Executive Q&A: Erwin Hudelist, natureOffice USA

1. Tell me a little about your company, the segment of the market it serves, and what you consider to be your “core” users.

 

natureOffice was founded in 2006 in Frankfurt, Germany by industry expert Andreas Weckwert. Soon after, they opened natureOffice South America in Asuncion, Paraguay. In July 2010, we launched natureOffice USA to serve both the United States and Canada. We’re based in Henderson, Nevada.


natureOffice is a consultancy that specializes in voluntary climate protection – we help printers green their operations and become certified, carbon neutral print shops. Our programs help companies convert to green printing without spending years researching and testing different methods. It’s a turnkey solution. The ultimate goal of natureOffice is to integrate climate protection into companies in a way that helps them make lasting, positive and cost-effective change.

 

While natureOffice offers carbon neutral programs to all types of businesses, the printing industry is our principle focus. In Europe, printers have participated on a massive scale due to the urgency caused by public demand. Simply stated, printers needed to take the “tree killer” cloud away from their business by converting to green printing and replanting trees in the form of carbon credits (also known as carbon offsets).

 

As a consultancy for the printing industry, natureOffice is unique in that we work hand-in-hand with printers to convert to green printing – with a special emphasis on employee participation and customer education. In tandem, we develop carbon credit projects that are certified to European standards. Printers in the natureOffice program have the option to purchase these certified, trackable credits as part of their green print jobs.

 

The natureOffice program consists of several steps; the first and simplest step is the creation of the carbon-offset program within the organization to offer carbon dioxide offsets for every job. The printer’s customer decides if he/she wants to participate or not for each specific print job. The next step is developing a sustainable environment within the organization, starting with employees. natureOffice creates a feedback pipeline for employees to use, and forms teams in every department with a system to record problem areas and challenges from an environmental standpoint. These teams are self-driven and don’t dissolve after a few months. Then, natureOffice examines energy use: motors, chillers, heating, lights, compressors, etc. We assess the situation and write a comprehensive report on potential cost-savings. We do not sell any products; we only make recommendations.

 

To complete the program, natureOffice creates a “zero waste” goal with a sustainability plan for the organization. This includes workflow, scheduling, waste recycling/selling, resources, and more. The sustainability plan also includes information to provide to customers, because customers definitely want to know the details and to get involved. The natureOffice program trains employees within the organization; giving your team the skills they need to carry out a lasting sustainability program. As a result, there is no dependence on us after the program is completed.  


2. How did you get involved with the company? What is your background before that?

 

For 20 years, I was the president of Hagadone Printing Co. in Honolulu, which is Hawaii’s largest printing firm with close to $30 million annual revenue. In 2007, I returned to business school in the evenings to complete a master’s degree with a focus on sustainable development. This experience opened my eyes.

 

I started to implement several green practices at Hagadone, and involved employees right from the start. This was an experiment, as there were no “green” guidelines or standards for us to follow at the time. In short, employees were able to implement changes that were integrated into operations, while overall waste was reduced dramatically and recyclable waste sold for profit. Quality improved, errors dropped below 0.1 percent, and productivity increased. These changes – and the level of employee commitment – were remarkable.

 

Then, we started to offer carbon offsets (credits free to our customers). What I found is that the carbon offset market in the United States is not regulated. I never knew exactly where the money went and I couldn’t take a customer to the carbon offset source and show them how their money had been invested.

 

Through research in the environmental field, I met Andreas Weckwert and the experts at natureOffice. Immediately, I saw the value and integrity in the way they calculated, tracked and certified carbon credits.

 

Inspired by this opportunity, I moved from Hawaii to Nevada to join natureOffice USA as president. It was an emotional move after working with the terrific team at Hagadone for many years. However, working with natureOffice USA has given me the chance to lead industry reforms that will not only help the environment, but will also help businesses to grow and be truly sustainable.

 
3. What do you consider your greatest achievement in this market to be?

 

Apart from sharing the important message that going green can be a profitable venture for printers, I am especially proud of natureOffice’s partnership with a Koa tree reforestation project in Hawaii. Koa is a native Hawaiian hardwood. We worked with the project’s owners to help them become certified – by European standards – as a carbon credit provider for natureOffice.

