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Success and Sustainability

(March 2012) posted on Wed Mar 14, 2012

Five print providers who have plotted out a green course.

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By Paula Yoho

In its early days, Banner Creations was a screen printer using solvent inks in a process that Norby calls “very, very stinky.” Since making the switch to water-based inks, the work environment has become much more pleasant for the company’s employees, who no longer have to wear masks in the printing area.

“We found that if you’re looking for short-term use – which I think most people are for advertising purposes – you can use the dye-sublimation process rather than screen. Once we discovered we could print water-based inks on just about any fabric, we made the switch for all our interior projects,” she says. “The product has a softer hand than our screenprinted products, so you can scrunch it in your hand and you won’t feel the ink, you can throw it in the washer and dryer if it’s the kind of product that will fit, and it can certainly be wiped off.”

Norby’s team was also an early adopter of “green” substrates. They began printing in the late 1990s on a Carolina Mills fabric that was made from recycled soda bottles. At the time, the company was one of just a handful in the country to venture into alternative fabrics.

“At the time, a lot of people were interested and thought it was great, but the fabric was a little more expensive. In those days, it was really hard to get people interested in the product. Just about the only customers we worked with using the material then were the Organic Growers Association and a few cooperative grocery stores,” says Norby.

Around 2006, however, the manufacturer discontinued the fabric – and, as luck would have it, this was about the same time that Banner Creations sold a large print job requiring sustainable fabric.

“Minnesota Pollution Control was putting together a venue at the Minnesota State Fair called EcoExperience, which focused on all the different ways people can save energy. We needed about 800 or 900 yards of the fabric for the job. We bought literally the last bolt of this fabric in the country. Finally, people had begun paying attention, and there was no more fabric.”

The solution: Norby and another print provider joined forces to lobby Carolina Mills to again begin manufacturing the recycled soda bottle fabric and, after about six months, the company finally agreed. It was perfect timing she says, because her team had just sold a job requiring 35,000 yards of the recycled fabric to Mohawk Carpet for an extensive point-of-purchase campaign promoting its new corn-based Smart Strand flooring. The company still uses the product, Ecophab, and dedicates a separate tab on its website to it.

Since then, the options for recycled materials have grown dramatically.

“There are so many different finishes now, some made from partially recycled soda bottles with other product mixed together, and a lot of different sustainable fabrics that just weren’t available five years ago,” says Norby.

She adds that she’s excited to see that sustainable substrates are catching on with her peers in the printing industry. “It’s good for the overall USA economy. The bottles’ contents are consumed in the USA and they’re converted in the USA. It might be slightly more expensive, but we’re providing money back to our economy instead of sending it overseas.”

Freelance writer Paula Yoho is a frequent contributor to The Big Picture magazine.