SUSTAINABILITY: MAKING YOUR MARK
Five shops report that ‘going green’ continues to have both challenges and rewards.
Sustainability continues to be a hot buzz word not only in our marketplace, but in all aspects of consumer buying and corporate marketing, as well. And while the din of the economic downturn may have muted the push for “going green” to some degree, the push is still there. The question becomes: To what extent do you and your company approach sustainability internally as well as externally with clients—and in what specific ways?
We talked to five print providers about their sustainability efforts, including their successes in addition to their not-so-favorable experiences:
• CR&A Custom (cracustom.com) in Los Angeles;
• Modernistic (modernisticinc.com) in Stillwater,
• Point Imaging (pointimaging.com) in Hobart, Indiana;
• Print Art (print-art.net) in Egg Harbor Township,
New Jersey; and
• Resource Grand (resourcegrand.com) in Cincinnati.
A competitive advantage
There are as many reasons why print providers implement sustainability programs as there are definitions for the term itself. Some companies see it as a responsibility, some a way to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace, others as a way to attract or maintain clients, and some a combination of these and other factors.
Marco Perez, marketing director for Point Imaging, a purely digital operation, says several factors brought sustainability to the forefront of his company about three years ago. And although gaining a competitive edge over the competition originally was part of it, keeping some of its larger clients was the primary factor.
“[The sustainability initiatives] were spurred by our West Coast office and were starting to be a requirement for us by our clients on the West Coast,” Perez says. “It was both the right thing to do and also a differentiator to separate ourselves from our competitors. It’s less so today with so many companies instituting some sort of sustainability program.”
For Frank Nardi, vice president of operations for Print Art, sustainability is just part of the culture of the company, a digital and commercial-print operation that has been recycling its print byproducts for more than 10 years. Nardi, who began on the photographic side of the market, says that when he first started, among the first things he learned were the processes involved with recycling and waste disposal. “I remember how it was done in the past, where you’re shooting film and processing film and using chemicals for the process,” Nardi relates. “Those chemicals had to be drained a certain way, put into barrels, and then the barrels had to be distributed to specific places for disposal.
“We’ve taken steps since then by keeping track of the technology that’s out there. It’s been an ongoing process for us.” Sustainability, he stresses, “is not a destination, so much as it is a journey. It’s more of a step-by-step process that’s never done. To me, you fix [one operational area] and you say, ‘Okay, what new technology can help this other area?’ There are so many moving parts that you want to make sure you’re always looking at areas to improve.”
G. Todd Graham, president of Resource Grand, which is also 100-percent digital, says that he and his company are environmentally conscious, but that’s not the primary factor driving his company’s initiative: “It’s great that it’s helping the Earth, but it’s money-driven for us. We’re trying to use it as a competitive advantage.” And, like Print Art, Resource Grand’s sustainability goal isn’t static: “It’s a moving target, and I think it’s something that, as we continue to discover all of our processes and refine some of the things that we’ve done, is going to further define what sustainability is for us.”
Diverse recipes for success
As you might guess, when you have different reasons for implementing sustainability initiatives, the initiatives themselves are going to vary from company to company.
Point Imaging focuses on three primary areas of sustainability: ecological responsibility, social development and wellness, and financial strength. Ecological responsibility incorporates the traditional components of recycling, using alternative substrates and supply-conscious vendors, and energy conservation.
The company put together a “green team,” including members of different departments, Perez says. “It started as a wide-open palette; a lot of brainstorming; and this is when HR brought in the social aspect of our sustainability approach, and finance did the same thing.”
Says Perez, “A happy employee is a productive employee. It’s about the growth of our employees, the happiness of your employees. When your employees are doing well in their lives, you usually have a happy worker, and happy workers are more productive.”
And employee health is an area as well. Point Imaging guides employees in health and fitness programs. This, in turn, reduces sick days, decreases downtime, lowers health insurance costs, and increases productivity—all of which add to the sustainability of the company, Perez says.