 

Why?

 

This program is a poster child for a sustainable business. It is located on the Big Island of Hawaii in an area with few to no employment opportunities. The plantation creates jobs – more than a dozen, to date. The area, Mauna Kea, is being reforested with the same trees (genetically) that grew there hundreds of years ago – before cattle farmers cleared the land for grazing. The reforestation project also serves as a habitat for wildlife, while dramatically increasing ground water levels and making a profit.

 

Printers – and their customers – can even go there to see how their carbon credits are working. Using the natureOffice certified carbon credit database, they can even locate the specific trees for each print job. They have the confidence that all funds used to purchase carbon credits are spent in the United States. natureOffice plans to create more certified carbon credit projects across the country. We hope to have our next project, in Nevada, up and running by the new year.


 
4. If there was anything you could change, either about your career in regards to the print industry, your company, or the market as a whole, what would it be and why?

 

I wish I had the type of funds and influence the fossil fuel industry has. In 100 years, our great-grandchildren will look back and shake their heads over how we treated the earth.

 

This is a new career for me and I’m thrilled with the challenges. I am also inspired by the changes I see printers making across the country. The printing industry has to get away from the “ink and paper” only attitude. In my opinion, the industry has made an error by focusing on pricing only; strongly believing that customers want to have a cheap product and that price is the only thing that matters.

 

In my experience, these customers – those who consider only pricing – often have difficulties paying their bills or pay late. Therefore, my focus has always been on forming relationships with customers who have the big picture in sight, including such factors as quality, timely delivery, recycling efforts, etc. and who consider more than just price. This doesn’t mean that they will throw away money – definitely not – but they see the benefit of environmentally conscious processes in a manufacturing business and how it can help them in their own business.

 

When faced with the cost of going green, many printers tell me: “The customer doesn’t care; they don’t even want to pay for recycled paper. All they want is the lowest price.”

 

After speaking with them in-depth, my answer often is “change or re-train your salespeople.”

 

If your sales staff cannot explain the benefits of green printing, but give in to the dated belief that “the competition is less expensive than we are,” it’s time to do some soul searching. Think about how you choose products like laptops or kitchen appliances, or a service like a healthcare plan, dentist or daycare for your kids: Do you always pick the cheapest? Or do you look at other factors, especially the long-term value or expertise offered? 

5. What do you consider the greatest challenge to be for the industry right now? Why?

 

Major challenges include electronic media, the belief that printing kills trees and destroys forests, poor customer service, and a sales force that has lost its edge due to decades of “easy business.”

 

Electronic media is fast and cheap, and has a major role in communications. A magazine can be published online for pennies on the dollar, compared to a print version. But there are limits in today’s marketplace. Some magazines – in particular specialty or lifestyle magazines such as “Oprah” – are printed due to the tactile and visual experience these publications offer. Direct mail marketing also remains an effective form of advertising for specific industries. It’s very expensive, but very effective if done right.

 

Over the years, the printing industry has earned – rightfully or not – a reputation as a dirty industry and to put it bluntly, “tree killers.” I would argue that the computer/technology industry is equally deserving of these labels, but that’s another story.

 

Today, printers have an opportunity to shed these labels – not by marketing or re-branding, but by real, solid action. Their hands are not tied, even in this recession when it’s difficult to adopt new programs or integrate new processes into operations.

 

Carbon credits, done responsibly, are a first step. The day your carbon credits are implemented will be the first day of your carbon benchmark. This means no increase in carbon emissions for your print shop from that point forward, but rather a decrease of carbon emissions overall. Keep in mind that you don’t want to pollute more and just buy more carbon credits. Clearly, that isn’t the answer.

 

Next, you can implement sustainable waste reduction processes, enhanced recycling and environmentally-friendly, energy-reducing actions across your entire company. Most importantly, your employees will get involved to lead this change. This is not just rhetoric. Employee participation is the key to lasting, effective change.

 
6. What do you consider the greatest asset to be for the industry right now? Why?

 

There is no better industry out there that combines information into a package that can be presented or delivered directly to an end-user. Printing companies today have strong and creative prepress departments and DP departments for mailing lists. These companies have a wealth of knowledge and skills far beyond printing. Also, the industry has customers that must share information with the public. Because the need is stronger than ever, the printer can offer several solutions.

 

I strongly believe that there is a correlation between print, online and mobile marketing. The printing industry has an opportunity to take advantage of this opportunity and expand their services. Think about what a web press costs – around $3 million used and $7 million new. The bottom-line is maybe 6 percent if you are lucky. However, printers do not hesitate to invest in equipment, but do hesitate to invest $50,000 in a department that works on mobile marketing, for example. This is just a mindset: “We have always done it like this.” “It will never work.” “We have tried this before and it failed.” We have all heard these types of responses.

 

Today, printers have an opportunity to grow by taking full advantage of the wealth of knowledge, creativity and innovation within their own organizations to expand their services.


7. In your opinion, what have been the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another in the past few years? How would you recommend this industry take advantage of that?

 

Email and FTP are definitely the biggest changes. Twenty years ago, sending work to a Chinese printer was very difficult. Now, with e-transfers and e-proofing, it doesn’t matter where you print on this planet (if you have the time). Printing competition from Asia will only increase and these printers can certainly compete on pricing.

 

How would you recommend this industry take advantage of that?

 

Management in printing today still believes that offering the lowest price will sustain them in business. I disagree. There is enough business out there that can be generated from a new league of customers. These customers embrace environmental concerns and want to do something about it. They are looking for new services and are open to exploring new options with companies they trust. With the natureOffice program, the printer can get his/her customer involved in the eco-process; creating a true partnership. And, creating a partnership is what every sales manager in this country drills into his/her sales people to create with their customers.

 

 8. Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry? Why?

 

I think e-mail has reached its peak; it has become a non-trusted source of information. I think e-readers such as the Kindle, I-Pad, some smart phones and phone apps are the real competition for time-sensitive media. The combination of these media with print will be the future; printing companies can offer such services and combine them into a full package. Today, printers have a tremendous opportunity to seize market share from aging industries such as advertising, direct marketing and public relations to combine services and offer in-house capabilities. Why do printers have to limit their business to ink-on-paper?

 


9. What is the biggest piece of advice would you give to printers and others involved in this industry?

 

Try to see old problems in new ways. Break away from your long-held beliefs that “printing” means ink-on-paper. Today, it could mean pixels on screens. Printing will be around for years to come, but offering only ink on paper is like opening a store that only sells toothpicks (well, in different colors and shapes).

 

Get into an environmental mindset. Most printers today are wasting at least 10 percent of their resources: too many waste ink, energy and labor. It is amazing what can be done when you implement good environmental programs. Hire a consultant that trains trainers; empowering your leadership and employees to make environmental programs a success. By doing so, you become self-sustaining and not dependant on outside individuals to ensure your program is effective.

 

All businesses should give employees a real opportunity to share their opinions and work together with management to make this change successful. Most managers think they know it all. They don’t. The operator on your folder knows how much waste is in the company but he/she learned to live with it because “no one cares anyway…” It’s time to give more than lip-service to the concept of having an open-door policy where all employees are encouraged to voice their opinions.


10. Is there anything else you would like to share with Printing News readers?

 

natureOffice expanded to North America to meet the printing industry’s need for new options for sustainable environmental protection. We work with small to large printers to determine the best solutions for their businesses, niche markets, customers and geographic locations; it’s definitely not one-size-fits-all.

 

As I mentioned before, our goal is not to sell carbon offsets, our goal is to eliminate carbon emissions. This can be partially achieved by the means of a strong sustainability program (reducing raw materials use, waste and energy consumption, etc.). It’s important that printers acknowledge that a sustainability program is not like an evacuation plan. The sustainability plan is never complete; it continues to evolve and improve over time. The goal is zero waste, zero turnover and 100 percent quality.

 

My experience has shown that sustainability programs that are supported by top management deliver bottom-line increases by 4 percent in the first year. This improvement comes from energy savings, less waste, better use of labor, proper scheduling, better utilization of equipment, and a satisfied, participating workforce.

 

 

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