Small Business, Big Sustainability

Think your shop is too small to make a difference by implementing sustainability initiatives? Think again.

Sustainability. It’s a buzz word that continues to gain traction within nearly every industry, including the world of wide-format digital printing. Some print service providers might view their company as too small to make any measurable impact by switching to more eco-friendly business practices. Or perhaps they fear that going green will cost them money, instead of bringing in profits. But showing off your shop’s social and environmental responsibility could actually bring in customers and even save you money in the long run. A study in Stanford Social Innovation Review suggests that 90 percent of CEOs say sustainability is fundamental for success. The companies run by those CEOs are likely your customers. If your clients haven’t started asking questions about how you print your graphics, they will soon. 

There are many small ways a shop can begin to make an impact – recycle often, choose more eco-friendly inks, and use recyclable substrates – but some PSPs decide to meet the rigorous requirements to certify their efforts via the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), which they can then tout to their customers. SGP, a nonprofit organization that verifies printing companies’ sustainability practices, has been around for more than 10 years. While many SGP-certified wide-format businesses are large companies, the certification is certainly not limited to big print service providers. 

Small, But Mighty

With a team of 14, Auto Trim Design, located near Toronto in Concord, Ontario, proves that sustainable business practices aren’t reserved just for the big players in the wide-format industry. 

Auto Trim Design is a family-owned and -operated print service provider. The shop prints signage, floor graphics, wall wraps, and more, but vehicle wraps are their specialty, encompassing 80 percent of jobs flowing through the 11,000-square-foot space. They do one-off vehicles, but much of their work is for companies seeking to promote their businesses via wraps on a fleet of vans, trucks, or cars. 

They do one-off vehicles, but much of their work is for companies seeking to promote their businesses via wraps on a fleet of vans, trucks, or cars.

The shop, which has been around for more than 25 years, obtained SGP certification last year. Auto Trim Design is a 3M Select Platinum Graphic Provider. To earn that status, in addition to training, a business must have some type of third-party accreditation marking their quality. A contact at 3M suggested to Auto Trim Design’s owner Paul Hosie they might consider SGP accreditation because the PSP was already attempting to reduce their shop’s environmental impact. The requirements of the SGP-certification process helped them take it to the next level.   

Being a small PSP did, however, present some challenges. The process can often take a year or more, and for Auto Trim it took the latter. At least two people need to be part of an internal committee that meets regularly to enforce and enhance the sustainability plan. Staff turnover delayed the process a bit, plus the two employees dedicated to the SGP program were taking on their new roles in addition to their regular job responsibilities at the busy shop. 

The window graphics were printed using the shop’s Epson SureColor S80600.
The window graphics were printed using the shop’s Epson SureColor S80600 and 3M Envision SV480mC non-PVC film.

While there are some costs associated with making environmentally focused changes to business practices and obtaining SGP certification, there are also distinct advantages. Hosie says sustainability efforts can be viewed as a way to differentiate the business. “There are not many in our industry that are pursuing this goal and it helps us to stand out from the competition,” he says.

Being able to tout SGP certification to potential customers has been helpful in closing some deals. “Some customers even require it,” says Jason Hughes, Auto Trim’s project manager. Larger corporations or government entities often have sustainability goals, so it’s been a plus when reeling in those clients. “We wanted to align ourselves with corporate America,” Hosie says. However, not every customer cares about Auto Trim’s green efforts. “We look at it as, ‘we are doing our part,’” Hughes adds.

Incremental Change

Becoming a more sustainable business involved slow and steady changes. To save on energy costs, the shop gradually switched to LED lighting, which uses 80 percent less energy than standard incandescent and lasts 25 times longer before burning out. LEDs are more expensive initially, but in the long run, there’s cost savings in reduced energy use. Plus, less energy equates to more eco-friendly illumination. The new lighting also features motion sensors so empty rooms aren’t lit unnecessarily. Hosie says they were supposed to make back the money spent on new lighting via energy savings in three years. “The payback was just two years, so it was well worth it.”

3M Envision SV480mC non-PVC film
This truck wrap was output using an EFI Vutek GS3250LX Pro to image 3M Envision SV480mC non-PVC film.

In years past, Auto Trim ran printers with solvent inks, which produced noticeable fumes – and employee complaints, Hughes says. The shop switched to lower VOC inks and also recently invested in a new EFI Vutek UV LED printer. “You can’t even smell it,” Hughes says. “It’s helped our staff and the environment.”

Hughes estimates about 75 percent of their jobs are now output onto 3M Envision Print Wrap Film, a non-PVC graphic substrate that is more eco-friendly than traditional vinyl. 

Auto Trim has been able to drastically reduce the amount of media the shop goes through by nesting jobs together during printing. “We have done much better with utilizing our material, to the point where our supplier called us and said ‘you aren’t ordering more; are you buying from someone else?’ When we were actually busier, but had become more efficient using less material,” he says. Ganging jobs together saves 12 to 15 percent in material costs per project, Hosie adds.

The PSP continues to push its suppliers and manufacturers to improve products from an environmental and waste standpoint. “We have so much backer paper and we wish it was recyclable. There is a lot of waste involved. The vinyl has to release from the backer so the paper has to have that waxy feel (which can’t be recycled),” Hughes says. 

Even small changes around the office add up. Placing recycling bins next to every trash can has reduced what the shop sends to the landfill by about 30 percent. They’ve asked their building landlord to use more eco-friendly options for caring for the landscape and removing snow outside the facility. Automatic motion sensor faucets were installed in bathrooms to conserve water. Smart thermostats allow remote programming of the HVAC, so on days the shop is closed, the heat or air conditioning can be set to run less. They traded in the company van for a more fuel-efficient model. 

“We are always looking to reduce our waste and find more eco-friendly products to use,” Hughes says. One example: They’ve switched to a less harsh removal chemical for taking off temporary graphics. It requires a bit more elbow grease and time than the harsher chemicals, but it offers less impact to the environment and to the person who is employing those products. 

“We are small for SGP, but we are trying to do our part, even though we are smaller,” Hughes adds. “Hopefully someone else can say ‘well, if they did it, why can’t we?’ Maybe we can start a snowball effect.”

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