Modernistic—which offers digital, screenprinting, and rotary print services plus large-format die cutting—has instituted company-wide recycling programs and promotes the use of eco-friendly production materials. It also has especially focused on energy conservation. In a 108-square foot section of its production facility, for instance, Modernistic recently replaced 270 high-intensity discharge (HID) light fixtures with 255 high-intensity fluorescent (HIF) fixtures. With the lighting change, Modernistic expects to cut its light-related electricity costs by 64 percent, from an annual $58,715 to about $21,000 (or, from a kilowatt-per-hour perspective, from an annual 715,635 kWh to 283,255 kWh). The environmental impact of the change, according to Modernistic, is the air-scrubbing equivalent of a 79-acre forest or that of removing 70 cars from use, adding it’s also the equivalent of saving 35,693 gallons of gas a year.
An unintended result was, well, illuminating: “We were so used to working in dimmer conditions,” says Tom LaPlante, Modernistic’s maintenance manager. “We actually increased our light level by a couple hundred percent.” In turn, says the company, the brighter lights allow its production personnel to better detect any in-process color shifts, increasing its output quality.
Modernistic obviously considers sustainable to be about more than purely production: “It’s about continuously improving multiple areas of your operations, from the chemicals you use in the bathroom to the type of salt you use on the sidewalk,” says DeAnn Strenke, the company’s marketing manager. Modernistic also has garnered certification from the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), the printing-industry-specific organization that has established standards and criteria that allow print buyers to more easily find “green” printers. “A lot of companies were asking about green certifications,” Strenke says, which prodded Modernistic to begin looking into SGP.
CR&A Custom makes energy conservation and operational efficiencies part of its overall sustainability initiatives. “We’ve also retrofit our building. We’ve put in new ventilation and new windows; so when you’re trying to be green, you should really start with your facility,” says co-owner Carmen Rad. “And we just bought a new printer that runs at a very high speed, which helps in shorter run times and thus less power is used.”
Every little bit counts, including how media is allocated for a job: “You wouldn’t think of this as being a green initiative,” Graham says, referencing how his shop squeezes as much as it can out of each sheet of substrate, “but, in the long run, if you’re throwing less away and getting more out of each sheet, it helps production time, it helps cutting time, it helps finishing and backing times, everything.”
Ink also should be considered, says Print Art. “In the inks, there’s a little bit of a balance,” Nardi says. “A lot of times, if you go with a better ink, then you have to lay less down. Maybe the inks cost a little bit more, but you don’t have to lay as much down, so it offsets costs a little; not entirely, but it offsets a little.”
Cost and ROI
Cost, real or perceived, as well as return on investment,
can influence how much a company is prepared to invest
in green initiatives.
Some of the most common reasons given by print shops resistant to implementing sustainability are that the shop is too small or that the shop can’t afford to spend a lot of resources on such initiatives, particularly if they cannot pinpoint a tangible return on investment.
Resource Grand’s Graham agrees: “It may not come down to dollar cost, it may come down to, ‘Hey we’re a shop with six employees and we’re doing everything we can, but we’re also doing everything we can to grow our business and stay in business and survive these days,’” Graham says. “And trying to take one person on staff and say, ‘Okay, you’re the new green person and that’s 40 hours a week;’ it’s not practical for us to be able to do that.”
Graham also believes it’s easier for larger companies to take on big initiatives, such as certification. “Now, larger companies can obviously weather that better than we can. We pursue sustainability without needing the certification to be at the bottom of our tagline. We may not be going to the trouble of submitting documentation and going through all the stuff that’s required [for certification], but, that doesn’t mean we’re not in tune with it and trying to do the best we can.”
Strenke agrees that small companies can initiate basic programs. For instance, Strenke stresses contacting local power companies about having a free energy audit performed, as Modernistic did. Most power companies, she says, will come out and show where a shop could be more energy efficient. “There are a lot of programs and rebates out there from power companies, and the savings will more than pay for itself over the following six months.”
CR&A’s Rad says, “For us, I don’t look just at the bottom line. It goes back to how important you find [sustainability] to be to you and your operation.” When Rad got wind one manufacturer was launching a UV printer a few years back, she says she was one of the first to purchase the machine, regardless of expense. “We had heard at that time that the company was coming out with new equipment using UV inks, and we found that to be very important, because they’re better for the environment.”
Many shops, including Point Imaging, have been hoping to see a quicker return on investment and more clients wanting their projects printed as “green” as possible. So far, that hasn’t happened—at least, not quite yet.
