Kristel Lewis from Minuteman Press Lawrence.jpg

Sustainability: The Future for Print Shops?

Why more and more print shops are making the move to green in 2016.

Wherever you are in the world, you are most likely keeping an eye on the weather. Is it going to be windy today, or is the meteorologist forecasting heavy rain? Maybe it’s finally time to break out that scarf you’ve had in storage all summer. Or, maybe it’s a scorcher, and you need an extra layer of sunblock. These days, it’s typically the latter.

If you’ve been paying attention to annual weather reports the last few years, you probably have noticed an alarming trend: Things are getting hotter. Much hotter.

“Why do we choose to run a sustainable print business?” asks Michael Hecht, VP of sales and marketing at Premier Press in Portland, Oregon. “Two words: global warming.”

In 2016, the US sweated through its fifth-hottest summer on record, according to data recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As global climate reports indicate, last year was the hottest ever recorded, thus a variety of efforts are taking place worldwide to reduce environmental impacts – from renewable power sources and carbon taxes at the office to more energy-efficient appliances and electric cars at home. A hotter planet affects everyone, and our own wide-format print industry has been taking notice for quite some time.

So, just what is “sustainability?” According to Printing Industries of America (PIA), it’s the ability of your company to operate in a way that meets present needs while providing for the needs of the future and future generations. It’s the paper your shop uses – can it be recycled or reused? It’s the ink in your machines – are you using vegetable- or soy-based? (If so, it can be recycled.) It’s the energy powering your shop – are you turning off equipment when not in use or shutting off lights in unoccupied rooms? And it doesn’t stop there.

“For our team, it wasn’t a question of if we should get on board,” says Christine Grant, VP of business development and marketing at Digital Color Concepts. “It was how do we get on board better?” With retouching and creative services based in Manhattan, New York, and their print manufacturing facilities based in Mountainside, New Jersey, Digital Color Concepts (DCC) produces award-winning print pieces for some of the most respected brands and businesses in the world, including Coach, Ann Inc., David Yurman, Harry Winston, Aéropostale, and more, and has been leading the metropolitan New York printing community in sustainability and social responsibility for years. In 2007, the company became a Forest Stewardship Council-certified printer, meeting the global standard for responsible forestry. In 2010, they became the first printing facility in New Jersey to go solar, installing 675 rooftop solar panels that generate 187,569 kilowatt hours of renewable, clean energy every year. That’s the equivalent of taking 25 cars off the road, or conserving 15,290 gallons of gasoline each year. That same year, they made the switch to vegetable-based inks, and in 2014, began recycling waste materials like solvents, inks, resins, and all chemicals used in the process of printing ink on paper.

Far from being the only printer to “go green” in the last decade, DCC and a number of other shops across the country have taken it a giant step further by becoming SGP-certified. The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) is a comprehensive sustainability certifier of print facilities. It encourages printers to reduce their environmental impact and increase social awareness of their best practices in order to provide print buyers a more sustainable supply chain.

Grant has been on the SGP Marketing Committee since 2014, and recently became an SGP board member in January.

Getting SGP-certified is a bit like training for the Olympics. It takes an enormous amount of dedication, months – if not years – of preparation, and an even longer commitment to continual improvement – not to mention a willingness to be audited annually and recertified every two years. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. But to the companies that have it, it’s well worth it. From the energy usage in your building to the inks and solvents you store, even the very air your employees breathe, SGP certification looks at the print environment as a whole. “It was an 80-hour process to compile and sort through all of the required paperwork,” says Bret Hesler, senior VP of quality assurance at DCC, “but what we’ve received in return is worth much, much more than what we continue to put into it.”

Creating Value: Do It for the Client, or the Capital

As every successful company knows, staying in business and staying at the top is all about delivering the quality of product and level of service a client expects. About two and a half years ago, one of DCC’s top clients asked if they were SGP-certified. A short time later, a major overseas luxury client asked if they had a Corporate Social Responsibility program in place. Each time, the team at DCC began researching their clients’ concerns, and soon realized they’d not only found a new way to become more committed to the cause of sustainability, but they’d discovered an opportunity to grow their current clientele and gain additional business.

Think back to the last RFP you received or responded to. Since 2010, more corporations, causes, and agencies are looking for ways to be environmentally friendly, and their proposal requests are reflecting that. In fact, some newer federal, state, and county regulations require a sustainability component be included in the RFPs taking place in their areas. So, in order to stay competitive in the print marketplace, sustainability is quickly becoming a requirement for doing business.

But what about the perceived value of sustainability inside your company? What might your executive team think if you go to them and tell them the sky isn’t falling, but the world is turning green? According to a recent McKinsey survey, more executives each year are saying that sustainability programs make a positive contribution to their companies’ short- and long-term value, whether in reputation among clients or in actual returns. Combine that with reduced operating costs and improved natural resource management (less energy use and waste), as well as driving down costs through better supply-chain management (reduced packaging and/or better inventory management practices), and you can more easily make the business case for sustainability.

It may not be the most eco-friendly reason, but going green to make more green is still helping save the planet, and it can boost the bottom line.

