Sustainably Yours…Now and Forever

Electronic good, paper bad—or so some people would have you believe. We, of course, know it’s not that simple. The problem is that many consumers buy into this fallacy. So first let’s look at the downside of electronic devices and the upside of print in order to strike a balance.

According to International Paper’s “Down to Earth” series of educational essays, consumers are buying more electronic products than ever and are abandoning them faster. Some end up in landfills. In fact, 40 percent of the lead and 70 percent of all heavy metals found in landfills come from computer monitors and televisions. As far as recycling goes, only 38 percent of computers, 18 percent of televisions, and eight percent of mobile devices were recycled in 2009. Add to that the fact that the majority of energy needed to run individual consumer electronics and power the servers that store electronic information comes from non-renewable fossil fuels.

On the other hand, in 2009 only 21 percent of paper and paperboard materials ended up in the waste stream. Take away paperboard and that drops to 13 percent. Plus the pulp and paper industry is the largest producer and user of renewable energy sources based on wood. In the US about 65 percent of the energy used to make paper comes from renewable energy resources. Also, paper is a completely renewable resource.

Of course, this is just a brief overview of the print vs. electronic issue. The reality is that print and electronic communications co-exist in today’s world and will continue to do so into the future. Printers interested in educating their customers in more detail can find loads of resources and supporting material from The Print Council or, a program of Printing Industries of Southern California.


Beyond the Basics

If we accept this premise that future communications will be a multi-channel mix, how are we going to handle the issue of sustainability and how are we going to communicate those efforts to our customers? There are organizations such as SFI and FSC that certify the origin of paper from sustainable sources, but that is only part of the process. The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) goes beyond just certifying paper sources to address “certification and continuous improvement of sustainability and best practices within manufacturing operations.”

According to Marci Kinter, chair of the SGP board of directors, it is necessary to separate the concepts of sustainability and certification. “I believe that printers have long been aware of sustainability and the necessity of integrating sustainable business practices into their operations,” she says. “Many have been doing so for quite some time. Sustainable business practices do yield a strong return on investment when you take a look at the bottom line.”

Noting that certification is really the means that printing facilities are using to validate their sustainability programs, Kinter says the interest in certification is starting to gain momentum. “It is a fair statement that if the customer base requests certifications, then the printing community will follow,” she says. “We saw this happen with the FSC and SFI single attribute programs, which are important, but do not cover the entire manufacturing facility. SGP’s program does cover all aspects of the printing facility as well as requiring facilities to adopt an annual continuous improvement project.”

Printers contacted for this article had mixed feelings about the necessity and value of certification. Printing industry consultant Paul Gartner notes: “While working for a large digital printer in 2008-2009, we were asked obtain both FSC and SFI certification by three of our best clients. We, of course, complied. Subsequent RFPs from these clients specified one or both certifications as a condition of doing business together. I like to think such programs have the potential to make the world a better place.”

On the other hand, Sorrento Mesa Printing owner Scott Cappel says: “We looked at these programs and felt that it was more sizzle than steak. We had no accounts that actually asked for these certifications, so we just took a pass. We posted our environmental police on the website and also attempt to do whatever we can without the need for third party certification.”

In the franchise arena, most systems tout their sustainability efforts on their corporate websites. For example, Sir Speedy’s “Environmental Message” reads, “We are committed to innovative sustainability practices focused on building a better world for future generations. We are changing the way we do business to preserve natural resources and the environment by reducing waste and reusing or recycling production materials, where possible.” The message goes on to list a dozen specific sustainability efforts.

At FastSigns, its “Environmental Promise” says that it “adopts and promotes sustainable business practices designed to reduce our local, regional, national, and global impact.” Here again, specific sustainability steps are outlined.


Case in Point

Of course, sustainability efforts can be validated without certification from a graphic communications-oriented organization. One example is the PostNet franchise in Steamboat Springs, CO, which was recently chosen as Sustainable Business of the Year by the Steamboat Sustainable Business Consortium. PostNet owners Kathy and Terry Stokes signed up for the Sustainable Business Program in 2007 and in the first six months their PostNet operation was able to reduce its energy consumption by 30 percent by such simple steps as turning off idle equipment and using more efficient lighting.

“We started realizing that there were definite cost savings,” says Kathy Stoke. With that in mind, they also upped their recycling efforts and turned to paper with at least 30 percent recycled contents for all their printing. They also established a shredding service and started a recycling program for used packing peanuts, which they, in turn, use in their pack and ship operation.


Take Action

Although there are many printers who have chosen the individual route to sustainability, Kinter sees potential growth possibilities for SGP’s certification program with its recently launched Take Action campaign.

“We quite simply want to raise awareness of the SGP brand within the graphic communications industry and print buying community,” she says.

“Many within the print buying community are contemplating how to take the step to ‘green’ their supply chain. By reaching out to this community, we are able to provide them with a credible sustainability certification program that works, so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Our message to the graphic communications industry, both printers and suppliers, is one of simplicity—to take that step to support the sustainability movement within our industry sector.”