Sustainable Green Printing) program. “We were recycling whatever we could, but we really didn’t have a lot of things in place until SGP came along,” she says.
Stella Color was the first print business in the state of Washington to earn SGP certification; Krinsky now promotes the company as a provider of “large-format sustainable printing solutions.”
“SGP forced us to look at the whole company,” she says, noting it took more than a year to meet all requirements. “It’s not just one attribute which makes you sustainable, but everything you do. It’s about how you run every aspect of the business.”
The program provided an organized structure – a way to step back, examine her business, and find ways to operate more responsibly. “There’s a lot of work involved with SGP certification,” Krinsky admits. “It’s a real commitment of time and resources. You’ve got to get everyone on board, from employees to vendors, and document everything you do in writing.”
For her, SGP certification proves her commitment to be a sustainable business owner. “There’s a little bit of greenwashing in this industry, of people who claim they want to work in a more sustainable way, but can’t really back that up,” she says. “SGP certification shows we’re serious about sustainability in all aspects of our company.”
Five years ago, she left solvent printing behind in favor of more environmentally friendly large-format solutions. Today, Stella Color’s line-up includes an Arizona 660 XT UV flatbed, Epson’s Stylus Pro 11880 aqueous inkjet, and HP L65500 latex printers.
The company has also secured a range of FSC-certified, recyclable media, which it recommends to clients. To clarify these options, Stella Color created its own Sustainable Resource Guide (www.stellacolor.com/sustainability.html#eco_media) for eco-banners and canvas, foamcore, vinyl, wallpapers, boards, and a full line of fabrics.
“We do a ton of printing on fabric now, and the waste can be turned into what we call ‘upcycled goods,’” Krinsky says. Fabric remnants are shipped to a manufacturer who converts them into new products like bowls and tote bags, and then sold on Stella’s website.
These efforts resonate with clients who share Krinsky’s environmental acumen. “There are some people whose driving concerns are only whether we will deliver their job on time, and what it will cost. Others … are willing to pay more for sustainable services and will seek out those providers,” she says
When she spoke with Big Picture, Krinsky was on renewed SGP certification, which must be repeated every two years. It is, for her, a most worthy venture, personally and professionally. “You do get to live your values and feel like you’re being very responsible, part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”
Jay Buckley harbors no illusions that being “green” means gold for MegaPrint (www.megaprint.com), the large-format company he‘s run in Plymouth, New Hampshire, for the past 20 years.
For the most part, his customers are small business owners like himself, without a corporate mission or mandate for sustainable operations. “The typical job for us ranges anywhere from one piece to a dozen,” he notes. “We have all the printing technology for large format.”
His equipment includes the Agfa M4F and M2 UV printers, and a HP latex printer. Green media kept in stock includes 100-percent recycled 50 point board and HP’s non-PVC wallcovering. ”If a customer wants to print on a PVC-free vinyl, we can offer them that option,” he adds.
Yet he says he’s rarely asked what MegaPrint does to protect the environment: “Most buyers like the idea more than the reality. If we could sell something green, at the same price, that’s what they would buy. Some customers may talk about being green until they see what it costs.”
When talk of “sustainability” and “green printing” started filtering through the print industry several years ago, Buckley tuned in. He attended seminars at trade gatherings on green initiatives and SGP certification. He absorbed the ideas, but didn’t sign up for any program or certification.
On his own, he investigated recyclable materials, then presented them to a grocery chain as a more environmentally friendly alternative for stanchion signs in stores. “They’re now using the 100-percent recyclable boards, but they are one of the few,” Buckley reports.
His efforts may not seem as ambitious or far-reaching as those at larger companies, but they demonstrate steps any independent print services provider can take to run a more efficient, Earth-friendly business – and they represent a practical reality for many smaller providers. MegaPrint’s efforts encompasses recycling, conserving energy, and reducing waste as much as possible.
For example, cartridges that carry water-based and eco-solvent inks are recycled by a proactive employee who took the lead and located recycling centers for just about everything the shop handles, including glass, plastic, metals, and cans.
Buckley also designed and built a paper baler for packing and delivering bulk waste to a local recycling plant. “We kept the paper out of the landfill, and saved money on a larger trash bin,” notes Buckley.
MegaPrint has also reduced operating costs through steps taken to conserve energy. Computer CRTs have all been replaced with Energy Star rated flatscreens, and energy audits have reduced operating costs and energy needs. Motion sensors have been installed in the plant’s lunchroom and restrooms so lights are on only when needed. Weather stripping and insulation panels have been installed around the freight entrance and metal doors to eliminate drafts. During winter months, storm window inserts are installed in windows to reduce energy loss.
“It’s just good business sense to look around for ways to eliminate waste, reduce costs, and save money,” he says.
A Mission to Preserve and Protect
ICL Imaging (www.icl-imaging.com ), in Framingham, Massachusetts, embarked on its plan to become a more sustainable large -ormat print provider more than eight years ago. Bill Smith, director of sales and marketing credits then-president Larry Capodilupo with launching an initiative which now defines ICL’s whole approach to large format services.
“He decided we should have a sustainability plan too, and we started looking into it,” Smith says. “It was a response to requests some buyers were beginning to make about our commitment.”
It began as a search for greener alternatives to the methods and materials ICL used to produce large format. In recent years, this commitment has grown to include all aspects of operations. The company has reduced its use of energy and water, migrated to new materials, and adopted an ambitious recycling program.
There are measurable results in several areas. ICL Imaging replaced more than 1000 incandescent bulbs with fluorescent lighting to reduce energy consumption. New UV and latex print systems have enabled it to cut water consumption by 30 percent. The company’s printer line-up now includes Fuji’s Acuity Advance HS X2 UV flatbed, the HP DesignJet L25500 latex printer, and the Mimaki JV3 and JV5 aqueous dye sublimation printers. Recycling efforts have kept more than 800 toner cartridges, a square mile of cardboard, and five tons of wooden pallets out of local landfills, in the last year alone.
This green initiative benefits employees, too. Account executives are now encouraged to work from a home office to reduce fuel consumption, vans are equipped with GPS and cellphones to eliminate unnecessary driving, and the company embraced a staggered work schedule to relieve traffic congestion.
Smith is glad to see suppliers embrace sustainability as well: “When we started we had to go out and try and find more environmentally friendly materials to print on,” he says. “What we could find was as much as a third more expensive and there weren’t that many choices.” That’s changed: “Now sales reps come by all the time to show us new greener products, and they are more competitively priced.”
ICL routinely includes samples of eco-friendly materials in sample kits, and sales reps talk up this option when consulting with clients on their new projects.
In a recent project for The Nature Conservancy’s Boston offices, ICL created a wall-sized graphic to welcome visitors entering the facility’s elevator. An appropriate forest image was selected, then printed on Korographics Koroseal wallcovering with their HP latex printer. “When people arrive, they are welcomed by this wonderful image and feel like they are outdoors again,” Smith says.
For most clients, it’s still price and ICL’s reputation that keeps them coming back. Sustainability matters most to those, like The Nature Conservancy, with the same commitment. It’s not common yet, but Smith notes some projects do stipulate that the printer use sustainable methods and materials.
“There are selling features to being green,” he concludes.” In today’s world, any time you can talk about being a sustainable operation, it’s a plus.”