The environmental movement survived—even thrived—in this recent economic downturn, proving that it is here to stay. But a number of significant trends have emerged which present opportunities and challenges for the digital imaging industry.
Let’s start by looking at how business in general is greening. According to the 2011 “State of Green Business” report from the GreenBiz Group, 2010 was the year that many manufacturers of consumer products fully embraced environmentally friendly practices. Procter & Gamble set a goal for 100 percent recyclable product packaging; Walmart’s Zero Carbon Footprint initiative has forced all their vendors, including sign suppliers, to reduce waste and institute renewable energy use. Companies such as Azko Nobel have even linked employee bonuses to individual sustainability efforts and issue yearly Sustainability Reports.
So where does this leave the sign industry? With possibilities—and challenges.
What Consumers Want
Consumers want to do business with companies that are environmentally responsible, often saying they’re willing to pay more or drive further to do so. That presents opportunities for the sign industry to get onboard and implement real change. According to an ISA 2010 Survey, 72 percent of sign companies consider sustainability strategies “important” or “very important”; 65 percent consider buying green materials “important” or “very important”; and more than 50 percent of companies implement sustainable practices in manufacturing, product end-of-life, or energy conservation. But interest in sustainability isn’t translating into equal demand. A recent survey of 300 supply chain managers by Capgemini puts the disconnect between interest and action into perspective: From 2009 to 2010, the percentage of respondents who felt sustainability was an important business driver almost doubled. However, the percentage of efforts respondents planned to undertake in 2010 increased by only four percent.
Greenwashing & Waste Management
ISA has found several issues of environmental prominence to the digital print sector: “greenwashing,” waste management, and environmental regulations. “Greenwashing” means making false or disingenuous green marketing claims which do not translate to actual environmental business practices. This is most obvious when products use vague claims unsupported by tangible evidence, such as “eco-friendly,” “green,” and “recycled content.” The Federal Trade Commission and UL-Environment have both issued guidelines to help both consumers and manufacturers understand what constitutes a valid environmental claim. The best rule of thumb is specificity. If you are a buyer, ask what exactly makes the product “green.” For instance: How far is it shipped from the point of manufacturing? Can you recycle the material both as shop waste and post-consumer? Where can you recycle it in your area?
This brings up the dilemma with waste management. It often is difficult to recycle some of the material that is common in our industry, such as inks, vinyl, banner scraps, cartridges, gator board, and other substrates. Though the materials may be recyclable, it can be hard to find a company in the area that handles that particular type of product. This should change rapidly as more and more companies—especially manufacturers—begin to recycle aggressively. A good resource for finding local recyclers is www.earth911.com or your State Department of Environmental Quality. Many printer manufacturers also have programs in place to pick up used inks and cartridges. In addition, good training in efficient color management can reduce material and ink waste, and subsequently costs, by considerable margins.