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Make a Case for Sustainability

Given all the issues swarming about the modern print provider’s operation—the economy, the Internet, the jump to digital, staffing, government regulations, the U.S. Post Office—developing a sustainability policy is probably not at the top of your to-do list.

You might want to rethink that, say sustainability evangelists.

First, more and more of your print buyers (look to Walmart, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble) seek out business partners that share their goals of sustainability. Competition being what it is, it is just as easy for a CPG or SMB to engage a print service provider with a sustainable policy in place as to use one that doesn’t have such a plan.

“Nearly all major corporations, government agencies, and school systems now have some sort of sustainable purchasing guidelines,” notes Barbara Close, Corporate Strategy and Operations Consultant with Princeton Sustainability Advisors, a consultancy advising leading companies on green business growth strategies.

“Skirting these preferences puts any supplier at a disadvantage, and (environmental) compliance should be considered the minimal action,” adds Close.

While there are no guarantees as to whether customers will automatically gravitate towards your company once sustainability has been established as a corporate goal, there are other benefits.

Squeezing Out Waste

“Finding ways to operate your business in more cost-efficient ways, driven largely by sleuthing for environmental impact reductions, will ultimately strengthen your financials that keep you positioned for advantaged growth,” she says.

The reason being that one of the main tenets of a sustainability policy is squeezing all unnecessary costs—waste—out of your operation.

For companies looking to embrace sustainability, one approach is to become certified by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Program. This program, which provides the framework for development of a sustainable business, and has the added value of certification from a third party auditor, applies best practices from other similar programs and stakeholder input from the Printing Industries of America, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association, Flexographic Technical Association, and National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers.

“Companies that have become certified under the SGP program (and there is an 88% recertification rate) have found that adoption of the criteria established under the program can reduce short-term costs and position the organization for greater margins in the long-run,” reports Marcia Kinter, vice president, Government & Business Information, SGIA.

“As a whole, SGP Certified facilities are more equipped to handle uncertain economic times, during the long-term, because economic and environmental performance is positively linked,” adds Kinter.

Monroe Litho, based in Rochester, N.Y., has embraced sustainability whole hog, receiving SGP certification, and named an Environmental Leader by New York State and an Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Partner—it’s 100% wind-powered. The company swears by its sustainability policy, which has helped the bottom line—all “waste” is either reused or recycled, eliminating the typical associative costs—as well as bringing in customers who appreciate the company’s policies.

Defining Sustainability

One thing to keep in mind is what is meant by sustainability. Often what comes to mind when sustainability is discussed is environmental compliance, which in itself can be a daunting task to undertake.

In its broadest sense, however, sustainability looks beyond the environmental to social issues to economic to diversity issues, says Don Carli, a senior research fellow with the Institute for Sustainable Communication. The nonprofit’s mission is to “raise awareness, build capacity and foster the widespread adoption of economically viable, environmentally restorative and socially constructive uses of print and digital media.”

A comprehensive sustainability policy looks at the impact of everything a business operation does. It’s all about using resources wisely, and those resources can refer to technology, transportation or your staff.

When you’re ready to embark on a sustainability path, take a close look at your business operation, discerning where there are likely to be the most impactful opportunities from both an environmental and financial standpoint, advises Close.

Make sure to discuss what you are planning to do with your employees—not just management, but also those on the shop floor. In order to achieve success with the plan they’ll need to be on board. Also, down in the trenches is often where you’ll find your best ideas—your employees see firsthand how resources can be better put to use.

Instead of mapping out goals for sustainability—as it is a journey and one that may never be completed—companies should focus on areas for continuous improvement, says Kinter. In fact, development and implementation of an annual continuous improvement project is at the heart of the SGP program.

Projects can be undertaken to reduce such resource sappers, energy usage and water usage, for example. SGIA recommends that facilities conduct an energy audit as well as a comprehensive environmental, safety and health audit. “These three audit programs can assist companies in identifying possible areas for improvement which in turn leads to a more sustainable operation,” says Kinter.

“Likely areas for a printing company to make sustainable improvements are electricity use in buildings or processes, chemical use (such as inks, laminates and adhesives,) packaging use and waste,” says Close. “Sustainable sourcing of paper is also in itself a huge impact driver on the environment. A high-level measurement of the magnitude of these activities, the potential for modification and the costs related to managing them will help you prioritize.”

Continuous Improvement

However, business owners need to understand that sustainability is not simply a checklist, says Kinter. “Integrating sustainable business practices represents a commitment to truly begin operating and incorporating different business practices that will ultimately provide a strong return on investment.”

The ROI for companies that participate in sustainability practices cuts a wide swath. Ultimately what you are doing is uncovering the most efficient operating practices across all aspects of your business, which reduces long-term consumption of energy, water, packaging and chemicals.

“You’ll derive more business value from what you spend to create revenue,” says Close. “Simply put, your money works harder for you when what you buy is used rather than wasted.”

Plus, in times of economic turmoil, if some of your cost bases become smaller, you have a pricing buffer to get you through tight times, adds Close.

While your core business model may not change under a sustainable plan, the numbers used for various cost and capital investment line items will be affected, explains Close.

A generic business plan may allocate electricity expense using a benchmark kWh/ft2 at an average local utility-provided rate of X for an operation; a sustainable business plan will have a side-analysis reflecting a range of options for the source of electricity, including self-generated (such as with solar panels) and also a range of electricity demands associated with different production equipment, lighting, heating, and cooling choices, says Close.

“While the side analysis will still be illustrative, the thought processes behind different choices and the variation in investment, operating costs, maintenance/TCO, insurance, and other cost drivers will shed light on the most ‘responsible’ choice overall for the environment and your shareholders,” she says.

Top-line opportunities exist too. Implementing a sustainable program allows you to deliver the lowest impact solution for customers. It also helps your customers look good; your sustainable business practices “pay it forward” and enable your customers to do the same with confidence, notes Close.

Customers as a rule are interested in a more sustainable product or service, so lowering your environmental impact and communicating this effectively can provide some leverage in the marketplace.

“Your bottom line can be impacted if your environmental actions also create cost efficiencies and if your overall sustainability ethos and track record position you as a leader,” says Close.

As part of your sustainability policy, develop a public statement that demonstrates your commitment to the practice, advises Kinter. “This policy should include statements regarding compliance with environmental, safety and health issues, commitment to pollution prevention, compliance with relevant labor laws, commitment to continuous improvement as well as how the company will share information with all stakeholders, both inside and outside the organization.”