Sustainability and the Modern Printer
Recycle. Go green. Be more energy efficient.
by Brittany Willes, editor
For anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention the last few years, environmentalism has become THE hot-button issue. Sustainability is the new sexy, and too often the print and binding industry has received a disproportionate amount of criticism for being environmentally-unfriendly. Print is wasteful, it kills too many trees, it’s outdated and consumers don’t want it anymore – all arguments which industry insiders know to be patently untrue. While print has been experiencing a major resurgence, more and more companies are developing “green” agendas in order to avoid unnecessary waste. However, even companies with dedicated environmental programs need additional guidance when it comes to creating truly green, sustainable practices. As a result, they have begun reaching out to, and partnering with, industry experts in order to learn more about sustainability.
For instance, the Foil & Specialty Effects Association (FSEA), Topeka, Kansas, recently joined with the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), Sayville, New York, as a Resource Partner for the SGP community. Resource Partners act as sustainability subject matter experts, equipping members of the printing industry with the most current information regarding sustainable methods. The SGP Resource Partners “include a diverse group of organizations, from industry trade associations to educational institutions and NGOs, all striving to provide information and resources to help create a more sustainable print industry,” stated SGP Board Member Doreen Monteleone.
“The FSEA believes promoting sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices is very important as an association in the graphic arts industry,” stated FSEA Executive Director Jeff Peterson. “Becoming more involved and supporting SGP will help us with this goal and provide guidelines to share with our membership.”
“What makes SGP unique is that it is a true sustainability program for the printing industry and goes beyond just environmental compliance or a single attribute, like a chain of custody paper program,” explained Monteleone, who works for the Flexographic Technical Association and RadTech International North America promoting SGP and sustainability in the print supply chain. “The SGP program is comprehensive, encompassing sustainable processes and procedures throughout the entire printing facility, not just the pressroom.”
Facilities often make misleading claims about being a green facility, which is considered greenwashing. An example might be a company stating that it is green because it has certified paper, but it isn’t using best practices to handle waste. Many times this type of greenwashing is unintentional, though not always. In order to help companies avoid such misleading statements, the SGP provides for third-party validation of comprehensive sustainability efforts that cover the entire facility, from what happens in purchasing through shipping and even the cafeteria and the surrounding property.
SGP grew out of the printing industry’s need to prove it was sustainable and the need to understand what it takes to be a sustainable printer. In 2007, according to Monteleone, “Marci Kinter of SGIA, Gary Jones of PIA, George Fuchs of NAPIM and myself representing FTA learned that we were all getting calls from our respective members asking what sustainability was and how to prove they’re sustainable. Printers were being asked about their sustainability programs by their buyers (brands and retailers) who were striving to meet consumer demands to be more sustainable.”
Back then, criteria defining a sustainable printer had yet to be established. Monteleone and her colleagues agreed they needed to help members by first defining what constituted a sustainable printer and then creating a certification program to validate those efforts. “We felt that to be credible there needed to be a separate, independent certification entity. The program needed to be inclusive of all print processes in the United States and Canada, and it needed to be transparent and publicly vetted,” explained Monteleone. “Using our past experiences working on stakeholder groups with US EPA, we formed the SGP stakeholder group, which included printers from all processes, suppliers, print buyers, regulatory agencies, NGOs and association representatives. With some give and take, we eventually came to a consensus as to what criteria needed to be met to be certified as a SGP Printer. After a lot of hard work and out of the joint efforts of the printing industry, SGP certified the first printers in 2008.”
Since then, interest in sustainable standards has only grown, with more and more companies researching ways to create a sustainable future. Posty Cards, Kansas City, Missouri, is one such company. Following the complete renovation and expansion of its LEED Platinum headquarters manufacturing plant in 2011, Posty Cards was introduced to former SGP Board Member Martine Padilla. “Martine helped us understand how SGP certification might fit into our overall sustainability strategy,” remarked Erick Jessee, Posty Cards’ president. “In that discussion, we realized that SGP certification dovetailed perfectly with our goal to third-party certify the sustainability of our entire operation.”
For Posty Cards, sustainability always has been a core value of the business. When Jessee joined the company, he started several big initiatives designed to move Posty Cards’ entire operation toward a more sustainable future. “Part of that strategy is to ‘walk the talk’ with integrity,” Jessee said. “We believe it is important to show integrity and transparency in our sustainability practices.” Through third-party certification, Posty Cards is able to give its customers, employees and other stakeholders confidence that it continues to abide by sustainable standards. SGP certification is a significant part of that.
In order to become SGP-certified, facilities must first apply and then schedule an onsite audit within a year of the original application date. A trained SGP auditor spends a full day touring the facility, reviewing documents and interviewing employees to ensure the facility is meeting the SGP criteria that establish the best practices, including a sustainability management system that must be followed in order to achieve certification. The facility also must be in compliance with all applicable environmental, health, safety and labor laws and have designated a continuous improvement project. If needed, the facility will have the opportunity to make corrective actions if it does not meet the criteria. Once the facility passes its SGP audit, it becomes certified. Each year, it must report on its continuous improvement project and establish new goals and objectives for the upcoming year. Every other year, there is an onsite audit. SGP is developing a more simplified recertification process for facilities that have already been through one cycle and have not had any issues.
