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Sustainability: The Ultimate ROI?

(September 2017) posted on Wed Aug 30, 2017

How renewable business practices can make your shop more profitable.

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By Joe Holt

Strenke believes the company’s employees want to participate in sustainability, and if opportunities are made available to them, they will. And they do. They’ve set up Gaylord boxes around the shop to facilitate all kinds of recycling, and the staff takes full advantage. Each year, Modernistic recycles around 3 tons of aluminum and miscellaneous metals, 114 tons of corrugated material, 120 tons of plastic waste, and 96 tons of scrap pallets and shipping crates. Because of their efforts, 333 tons of waste avoided the landfill last year.

“Recycling has a cost: to get employees on board, to separate, to haul away,” adds Strenke. “But by reducing our waste, we’re not just preventing otherwise recyclable materials from ending up in the ground; we’re reducing the number of trips the city has to make to our business for trash collection. That savings, along with the fact that some materials, like PETG and styrene, can be recycled and actually bring in money, really adds up over time.”

To bring about further efficiencies, the company replaced all of the metal halide bulbs and fixtures on their shop floor with compact modular, high-intensity fluorescent bulbs. The resulting energy savings cut light-related electricity costs by 64 percent – from $58,715 annually to just $21,000. This reduction also had the added bonus of earning the business the distinction of Xcel Energy Efficiency Partner Status in 2009 and an Orion Energy Systems Environmental Stewardship Award. It was in 2009 that the company also received their SGP certification.

“It’s all in the continuous improvement,” says Strenke. “Each year, as part of our SGP recertification, we’re required to submit a plan to improve our business further – to make us more efficient, or reduce more waste. And that’s where the real savings come in.”

Modernistic has positioned Gaylords for recycling a wide variety of different materials throughout their facility, along with easy-to-follow instructions on what can and cannot be recycled. These actions remove team member confusion and exponentially increase recyclable output.

Over the years, Strenke, as the shop’s SGP coordinator, and her team have come up with a number of cost-saving strategies to not only meet the SGP continuous improvement requirement, but also add profit to the company’s bottom line. In 2016, for instance, they decided to set a goal to reduce the amount of cleaning disinfectant chemical usage in the company by 75 percent. By installing a new chemical dispensing system, they managed to dramatically reduce chemical waste and cut employee exposure to the hazardous fluid. This change also significantly reduced the amount of plastic “ready-to-use” disinfectant bottles that were being shipped to the facility, further reducing transit and recycling costs.

All that to say, in the end, Modernistic didn’t achieve a 75 percent chemical usage reduction. They hit 85 percent.

Just Start
“In 2016, the SGP-certified community realized total operational savings of $2.3 million,” says Marci Kinter, chair, SGP Technical Committee, and member of the SGP Board of Directors. “That includes a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2.42 tons.”

Being more sustainable and using some kind of benchmark or certification to keep yourself accountable can benefit your business in a variety of ways, from creating real cost and resource savings to ensuring a better, healthier facility and community, to gaining differentiation in a crowded marketplace. However you choose to start, the best thing to do is just start. As each print shop noted, it can take small changes over time, but the savings really do add up.

Whether or not you’re currently emphasizing sustainability in your own shop, it’s clear that the days of spending more on green products, materials, and services with no return on investment are gone. “Year over year,” notes Kinter, “SGP continues to see the positive impact of sustainable business practices turned into real operational savings.” And that’s a future we can all count on.

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