Creating Demand: Do It for Differentiation, or the Press
In 2009, as the economy was slowly beginning to emerge from the Great Recession, Dee Bisel, franchise owner and CEO of Minuteman Press in Lawrence, Kansas, was looking for a way to drive business opportunities in her area. Lawrence is a college town, home to the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. As the students and faculty at the universities experienced the economic crunch of the recession, so did the businesses surrounding them. That meant a harder time competing for what print work was available.

“I could see that everything was going downhill,” says Bisel, “so I began brainstorming ways to differentiate my business and come out better on the other end.” An avid magazine reader, Bisel kept seeing the term “going green” peppered throughout various publications. She began to research the term and heard about a sustainability convention in Indianapolis, about an eight-hour drive away. She attended and liked what she heard, knowing that getting her shop the certification that was being offered would help set her apart back home. Turns out, it was the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership, still in its infancy.

Opened in 1973, Minuteman Press is a family-owned business with more than 900 franchise locations worldwide. Bisel’s shop in Lawrence is the only SGP-certified location in the Minuteman company.

Acquiring the sustainability certification made Bisel and her shop the talk of the town. Over the years, on what she calls her “Journey to Sustainability,” she’s been interviewed by most of the local news outlets and radio stations, and has received numerous speaking opportunities at both local universities, which offer advanced degrees in environmental assessments.

It’s also made her shop known as the “green printer” online, which has brought in additional business from customers looking to lessen their environmental impact and sell their printer’s sustainable capabilities on down the line. In other words, her shop makes clients look good to their consumers, and helps them differentiate in the environment as well.

Whatever size business, every company faces a crowded marketplace. Becoming sustainable to stand out can be a win-win situation.

Creating Culture: Do It Because It's the Right Thing To Do

For Mark Ireland, VP of sales at Vectra Visual | PhotoCraft Portland, sustainability isn’t just a certification or a way to gain clients – it’s a way of life. “This city is all about being green,” he says. “It’s not just lip service. We’re all focused on sustainability, from our executives on down.”

Through its parent company, Taylor Corporation, Vectra Visual is a coast-to-coast print production powerhouse with three national locations; the Portland office is the first to become SGP-certified, further showcasing the company’s commitment to sustainability.

Additionally, Ireland is continually challenging his sales team to offer clients more sustainable options for substrates and inks. From their press room to finishing, the company has purchased new materials and equipment and moved toward lower VOCs and better safety features, all in an effort to decrease their environmental impact. That drive toward being green extends to the staff as well, as the company has been able to reduce waste in their facility to a single trash bin that’s collected once every other week, with recycle bins for sorting paper, plastics, metal, and glass.

“If you’re doing it [sustainability] just to get clients, it still has its benefits,” says Ireland. “But if it’s the desire to be green driving you, and not the bottom line, it makes everything easier.”

As the 23rd largest metropolitan area in the US, and with a population of nearly 2.5 million, you might not expect that Portland’s residents, businesses, and local government could come together to promote a low-carbon economy and a natural environment that’s integrated into the cityscape, but they’re doing just that. And more.

“What else can we be doing? How can we use less to make more?” asks Juli Cordill, owner and COO of Premier Press, a family-owned and -operated printer known for digital, wide-format, and offset printing. Employees call her their “Chief Zen Officer,” and rightly so. When her sustainability coordinator, Chip Chipman, told her how much waste was being generated by employees using plastic cups and bottles at the shop’s drinking fountains, Cordill went out and purchased reusable aluminum bottles for the entire staff.

Sustainability can be about becoming part of the larger community, as well as social responsibility for the individual, the company, and the place they call home.

Creating Inspired Change: Tips for Success & Getting Help

Ready to make a difference but not sure what the next step is? Remember the old adage: It takes a village. There are organizations out there that are dedicated to helping you and your business become more sustainable. “The teams at SGIA and PIA are especially helpful,” says Grant. “You’re definitely not alone. Get connected with either group and they’ll help guide you through the process. The peer-to-peer group environment they offer is a value-add.”

Chipman says SGIA and PIA gave him the advice to reach outside of his local community to the national stage to purchase energy credits for their 100-percent wind- powered business, which has saved their company thousands each year.

It can be as simple as sending fewer printed proofs, which not only cost time and energy in the paper itself, but create a large carbon footprint in order to get them to the client by courier or air travel. Or consider dumpster diving in your own trash – ask yourself what can be recycled instead of sent to the landfill. Premier Press was able to reduce waste by as much as 80 percent when they began taking a long, hard look at what went into their trash bins.

Back in Kansas, Bisel suggests asking vendors about lifecycles – for products, equipment, materials, and more. Suppliers will also begin to offer more eco-friendly products if you just ask. She also suggests getting involved with other like-minded recycling efforts in your area. “We were printing labels for a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities on these barrels they used for collecting and recycling holiday lights. We loved the idea so much that we volunteered to add more barrels to our town and help them out. We collected over 750 pounds of lights for a win-win sustainability event.”

Going green isn’t an overnight process, and your commitment level is entirely up to you. Maybe this year it’s recycling more. Next year, it’s environmentally friendly materials. You decide. “We look at it as if it’s the new three P’s,” says Cordill. “It used to be People, Product, and Plan. Now it’s People, Product, and Planet.”

Read more about sustainability from Big Picture and explore the rest of the October "Look Out Below" issue.

View more from this Big Picture issue