“We are still at a break-even point,” Perez says. “There’s a cost to going green. We produce so much waste in our products that we incur cost to haul this stuff away and dispose of it properly. Overall, though, it’s definitely a benefit. And, it’s the right thing to do.”
And, Perez says, while there hasn’t been a flood of new clients as a result of its green initiatives, these certainly have not hurt business. “It has helped us in being considered [for jobs],” Perez says, “but, for us, it still hasn’t caught on as quickly as I thought, as far as clients requesting eco-friendly products. I was really expecting ‘green’ to sweep the nation, but it hasn’t as of yet.”
Similarly, Rad is seeing an uptick in requests for information on her company’s green products, but few are purchasing them. For instance, Rad has been trying to get her foot in the door at company in Los Angeles that has a large need for wide-format printing. “When we shared with them that we had the ability to print on a biodegradable material, they were interested in having us bid on the project,” Rad says. “We bid on their project and it was over their budget by about $4000—obviously because it costs a little bit more for the biodegradable product—but that’s still feasible enough for a big brand to make the right choice. But they went back to the regular vinyl. So, yes, companies are requesting it, but few are buying it.”
Neither Resource Grand nor Modernistic claim to have seen a huge jump in customers—or profits—simply because of their sustainability initiatives.
“I have yet to hear that someone has signed on to use us simply because of our initiatives or from switching our light bulbs,” Strenke says. “I haven’t heard of any companies or groups sourcing from someone just because of their sustainability programs.”
“We’re still in growth mode, so it’s hard for me to attach one new client because we bought a green substrate,” Graham says. “And, if you think about it, pretty much everybody has the same resources, so it’s hard to say we were the only one that brought a green initiative to customer A, and therefore we won the business.” Graham says he can’t put a dollar volume on any growth as a result of his shop’s sustainability efforts.
Educating the client
Some shops cite the struggling economy as a reason why clients aren’t buying more green products, while others believe it’s a matter of educating customers and clients about the type of products available.
“Clients not buying green has been going on longer than the trouble with the economy,” Graham says, “but I think the last 18 to 24 months with the economy the way it is, people may be shelving things to get through these tough times that they may have otherwise implemented.”
Graham actually took a sample of a green substrate to a recent client meeting and said the client was surprised that the product even existed. “I think it’s as much driven from
our channel outward as it is from customers requesting it,” Graham says. “If you think about someone needing a rigid point-of-purchase display that’s going to last six months to a year, do they think that there’s a recycled material that they could be printing on? That probably doesn’t pop into their head right away.”
To help educate potential clients about available green products, CR&A Custom is redesigning its website. “We’re developing a new website with a special ‘green’ page to let people know that these products exist,” Rad says. “And then, it’s really up to the client. How important is this really to you or your company? I think if there are advertising dollars committed to green, then we’ll see a shift [to more companies deciding to use green materials]. Or maybe some government mandates—then maybe you’ll see a higher demand.”
Print Art is preparing to spread the word about its sustainability initiatives, developing a marketing campaign around them. “We are going to be pushing green this year,” Nardi says. “To let the industry know that just by working with us you can be greener, and you don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is pick up the phone and call us.”
And customers must understand that quality can cost more, says Strenke: “It costs more to produce something good. It’s very much in that realm,” she says, drawing the parallel that it similarly takes a farmer more time and money to grow organic produce than to just use pesticides and other non-environmental methods. “It’s very similar to a farmer growing organic food. There’s going to be a cost to it.” And cost could be the key to more green product use.
“As long as the price jump isn’t too great on green products, then more and more people are willing to look at them,” Graham says. “And certainly, as more and more people use them, it’s going to make these units more cost competitive.”
The right spots
The question becomes, how important is sustainability to you and your operation?
“At the end of the day, we can look back at the decisions we’ve made and say that our decisions weren’t just client-centric—that we can offer more benefits to our clients—but it’s also doing the right thing on the back end,” Nardi says.
“Everyone is making their own decisions, especially in an economy like this,” Nardi adds. “Some say it’s not worth the initial investment, but I’d say it can be a very good investment if you do it the right way. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You just have to make sure you get the right initiatives and the right people in the right spots.”
J.P. Pieratt is managing editor of The Big Picture.