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Wal-Mart has a Sustainability Plan, Do You?

Sustainability—the practice of recycling, reusing, and reducing—is not just for tree hugging, living off the woods, Ed Begley Jr. fans. In fact, it's on the fast track to becoming a necessary business strategy, as more and more Fortune 1000 companies inject sustainability into their business.

While many print service providers have made a point of recycling paper and plates and adhering to OSHA and EPA regulations, running a sustainable operation goes way beyond these efforts. Fortune 1000 companies engaged in a sustainability program will require their PSPs to demonstrate with quantifiable data the carbon footprint of their printed product, from cradle to grave. They may want to know how you are minimizing your resource consumption and see data on how you are reducing air, water, and land emissions.

"Printers are completely missing the strategic challenge they are going to face over the next few years," says Don Carli, senior research fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Communication.

A Serious Plan

Wal-Mart adopted a sustainability strategic policies and practices plan around six years ago, "driven by the understanding that sustainability is dedicated to the elimination of waste and cost," notes Carli. "Wal-Mart has developed robust and strategic policies, procedures, and organizational changes that are driving their purchasing decisions, incorporating triple bottom line metrics with environmental and social components."

Wal-Mart's sustainability goals—to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain people and the environment—has cascaded into reviews of its supply chain. Its Sustainability Product Index looks to establish a single source of data for evaluating product sustainability; its Sustainable Value Networks (SVNs) aim to integrate sustainable practices into all aspects of its business.

Along with Wal-Mart, top-tier brands such as Kellogg's, Disney, Best Buy, Colgate-Palmolive, Campbell's, HP, DuPont, and Johnson & Johnson are a part of The Sustainability Consortium, described as "an independent organization of diverse global participants working to design and implement credible, transparent and scalable science-based measurement and reporting systems accessible for all producers and users of consumer products."

"Within the graphic communications industry, there is a disconnect with the changes that are taking place in the boardrooms and the supply chain organizations of Fortune 1000 companies," says Carli. "There is a big gap to what PSPs are doing, and to what companies like Unilever, Ford, and Verizon are doing within their own organizations and within the supply chains that address their own products."

Printers, says Carli, "need to be more rigorous in the quantification and qualification in the performance of their products, services, and the suppliers they work with."

Going Green and Beyond

Monroe Litho is a great example of a commercial printer achieving success with its sustainability program. The 53-employee shop has nearly 60 ongoing initiatives—ready to be monitored and measured—in its drive to reduce, recycle, and reuse. The plant in Rochester, NY, is 100 percent wind-powered, and the company has been awarded an EPA Green Power Partner and an "Environmental Leader" designation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Monroe Litho is a Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership-certified company, and was the seventh company in the US to become FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council).

"This is really in line with our principles," says Chris Pape, CEO, Monroe Litho. "We always tried to do lean manufacturing, we were always trying to be an environmentally-sensitive printer. We were one of the first to go alcohol-free in the 1980s."

To get staff on board with the program, management formed an employees' committee—one of the earliest suggestions was to eliminate the use of Styrofoam cups—and padlocked the dumpster to discourage landfill waste. It worked—Monroe Litho recycles or reuses all its waste, except for food waste, completely eliminating the use of dumpsters and their associated costs. In 2010, the company recycled more than one million pounds of printing paper, reduced VOC emissions by 28 percent from the year before, and used more than 650 tons of American made FSC-certified printing paper.

For Monroe Litho, sustainable printing is more than just a program; it's how the company brands itself. When you type in Monroe Litho in the search field of your search engine, Monroe Litho Inc./Sustainable Commercial Litho comes up. This has definitely made a difference among its association and school client base. "A lot of our customers love that we are a sustainable printer," says Pape. "They will list us as their printer in their brochures, making sure to include all of our certifications."

Paths to Sustainability

Central Florida Press, a multi-faceted commercial printer in Orlando, FL, and a division of The MATLET Group, offers customers a carbon calculator, allowing the printer and customer to work together to reduce energy and paper use, ultimately reducing the customer's overall carbon footprint and paper use. CFP also works with Sappi Fine Paper North America and other paper mills to create custom papers that are FSC-certified, carbon neutral, and made with wind power.

"We have produced custom work for major corporations for over 15 years and purchase our paper from Sappi because we respect their approach to sustainability," says John Glick, senior vice president of Business Development, CFP. "The bottom line is when a customer of ours uses paper with the FSC, SFI, or PEFC certification, it is better than using paper with recycled content."

The reason, says Glick, is the enormous amount of energy and bleaching required to turn recycled paper into communication grade, high-end paper, as opposed to paper towels, for example. It's counterintuitive. Also, Sappi, as well as many of its competitors, uses wood from sustainable forests—giving the paper company the FSC certification.

"The US forest products industry is the largest producer of renewable biomass energy in the country," says Glick. "We know Sappi is a leader in the use of renewable energy, has the lowest reported CO2 emissions, and respect their overall approach."

Ideal Jacobs in Maplewood, NJ, with 25 employees, specializes in custom die-cut labels and graphic overlays. In business for 10 years, the company is serious about becoming a safe, well-managed, environmentally proactive organization. It has ISO 1401:2004 environmental management and ISO 9001:2008 quality management standards designation. In 2002, looking to create a safer and more efficient facility, it began working with the New Jersey On-Site Consultation Program, eventually becoming a member of the OSHA Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) program, which recognizes small employers that operate exceptional safety and health management programs. Not only has Ideal Jacobs become an ambassador for the program, its business has exploded. (View the US Department of Labor OSHA Small Business Success Story here.)

Look Outside the Envelope

One of the key elements of any sustainability program is to "think outside the envelope," Carli explains. "Printers often focus on paper, plates, and printing equipment, but ignore opportunities that exist within their buildings."

There are government grants, tax incentives, and even financing programs that can defray capital costs to ensure your building is not wasting energy. "A building that is retrofitted may be eligible for energy efficiency grants from the government that could underwrite at least some of the capital improvement costs," says Carli. "Plus, they would receive the energy benefits every day."

While the process of becoming a sustainable printer can be daunting, especially if you've really not done a whole lot, there are plenty of places to turn to for help. Industry associations, such as the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), are a good place to start. The SGP, which was initiated by the Printing Industries Association (PIA), Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), Flexographic Technical Association (FTA), and National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), provides sustainability certification in the graphic communications industry.