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Sustainable Printing: Beyond Certification

Education, creativity, and community play equally important roles.

This is part two of a two-part series on sustainable digital printing. To read part one, click here, or visit our digital edition to read the piece in its entirety.

So, you have a sustainable shop with green products and third-party verification, maybe even certification. But are your customers asking questions? Can you answer them?

“More and more people and consumers, as well as our ultimate buyers, are starting to ask key questions,” says the Sustainable Green Partnership's (SGP) Marci Kinter. “That’s really important. As printers become more familiar and more able to discuss sustainability and sustainable options in their company, they’re able to provide the ultimate purchaser with options.” This can mean swapping fabric for paperboard products, and showing the customer those cost savings in a holistic way.

Kinter says it’s all about making sure the customer base understands the attributes of any substrate that they wish to use, plus price points, and what kind of ink they are using, so they can offer the buyer options. “If the buyer comes in and says, ‘I just need to use a green substrate,’ then the printer can say ‘Sure, what is it that you want to do with this? Are you looking at an alternative end of life?’ and they can have those conversations. So, that it’s not just ‘Yes, use this,’ ‘It’s more expensive,’ ‘OK, then use this.’ They can have a much more intelligent conversation.” Kinter says print shops that are SGP certified are more likely and able to have dialogues, ask questions, and push back.

Sustainability is no longer a “fringe issue,” says Jeremy Petty of the SpeedPro Imaging of Fort Worth. “It has become a mainstream concern. Beyond schools, hospitals, LEED projects, etc.; we are seeing our traditional customers requesting PVC-free vinyl and fully recyclable rigid media.”

A large part of SpeedPro’s business process is consulting, so they use samples of traditional versus green substrates when discussing potential projects. Petty says that in many cases, customers aren’t familiar with alternatives, but seeing the products side by side lets them make an informed choice.

And the same goes for Ink Monstr. “I like to present my clients with all their options and educate them on what’s possible, what’s not possible, and what their choices are,” says the print shop's Reed Silberman. “I just lay it on the table and give them the pros and cons, and costs associated with those pros and cons.”

Beyond the Printer
Shops are not only offering green products or turning their lights off at night to be considered sustainable. They’re giving back to their communities, recycling media in unusual ways, and making sure their employees have healthier work environments.

SpeedPro Imaging partners with a sustainably minded local charity or organization several times a year and donates a portion of their sales for a given month.

“It allows our customers to get behind our efforts and reinforces the commitment we have to sustainable business and giving back,” says Petty. “We also attend Earth Day Texas, a large festival and exhibit event in north Texas … We have found these non-traditional tradeshow events are a great way to meet other ecologically minded businesses.”

After one-time events, Ink Monstr donates their used material to homeless shelters. “They find really unique purposes for the outdoor durable material,” says Silberman, citing rain guards for people to stand under as they wait in line to get inside the shelter or curtains and dividers for separation of space.

Ink Monstr even uses extra or used banners as drop cloths underneath vehicles when wrapping them, and has used excess material after cutting to make shop logo decals and in-store promotional items.

“What’s important in the print industry is realizing you don’t have to recycle it back into a product used by the printing industry. So, if you look at most of where the styrene goes and some of these other plastics, they’re going into toys, they’re going into planters, they’re going into pots,” Kinter says. “There’s a second use for recycling that doesn’t have to go directly back to the industry it came from.”

Waste Not, Want Not
Some manufacturers, associations, and shops are now saying that if businesses don’t choose to “go green,” they’re doomed to fail. Consumers understand its importance – and when they see more environmentally friendly products, they’re going to buy more, too.

“Everyone in society today is thinking better about what to do,” says DeAnn Strenke of Modernistic. “… They’re asking, ‘What can I do better to not leave a footprint?’ and they’re trying to think about that. If you put this in the garbage, what’s going to happen? Where’s it going to end up?”

“For our existing customers, [sustainability] deepens the relationship and level of trust. For potential clients, it is a reason for them to potentially change providers. For our employees, it provides a safer work environment,” says Petty. “At its core, it is an issue of stewardship – while we want to run a profitable business, it should have as light an environmental footprint as possible.”

So, the next time you walk through the produce section, consider the costs and benefits of purchasing organic versus conventional. Where do health and environmental impacts win over higher prices? And, more importantly, are you as sustainable in your kitchen as at the office? How much of a difference are you making to your own health and the environment? Are you doing a double take due to the higher prices? Wherever you are, it’s time to re-examine this delicate balance.

For More
Return to part one of this article, "Sustainable Printers Make a Choice." Plus, we attended SGP's annual seminar this year and picked up some tips on marketing, procurement, and sharing your successes (without being annoying). And environmental responsibility isn't only drawing the attention of print providers; six big-name suppliers to the print industry were among 154 American companies to sign the American Business Act on Climate Pledge at the Conference of Parties 21 in Paris.

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