The ‘Green’ Direction: Binding and Loose Leaf Companies Weigh in on Sustainability

by: Renée Varella

Although the “green” phenomenon has not swept binderies or loose leaf manufacturers like it has other industries, several authorities in the field say it is just a matter of time. Reasons for both types of companies to address the sustainability issue range from “It’s the right thing to do for the environment” and “Customers are demanding green options” to “A commitment to sustainability will differentiate your business from the competition” and “It’s an excellent opportunity to find ways to reduce costs and increase productivity.”

“A focus on sustainability equals a focus on social responsibility, the environment, and the economics of operating our businesses,” noted Kris Bovay, general manager of Pacific Bindery in Vancouver, British Columbia, and board member of the Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership. “Our customers and our markets are, or soon will be, demanding sustainability commitments. For example, in the province of British Columbia, there is a Sustainability Purchasing Network ( of large corporate buyers who want to deal only or primarily with sustainable printers and binderies.” Bovay also is a board member and vice chair of the Binding Industries of America (BIA) board of directors.

Another industry colleague believes sustainability is all about consumers: “The motivating factor for going green is the fact that it’s a customer-driven phenomenon,” said Gary Jones, director of environmental, health, and safety affairs for Printing Industries of America (PIA) in Sewickley, Pa. “We’re in the midst of a fundamental change – and I don’t think it’s going to go away, although it is hard to predict exactly where it’s going. Business has always been about price, quality, and service, but now you have to add what you’re doing to protect the environment.”

Jeff Hunter, president of Federal Looseleaf in Minneapolis, Minn., considers recycling and other green initiatives a customer-driven solution – and a good way for a business to be Lean. “I’ve had customers ask us whether we use electrical- or gas-powered pallet jacks,” he said. (For the record, the company uses human-powered pallet jacks.) “We don’t let any equipment ‘hum and run,’ and we turn off lights and reuse and recycle ring mechanisms, chip board, and vinyl. It just makes good business sense to salvage over-runs, recycle at the curb, and be energy-efficient.”

Richard Senior, president of Duraweld Limited in Scarborough, England, and BIA chairman, noted that the industry needs to embrace environmental stewardship for its own sake: “It is becoming increasingly important that companies become green not just to get orders or get on recommended supplier lists but because they actually care how they affect the planet,” he said. And while Senior said the current economic situation has shown a slippage of green initiatives in favor of the cheapest price, he’s confident that the sustainability movement is here to stay.

Knowing the Lingo

For starters, companies considering green initiatives must understand widely used environmental terms. Below are several definitions from the SGP Partnership, a certification organization that recognizes facilities that have met sustainable manufacturing and business practices. (For more on SGP – plus a study on the recyclability of foil-decorated paper – see the box on page 25.)

  • Carbon footprint: The total set of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event, or product, commonly measured in metric equivalent units of carbon dioxide (CO2e). It is meant to be a useful metric for individuals and organizations as they conceptualize their personal (or organizational) impact on global warming.
  • Carbon neutral/Carbon neutrality: Refers to a net zero carbon release, brought about by balancing the amount of carbon released with the amount prevented, sequestered, or offset.
  • Carbon offset: The mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting emissions generated in one location with emissions reductions or displacements in another where it is technically and/or economically more feasible to achieve those reductions. Carbon offsets are measured in metric equivalent units of carbon dioxide (CO2e). Carbon offsets can be purchased and traded through financial instruments representing greenhouse gas emission reductions.
  • Cradle-to-cradle: A system by which materials are maintained in closed loops from creation to final fate to maximize material value without damaging ecosystems. Cradle-to-cradle protocols minimize waste through recycling and reuse, rather than disposal.
  • Greenwashing: The unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, industry, government, politician, or even non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image or sell a product or a policy (definition attributed to Sourcewatch).
  • Sustainability: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (definition attributed to World Commission on Environment and Development).

Industry Challenges – and Payoffs

If implementing sustainable practices in a formal, organized manner was easy, every binding or loose leaf business would already be on board. “The most important challenge a company faces is making everybody internally, from top to bottom, agree on the environmental policy and then carry it out in practice,” Senior said. “We’re trying to steer customers in a green direction but, believe it or not, our customer service staff still has a knee-jerk reaction to quote what the customer wants rather than suggest what might be better.” He noted that other challenges include how to cut energy consumption, reduce waste, and recycle – not just send items for recycling.

Bovay noted some additional challenges, including customers who don’t want to pay the price of more environmentally friendly products – particularly in these cost-conscious times – and developing cost and production efficiencies to make sustainability practices affordable. Other issues include developing systems and processes to assess reductions in material costs, utilities, and waste disposal costs as well as cost improvements and efficiencies in health and safety, operating, maintenance and replacement, and legal and insurance.

“Socially responsible binderies are at a cost disadvantage from those that keep labor costs down and pay the least they can,” Bovay added. “And you need to consider that binderies compete not only with other binderies but with their own customers – i.e., printers, most of whom have their own in-house bindery services and can spread that cost amongst more people and more processes.”

The good news is that companies implementing sustainability goals are seeing positive results. For example, Duraweld has invested in recycling, including recycling equipment, and in energy-saving machines, lights, etc. Plus, the company soon will attempt to recycle rainwater through its toilets. “As a result, we’ve reduced energy consumption, reduced what we send to the landfill by about 30 percent, and realized an income stream from our surplus segregated polypropylene, PVC, and card waste,” Senior said. “And, although it took us nearly a year, we were the first in Europe to create our own 100 percent recycled clear polypropylene from production waste.”

According to Hunter, Federal Looseleaf has had success producing 100 percent recycled binders – a polyplastic version and one with recycled wood products. “Our binders are close to closing the loop environmentally – a customer can recycle the binder case at the curb with his cereal boxes and the ring mechanism with his metal cans,” he said.

Pacific Bindery has invested in lowering its energy costs and has optimized its closed waste paper handling system. “In an average year, we recycle 1,300 tons of waste paper,” Bovay said. “We also have reduced our use of plastic containers, solvents, rags, strapping and wrapping, and recycle what we do use – sending less waste to landfills.” And although the economic downturn has hurt recycling revenue, Pacific Bindery’s environmental initiatives return approximately $70,000 to the bottom line in an average year.

What’s Right for You?

Industry leaders agree that not every bindery or loose leaf operation will go in the green direction. The key, they said, is to assess your customer base to determine how important an environmental focus is to the markets you serve. A good way to begin, Jones said, is to talk with your top customers and learn whether customers are making environmental commitments, and one good place to start is to review their websites. That said, Jones acknowledged that an environmental focus requires a business to undergo a “culture change” – where everyone in the workforce becomes involved in the process – and that some companies will determine, for a variety of reasons, that such change is not necessary.

If you decide to forgo green initiatives, Jones still recommends putting in place an effective energy management system, citing the price of fossil fuels and the push by various levels of government to reduce greenhouse gases. Efficiency ideas include buying Energy Star-compliant appliances and equipment when replacing old models; installing motion detectors in low-traffic areas; eliminating screen savers on computers; and installing more energy-efficient lighting. He also encourages companies to think of the energy-management and green plan as a continuous-improvement project. “Go through each department and think about how to reduce waste and cut costs,” he said. “Start with the easiest to implement – you don’t have to spend a lot of money.”

Of course, keeping up with environmental issues and figuring out how to respond to them given your market is no easy task. But industry leaders note that taking the first few steps can make a big difference. “The companies that are enjoying the greatest success from a business-retention, business-generation, and cost-savings perspective are those that are making the transition to green,” Jones said. “They’re harnessing the power of their workforce to reduce operating costs, cut energy consumption and waste, and finding recycling opportunities.”

On the Forefront

If your company is ready to take on sustainability, Bovay has this advice: 1) Start the dialogue with your suppliers. “Begin to apply some pressure on them to look at developing more environmentally friendly alternatives that work,” she said. 2) Take one small step at a time. “You don’t need certification to do the right things. However, a certification process will help to guide you and hold you accountable.” 3) Reduce waste and work with environmentally safe (or safer) materials. “Develop socially responsible policies and practices, and focus on a differentiation strategy that includes a commitment to sustainability.”

“Most environmental care is common sense and starts by looking at yourself and how wasteful you are – and then going forward from there,” Senior added. “Do not be afraid to stick your neck out, and do not be afraid to challenge normal unethical practices.”

Industry Update: Sustainability Certification, Recyclability Study of Foil-Decorated Product
To promote green initiatives in the print and graphic communications industry, the Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership was founded as an independent certification organization in 2007. According to Gary Jones, director of environmental, health, and safety affairs for Printing Industries of America in Sewickley, Pa., printers can apply to become a “Sustainable Green Printer” – and now the SGP is working on creating certification criteria for binderies and finishers, including loose leaf companies.”When SGP circulated its draft document two years ago, I expressed interest in offering input on the ‘bindery version’ of the policy,” said Kris Bovay, general manager of Pacific Bindery in Vancouver, British Columbia, and SGP board member. Bovay and other members of an SGP technical advisory committee met for the first time in April to begin developing certification standards for binderies and finishers. “Understand that certification only offers a unique differentiation in the early days of the program – so don’t ‘do certification’ just for the marketing benefit; do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Bovay added. “The businesses that are best, and honest and ethical in their sustainability commitment and approach, are recognized as leaders.”

Another issue for binderies concerns the recyclability of foil-decorated projects from printing customers. Last fall the Foil & Specialty Effects Association (FSEA) commissioned a study by Pira International, an independent research firm in Surrey, England, to evaluate the repulpability of foil-decorated paper/board. The evaluation included foil-decorated product that represented 25 to 100 percent post consumer waste and that was utilized from both hot foil stamping and cold foil processes. The study concluded that neither hot nor cold foil-decorated products would yield the kinds of problems found in other decorating processes that might render them unsuitable for recycling. To obtain a copy of the 14-page study, call the FSEA at (785) 271-5816 or email [email protected] For more on the SGP certification program, visit