Becoming SGP-certified validates a facility’s sustainability efforts. There is no other program in the US or Canada which covers all print processes and has the support of major printing organizations. Over the years, Monteleone remarked that she has encountered many facilities that claim to be green and sustainable due to environmental programs they had initiated. Some of those facilities even have won awards for their noteworthy programs. However, “SGP goes way beyond one area or one attribute and it is not just an environmental program. It includes health and safety. SGP takes a holistic approach,” she said. “A sustainable operation can’t just be ‘green’ in the pressroom and ignore the rest of the facility and its employees.”
For businesses like Posty Cards, “SGP certification is an important component of third-party certifying the sustainability of our entire operation,” explained Emily Street, Posty Cards sustainability coordinator. “Through LEED certification, we certify how our headquarters and manufacturing plant was designed and constructed and its operational efficiency. Green-e certification certifies our 100-percent green energy use. Chain-of-custody forestry certification certifies our supply chain and the materials used in our products. SGP certification covers everything in between, including how to run a printing business sustainably.”
Not only does SGP certify how sustainably Posty Cards runs its operation, it provides its stakeholders peace of mind that the company truly "walks the talk." SGP also provides structure and a framework for mainstreaming Posty Cards’ sustainability program. The SGP certification helps Posty Cards track such metrics as energy and water usage, waste disposal and VOC emissions and helps highlight opportunities for improvement. “One of the biggest things we’ve learned is that sustainability is a journey, not a destination,” said Street. “No matter how far down the road of sustainability we’ve gone, there is always more to do. There is always more to be reaching for, another goal to accomplish.” SGP promotes that continuous improvement orientation with required annual continuous improvement projects.
Part of SGP’s holistic approach of continuous improvement is its focus on education and community participation, which the SGP promotes via webinars, an annual conference, referral to industry experts and SGP auditors who review and help facilities gain fresh perspective of sustainability practices. Additionally, the founding associations, along with other SGP Resource Partners like FSEA and RadTech, provide assistance to the printing industry to help them learn about sustainable best practices and obtain SGP certification.
In addition to educational benefits, those who achieve certification are promoted on the SGP website, where they also obtain market advantage. “Personally, I’ve had large print buyers wanting a more sustainable supply chain contact me and ask about SGP and where to find the list of certified printers,” said Monteleone. “We now have New York state preferencing SGP printers for the state procurement of printed materials, and Wisconsin recognizes SGP certified printers for entry into its Green Tier program.”
Although most members are printers, SGP criteria also accommodates binders and finishers. According to Monteleone, “As print buyers become more educated about SGP, any links in the supply chain that are certified will have the market advantage. Plus, like printers, these facilities will become enlightened about areas where they can make headway in becoming more sustainable which, as we know, will improve the bottom line.” In a nutshell, sustainability simply makes for good business practices. SGP’s goal is that print buyers will look toward SGP-certified facilities as the gold standard of sustainability in printing. To that end, the organization has maintained a presence at key venues, such as Sustainable Brands and the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, with the goal of educating the print buying community.
Beyond differentiating a printer in the competitive marketplace, instituting sustainable practices creates real cost and resource savings. Statistics from annual reports of SGP printers include energy savings of $25,000 annually, waste reduction of 850,000lbs, water reduction of 145,000 gallons and greenhouse gas emission reductions of almost 2.5 tons. Because of SGP’s holistic nature, it forces companies to look into areas they’ve not explored before to improve their sustainability footprint. It can be a real eye-opener.
“We believe sustainable print operations are the key to success,” said Street, “now and in the future as more buyers become concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases and look more deeply at the sustainability of their supply chain. Third party certification gives us credibility with stakeholders, certifies that we are the real deal and ensures that we maintain ongoing discipline in our organization.” Like many manufacturers, Posty Cards believes it has a responsibility to its customers, community and employees to minimize its impact on the environment. In keeping with this corporate philosophy, all of its cards are printed with soy ink and printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. However, the company also recognizes that using green materials is only part of the picture. “We would recommend SGP certification to other companies in the printing industry pursuing sustainability in their operation. SGP is a great tool for developing and maintaining a sustainable operation,” Street asserted.
“We’re committed to making our business as sustainable as possible,” stated Jessee. “As a manufacturer, we’re uniquely positioned to continuously improve the efficiency of our operation and the sustainability of our products. With that comes a bigger responsibility to minimize our impact on the environment.”
Companies of all print processes, big and small, in the United States and Canada have become SGP-certified. As Monteleone noted, the SGP not only encourages printers to become certified because of the benefits to their operations, it also educates print buyers about using SGP certified printers to ensure a more sustainable supply chain. SGP was created by the printing industry, for the printing industry. There is no better set of criteria that define sustainability for the printing industry. If retailers and brands are seeking a more sustainable supply chain, they should be looking to use SGP-certified printers.