Green Fatigue, Green Supply Chains, and the Greening 2.0 of Print

Many print service providers see sustainability initiatives as an additional expense that will consume precious capital resources and erode their already slim margins, but a growing number are finding that investing in “beyond compliance” sustainability measures and seeking certification for those efforts from third party organizations like the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership ( are generating bottom line savings, increased consideration in highly competitive markets, and critical credibility support for their green marketing claims. According to Steve Whittaker, vice president of Quality Management & Sustainability Initiatives at Monroe Litho, “Demand for certification is definitely on the rise, and SGP certification has definitely contributed to an increase in Monroe Litho’s market share in several key market segments. In addition, our sustainability initiatives, which include over 60 specific health, safety, quality, and environmental performance improvement projects, have reduced our environmental impacts, improved our standing with our stakeholders and helped us reduce our costs. For example, due to our safety initiatives we were recently recognized as one of the 16 safest workplaces in America. In addition to receiving public recognition, we were also qualified to receive a $15,000 premium reduction on our workers compensation insurance.”


Green Fatigue?

This article is intended to help you avoid being distracted by the “green fatigue” that can sometimes dominate the popular media spin cycle and provide you with an understanding of how companies like Monroe Litho of Rochester, NY, are meeting the growing demand for sustainable print service providers, reducing their environmental impact, and having a positive impact on their bottom line.

According to Whittaker, “For many years we had been undertaking many initiatives to reduce our environmental impacts, but we found that the SGP certification process provided us with a framework for integrating our efforts as well as a credible platform for communicating their benefits to key stakeholders.”

Consumer concerns about the environment tend to wax and wane based on the economy, politics, and other factors. But the fickle environmental opinions of consumers should not be confused with the increasing attention that major corporations, nonprofits, and key government agencies are placing on sustainable supply chains and credible environmental marketing claims.

According to the 2011 Nielsen Sustainable Efforts & Environmental Concerns report American consumers are indicating less and less concern about climate change and other environmental issues. Based on this decline in concern, you might think that marketers would be making fewer green marketing claims, but the opposite appears to be the case, with more and more companies touting their companies and their products as “green” or “environmentally friendly.”

Does this mean you can put your company’s environmental management activities on the back burner or that you too should make unsubstantiated environmental benefit claims about your company or its product?

In addition to considering sustainable supply chain initiatives, it is important to consider changes that have been proposed to the FTC Green Guide earlier this year ( The proposed changes are based on a number of public workshops and an extensive study of how consumers interpret terms such as “green” or “good for the environment.” Some of the changes being proposed include cautioning against the use of broad claims such as “environmentally friendly” or “saves trees” and requiring that environmental or green claims only be made when they are substantiated.


Greener Supply Chains

Before you decide that your company’s current efforts to address sustainability are good enough to address the declining environmental concerns of consumers, it is important to remember that most print service providers do not serve consumers directly and that major corporations, leading nonprofits, and key government agencies are actually expecting more rather than less of their suppliers in terms of measurable environmental impact reductions and substantiation of green marketing claims. In fact, they are increasingly requiring suppliers to be more and more rigorous in measuring, managing, and reporting their environmental impact due to fossil fuel and water usage, in addition to reducing their packaging and their solid waste output. Some are also creating “sustainability scorecards” that lay out the initiatives they expect their suppliers to undertake and also provide the metrics for evaluation of continuous performance improvement. For example, The Procter & Gamble Company is moving into the second implementation stage of its Environmental Sustainability Supplier Scorecard (

Deployed about a year ago to nearly 400 strategic suppliers and agencies, the scorecard measures energy use, water use, waste disposal, and greenhouse gas emissions on a year-by-year basis. For 2011, the roster of participating suppliers and agencies will be increased to about 600 companies. Also, the results of the scorecard will now be incorporated into supplier performance ratings, and will therefore impact a supplier’s opportunity for future business. According to P&G, suppliers and agencies will be evaluated and given a score from 1-5, and those showing outstanding sustainability performance (5/5) will be publicly recognized and rewarded. For those suppliers and agencies that do not score well, the scorecard results will form the basis for joint sustainability improvement plans and will then be used to measure progress over time.

In addition to sustainable supply chain scorecards being developed by companies like P&G, General Mills, Ford, IKEA, and others, there are several broadly supported and well funded initiatives like The Sustainability Consortium ( that have focused on the development of tools and metrics for quantifying the environmental performance of all of the companies and products in their extended supply chains. Because many of these scorecards are in the public domain, a growing number of non-profits, government agencies, and smaller companies are beginning to adopt them and employ them as the basis for their vendor qualification criteria. The Walmart scorecard asks for information on sourcing policies, third party certifications, and community involvement, so it should come as no surprise if you see such requirements becoming more prevalent elsewhere.

Another reason why third party certifications like SGP are important is that the FTC is clamping down on unsubstantiated green claims as well as on claims that are based on questionable certifications and seals of approval. State and local attorneys general are also stepping up enforcement actions. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the number of complaints being brought by competitors via the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau ( In one respect this may be good news for printers who will be able to challenge the unsubstantiated green claims of companies that claim that going paperless and eliminating printing is “good for the environment” or “saves trees.” On the other hand, it will also mean that printers using questionable certifications or making unsubstantiated green claims will also be at risk.

Until now ad hoc efforts to green the printing industry may have been good enough, but the challenges presented by the growing pressure for sustainable supply chains and the vagaries of consumer opinion call for more rigorous frameworks and metrics for the greening of the printing industry. While consumer opinions about the meaning and importance of green can and do vary and vacillate, the meaning and importance of sustainable supply chain performance is increasingly being clarified and intensified. As you plan ahead for 2012, consider the opportunities for your company to reduce its costs and improve its ability to compete by qualifying for SGP certification. Think of it as the “Greening 2.0” of print.