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Sustainable Printing—Good For Business

When the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership was first launched in 2007, both sustainable and green were included in the moniker. “Everyone ‘got’ green; sustainability was new,” noted Martine Padilla, Executive Director, Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership.

 “Today, the SGP continues to educate that green (environmental) initiatives are good, but sustainability initiatives are much broader and greater. SGP aspires for best business practice conversations to always surround being sustainable, not just about being green.”

These initiatives, push the SGP, encompass environmental, societal, and financial goals, which allow prosperity.

Top graphic arts companies like 3M, Top Value Fabrics, DuPont, HP, and Ricoh, as well as retail brands like Walmart, are leading and engaging in conversations surrounding real global challenges. However, these companies cannot address global challenges alone, they need their supply chain partners to join them in the journey, said Padilla.

Being sustainable means meeting the needs of those today, without compromising the needs of future generations, commented Mandy Hulke, Regulatory Supervisor, 3M Commercial Solutions. “At 3M, we view this as balancing environmental protection with economic success, all while being socially responsible,” she said.

“While its not always easy to see, every decision we make can influence one of the pillars of sustainability, sometimes multiple,” said Hulke. “For example, making the decision to focus on eliminating waste through the printing process may take more time to set up the print, but in the end there will be less waste created and less time spent correcting mistakes, translating to an environmental and economic benefit.”

Supply Chain Role

During conversations with big brand marketing and procurement directors, and with printing facility leaders, SGP sometimes find that neither recognizes their role’s significance within the supply chain. “Some procurement personnel, who happen to buy print, but focus on other spends, are unaware of their ability to impact their own company’s sustainability goals through printing,” Padilla said. “Others, like Adidas, get it. “

Adidas chooses sustainable print facilities as part of its overall approach to improve its ‘footprint’ on earth. “By partnering with SGP certified print facilities, we are able to achieve our sustainable goals with clear guidelines, audits and benchmarks, all developed by the SGP organization,” said Sonia Collier, Adidas, Regional Retail Sourcing – North America.

“Many times printers need to be reminded that they are designing and manufacturing supply chain elements—packaging, marketing collateral, labels, outdoor media, pubs, displays, in-store signage, apparel, and manuals—which are all integral to a brand’s success,” Padilla said. “Printers must recognize they are a part of the supply chain and educate their print buyers about sustainability-driven choices within the printing industry. When printers connect with print buying strategists who are passionate about delivering sustainability initiatives to their client, they position themselves as relevant, valuable, sustainable partners.”

As large brand owners are acting on their own sustainability platforms, they will start to look at their supply chain to ensure that they are working with sustainable partners, Hulke remarked. This may not include printers today, but it may in the future. By becoming a more sustainable print shop today, printers can use this to set themselves apart as well as align with the goals and expectations of their customers.

Becoming a sustainable printer adds value to the company’s overall reputation and place in the graphic arts marketplace. In today’s environment, print buyers are being challenged to justify their expertise and continually add more value within their organization, Padilla noted. Increasingly, print buyers are realizing that they can position themselves as sustainability champions within their organization when they bring tangible metrics to the table that help their organization achieve their sustainability goals.

“Printers who grasp this opportunity and recognize that print buyers are seeking out partners who can add value by educating them how sustainability-driven best print practices can align with corporate sustainability initiatives and goals will win loyal business partnerships,” Padilla explained.

“Working with an SGP-certified print partner brings me peace of mind,” commented Lou Liotta, Director, Design & Production, Hunter Straker, purchase design partner for Starbuck’s and other retailers. “This specific certification highlights that these vendors are willing and smart enough to invest and commit towards sustainability (on all fronts of their operation). I appreciate their knowledge and customer service, especially when they bring new or improved substrates or print methods to the table."

As an increasing number of advertisers starting to push for sustainable media, the benefit to the printer is business, said Mike Compton, Business Development Manager for Top Value Fabrics. “There are REACH Compliant textiles on the market that can print beautifully with a variety of technologies so the cost to add sustainable textiles to the lineup is minimal. With the options readily available, why send a customer to the competition?”

As global sustainability becomes more of a concern among brands, printers have the opportunity to become leaders within their clients’ supply chains. When print facilities choose to invest and make the commitment towards sustainability-driven best practices, their sustainability team will become industry subject matter experts in many different categories within sustainability. Sure, they know print, but they will also learn about production efficiencies, substrate choices, air quality, renewable energy, recycling, and so much more.

Developing sustainability knowledge allows printing facilities to share their experience of refreshed production processes, increased recycling tonnage, and natural resource reduction metrics to their staff, clients, and community.

Earning Business With Sustainable Practices

Printers earn business through making the most of their opportunities—and offering sustainable media options and practices is one way to do this, said Compton. “Additionally, incorporating cost savings from conserving natural resources, shipping when using lighter weight materials and textiles, and reducing waste combine to increase profitability for the business."

The benefits for printers of adopting sustainability principles into their business practice are numerous, asserted Hulke. “By prioritizing projects that decrease process waste and facility energy decreases, the printers environmental impact and potentially even its facility costs. For example, some industrial recyclers are willing to take high priced recyclables, like HDPE end plugs, and low priced recyclables, like cardboard, away at no cost to the printer.”

The upshot? The printer reduces the amount of waste going to landfill, while saving on waste disposal costs. All of this can be marketed to demonstrate the commitment that the printer is making to their customers.

“We are seeing sustainable thinking become more integrated into business culture and will eventually become something that is apart of the typical vernacular,” Hulke said. 3M’s Pollution Prevention Pays program (3P), initiated in the 1970s, is still alive and well today, and lead to, in 2013, 3M Commercial Solutions' manufacturing facility in Nevada, Missouri preventing over 1,500 tons of waste from being produced and over 1 ton of air emissions from being emitted.

From a business perspective, sustainable printing matters when customers demand it, acknowledged Compton. “We’re seeing a shift as more large printers are requesting sustainable media to meet client demand for specific, high-profile projects. Printers who are already set up with sustainable practices and options are starting to see the payoff. Those printers are able to satisfy the growing needs of their customers, or sometimes they’re successful in earning new business as they’re able to deliver what the competition can’t."

Added Compton, “Top Value Fabrics is proud to be a patron of the SGP along with other industry leaders including HP, 3M, Durst and DuPont. “

SGP is the community where printing industry sustainability conversations are happening, creating awareness and change, said Padilla. The organization is convening its first ever SGP Partnership community gathering, Thursday, Oct. 23rd in Las Vegas, co-located with SGIA’s annual conference.

Printers interested in learning more can download SGP criteria at: