Sustainability and the Economy

Over the past two months, we’ve talked about the industry as a whole and the forecast of what was to come in 2010 in terms of growth and niche opportunities. But what about sustainability? Was it just a trend or is it something that has “legs”? In addition to talking to experts about the state of the wide- and grand-format industry, I also asked them for their take on sustainability. Is it here to stay or has the economy and recession completely sidetracked it?

Steve Blanken, sales director, Contex

In the short term I think sustainability will be a cautious trend not a growing trend, and this is a direct result of the economy

Marco Boer, vice president, IT Strategies

Some might say that the trend towards more environmentally friendly products has stalled, but it is probably inaccurate to say that people are not interested and are voting with their wallets to buy older, less environmentally responsible printers and inks. The awareness that has been raised about environmentally unfriendly products has not just affected the ultimate buyers of printed output, but also the operators of the printing equipment. Those operators may indeed have become the biggest evangelists for environmentally friendly printers. At buying decision time, they are the ones who are know steering the decision towards environmentally friendlier products out of concerns of their own long-term health interest and the reputation the shop has on the community. If anything, it raises the need for a broader range of environmentally responsible printers.

Steve Bova, CAE,executive director, International Reprographic Association (IRgA)

The trend hasn’t changed but the speed to the trend has slowed based on more conservative budgeting. Customers who embraced using recycled paper have, in some cases, moved back to the less expensive standard paper offerings; however, many customers are moving to digital document management and distribution, which is a sustainable practice. While “green” may have been put aside as a top priority to a large extent, it is definitely something that is here to stay once the economy improves.

Bill Dundas, director of technical affairs, ISA

While current economic conditions tend to encourage cost cutting, the long-term success of companies in this segment depends on delivering quality solutions attuned to significant market conditions. While sustainability in materials and business practices is often characterized as a trend, it’s likely to soon become the new norm for the digital sign and graphics industry. This is likely because, at all levels, government policies have already laid a strong foundation for substantial growth in sustainable business practices.

Adam Florek, research analyst, Lyra Research, Inc.

Businesses will become more environmentally-friendly once business returns. Sustainable concerns, however, will not be the highest priority for PSPs, nor even the second-highest priority. That’s because even when the economy was healthy, environmental considerations were outweighed by other factors. Image quality is likely to remain the most important factor for PSPs in the long run, followed by cost-efficiency. It’s more appropriate to say that environmentally-friendliness will be a prerequisite for any PSP considering a new wide-format printer.

Sustainability is being down-played during the current crisis. PSPs are not willing to pay a premium for sustainable solutions. With business down, a lot of businesses are eschewing any technology perceived as risky. Hence, firms are more likely to stick to platforms and media they have already worked with.

Tim Greene, director, Wide Format & Jetting Technologies, InfoTrends

While I think sustainability has a very important place, more than 40 percent of print buyers told us they consider sustainability as part of the overall print buying process, it takes a back seat to price in these tough economic times in a lot of cases.

In the big picture though there are companies that have embraced sustainability and are in fact reaping the rewards of being first-to-market and have developed strategies to recognize cost savings in other areas of their business that offset the higher cost-to-produce wide format graphics using “greener” inks and substrates.

Christopher Howard, senior vice president, sales & marketing, Durst Image Technology US LLC

The service providers that were initiating various programs prior to the economic crisis still look to be implementing them and ensuring that the fundamentals of such programs are being followed through. One of the key drivers that has such programs still in effect is the requests from the end user customer base on how the print portion of their marketing communications can fit into their own sustainability goals on a corporate level.

Lance Hutt, global product manager – digital, Avery Dennison Graphics & Reflective Products Division

Yes, print buyers, print sellers, manufacturers, consumers and the government are driving the industry to be more focused on sustainability – by minimizing the effects of our manufacturing processes and making our products more environmentally friendly.

If the greener option was available at the same price and performance, everyone would choose the more eco-friendly products. However, the willingness to pay a price premium for greener options varies by customer and end user. The higher the premium, the more niche it becomes.

Don Knox, US director of sales, Large Format Printing, HP Graphics Solutions Business

From our perspective, an increased emphasis on environmentally-conscious printing technologies has not been slowed by the economy as a result of increased end-user demand, regulatory pressures and a desire to improve working conditions for print shop employees. Print-buyer customer interest in sustainable printing services is growing rapidly, as much as doubling the number of inquiries about their suppliers’ environmental practices in the last year.

PSPs also see sustainable printing as an opportunity to reduce capital costs such as ventilation, emission permits and other operational costs such as waste disposal, landfill fees and energy bills. Often employees themselves are behind better environmental practices, as it improves the working environment and productivity.

Additionally, we expect to see a tightening of ambient air quality standards with more stringent regulation of Volatile Organic Compound emissions, which will in turn generate greater demand for sustainable printing systems.

HP Latex Printing Technologies opens new opportunities as it responds to the need of more sustainable signage, reduces the need for special ventilation and improves workplace environment.

Ken Madsen, president, GSG

I think the trend has flattened on the client side, but GSG is still committed to the sustainability. It is imperative to continue...We believe in “Green to Gold!”.

Lee Manevitch, technical support director, Signs Now, a division of Allegra Network

Signs Now has a sustainability initiative that many of our franchise members have helped shape. But the reality is that for our franchise members’ customers, keeping the doors open in today’s climate has become infinitely more important than choosing products and processes that are “green” or sustainable—one tends to sacrifice ideals in a survival situation. Until the additional cost of going green can be justified by end-users, it will stall during every economic downturn.

That said, as we prepare to pull out of this bad economy Signs Now’s position is that anyone who already has a sustainability plan will be ahead of those who don’t. And even though recyclable products historically have cost more than non-recyclable products, once we experience a sound economy we should expect customers to start asking again for greener signage solutions.

Joseph N. Masters, graphic display marketing manager and sustainability manager, Alcan Composites USA

The economic crisis has definitely affected sustainability. While customers like the idea of sustainability, many can’t afford to pay a premium for sustainable products. Alcan Composites’ Care & Conserve sustainability initiative assesses the company’s entire supply chain from raw materials to disposal. Rather than focusing solely on materials that can be recycled at a premium, we encourage designers and fabricators to incorporate a cradle-to-grave sustainability focus in the project design phase, including selecting materials that utilize recycled content and that can be transported efficiently to reduce fossil fuel expenditures. Additional Care & Conserve sustainability tips can be downloaded from our website.

Ed McCarron, director of marketing, digital imaging, InteliCoat Technologies

Now more than ever, it is a priority for businesses to be as efficient as possible. Sustainability is here to stay and it will continue to become a more important component of our industry. While incorporating sustainability practices into a business can have a positive impact on the environment, it can also be a good avenue to reduce the cost of doing business. For example, InteliCoat installed a new boiler that cut our energy use by about 40 percent.

At InteliCoat, we’ve achieved significant progress in dramatically reducing operational costs and waste while increasing our service levels through our enterprise-wide Lean Program. In 2008 and 2009, we completed a number of sustainability initiatives that have had a positive impact on our cost of doing business. We continue to reduce the solvents used on site and develop more water-based coating platforms. Additionally, all “non vinyl” solid waste and trim is recycled into fuel cells for power generation.

Catherine Monson, chief executive officer, FASTSIGNS International, Inc.

Some of the early demand for environmentally-friendly products has given way to concerns about the economy. Within our centers, we are seeing increased interest in regards to conserving energy and reducing waste. Even in a sluggish economy, FASTSIGNS still believes that providing sustainable products and solutions whenever possible is an important and meaningful goal.

Angie Mohni, vice president of marketing, Neschen Americas

Many print service providers like the idea of sustainable/“green” products; however, most aren’t willing to pay the premium nor are their customers. The sustainability movement is still in the very early stages of adoption by the mass market. More education needs to be provided so that print service providers and their customers understand the positive impact their selection of products can have on the environment.

Rick Moore, marketing director, MACtac Graphic Products

I think the recession has been an opportunity for companies to be creative about being “green.” At MACtac, some of our sustainability initiatives have assisted us in saving money while we have made important advancements toward reducing our carbon footprint. It is an exciting time for consumable products related to sustainability, especially boards, papers and fabrics that are recyclable as well as equipment, inks and manufacturing processes that are environmentally friendly.

I do think that the economy has curbed some of these advances, because green sometimes comes with a premium, but sustainability is not something that will be achieved overnight. We are continually encouraged that this is a sustained movement and that it is not going away—it is important to the industry as a whole.

Rich Nickols, digital product manager, UV curable coatings, Nazdar

Definitely as margins and profits fall it is becoming more difficult to spend the additional cost for green products and processes.

Randy Paar, display graphics product manager, Océ North America

A year ago the sustainability movement was foremost on everyone’s mind and quickly gaining momentum. Now it’s been slowed by the poor economy...sustainability is great but at what cost? Once we see the economy settle down, I feel that the focus will return even more than before.

Barry Polan, vice president, National Sales, Merisel

While we believe and are committed to the continued improvement in manufacturing methods as they relate to the environment and world around us. There is no question that we have seen a TEMPORARY shift in the hierarchy of needs from our clients. And for now cost has taken the top spot.

Michael Robertson, president and CEO, SGIA

The recession slowed down the move toward sustainable business practices and imaging solutions; but only slightly. Consumer interest will keep sustainability issues at the forefront for most in the business community. Making the effort now to incorporate sustainable business practices will be a huge competitive advantage in tomorrow’s marketplace. That’s why SGIA created a four-step program to help members maximize this opportunity.

Rick Scrimger, vice president/general manager, Roland DGA

Sustainability suddenly seems to have become a “nice to have,” and not a high priority when budgets are cut and customers are looking for ways to continue marketing campaigns with limited resources.

Ken Van Horn, product marketing manager, EFI

Not really. For the most part, companies continue to have a longer-term view when it comes to their environmental impact. There’s still a desire to limit carbon footprints, improve air quality and reuse/recycle whenever possible. If anything, companies are seeing that there doesn’t always have to be a trade-off between being environmentally conscious and profitable and are exploring possibilities with UV inks.