Sustainable Printing: The Why, The What and The How

Reprinted with permission by the Great Lakes Graphics Association

Pressing-SustainabilitySustainability has been in the forefront of business operations for more than a decade. Educated consumers understood that for their children to live in a better world, everyone needed to embrace sustainability. The power of the consumer drove Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, to make sustainability central to its business decisions. This, in turn, sent shock waves down its supply chain. Whether it’s packaging, apparel, labels or signage, printing is a link in that chain.

As all print processes then were being asked about their sustainability programs, there became a need for an independent organization with a certification program to define and validate sustainable printing practices. The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) was developed through a transparent and credible process by a stakeholder group that included representatives from facilities of all print processes, their suppliers, customers, environmental groups, government agencies and the leading organizations representing the printing industry. The SGP program was created more than a decade ago, has evolved to better reflect the most current knowledge of sustainable business practices and continually offers even more benefits to the industry.

Defining sustainable printing practices was the first step. SGP’s certification criteria takes a holistic approach and is specific to printing. It lays out elements that were created “by the printing industry for the printing industry.” It is holistic in that it doesn’t address only single attributes like paper sourcing or ink chemistry; nor is it just for environmental issues. To address sustainability, it must encompass the three Ps – people, planet and profit. The SGP criteria encompasses the entire printing facility and includes environmental, health, safety and labor practices. Because the printing industry developed the criteria, it is specific to printing, yet includes all printing processes – flexography, lithography, screen, digital and gravure. The criteria are flexible and expansive so they can be adopted by any type of printing facility, whether it is large or small. SGP is the only certification program for the printing industry in North America, and it has the endorsement of all major print organizations. The list of SGP Printers continues to grow and includes multiple locations of the same corporation.

The SGP certification criteria are sustainable printing practices which are, in essence, good business practices. SGP certification helps printers optimize operations to be more efficient, cost effective and responsible. SGP Printers decrease waste, increase recycling, reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and improve worker safety, thereby validating themselves as implementing sustainable business practices. Printers that meet SGP’s multi-faceted criteria are using best practices that provide their customers with a premium product that meets corporate responsibility standards and save money!

The SGP Impact Tracker is the newest addition to the SGP program. It is a cloud-based dashboard that tracks sustainability initiatives, operating expenses and other metrics. It displays data from a company’s sustainability program, illustrating the operational benefits and cost savings that result from a commitment to best practices. The software provides an easy way to benchmark data, track implementation, set goals and showcase success. Whether it’s carbon footprint, kilowatts of electricity, therms of natural gas or gallons of fuel, the Impact Tracker accepts the data and offers a user-friendly benefit of allowing everyone in the facility to enter information.

SGP Printers differentiate themselves from their competitors, creating real cost and resource savings. By becoming certified, printers validate a place as a true link in a sustainable print supply chain. By being a sustainability leader, they are more preferred by print buyers.

But, growing the adoption of sustainable business practices in the printing industry takes a community approach. In addition to the numerous SGP Printers, the SGP Community includes SGP Patrons, SGP Brand Leaders and SGP Resource Partners. Every organization that values corporate responsibility and a sustainable future has a role to play in supporting sustainable printing.

SGP Patrons are suppliers to the printing industry and recognize SGP’s continuing role in advancing the benefits of SGP certification to both the print and buying communities. They are commited to transforming the marketplace and leading inclusion of sustainable business practices in the industry.

SGP Brand Leaders are consumer products companies and other print buyers that want to be assured a more sustainable print supply chain. By working with SGP Printers and encouraging their print vendors to become certified, SGP Brand Leaders are aligned with companies that help them achieve an overall lower environmental footprint and improved sustainability profile.

SGP Resource Partners are organizations that encourage their members to become more sustainable and assist them on the journey to become part of the SGP Community. They include Flexographic Technical Association, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association, TLMI, RadTech North American International, National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, Printing Industries of America and Great Lakes Graphics Association.

Together, the SGP Community has made great strides in promoting sustainable printing practices. It brings together a community of printers, print buyers, suppliers and supporting organizations that work together to drive sustainable business practices that today’s customers demand and everyone should want. Another leap forward for SGP will be the introduction of a certification program for the suppliers to the printing industry.

For more information on the certification program, access the Resources tab of the SGP website There is an extensive list of archived webinars, fact sheets, guidance documents and certification criteria, along with applications. The website also includes the list of current SGP Printers, SGP Patrons, SGP Brand Leaders and SGP Resource Partners. Also, feel free to email

This article was originally published in the October 2019 issue of Graphics Journal, the membership magazine of the Great Lakes Graphics Association.