Most people will tell you that they care about saving our forests, and the conventional wisdom has been to demonize the print industry as the major culprit behind “killing trees.” In the face of that common belief, Dick Kouwenhoven, president and CEO of Hemlock Printers
(Burnaby, British Columbia), and his team set an audacious goal—to become the “greenest printer in the world.”
Hemlock did it! In 2009, the company received the “International 2008 Heidelberg Eco Printing Award
for Most Sustainable Printing Company!” And, in 2010, Hemlock was named the “Most Environmentally Progressive Printer in Canada” for the fifth consecutive year.
This week, Dick Kouwenhoven shares how Hemlock Printers made the decision to become the “Greenest Printer in the World” and how other companies can make a business case for sustainability initiatives.Gail: People perceive the printing industry to be antithetical to “green” business. When Hemlock started down this path a few years ago, how did you arrive at the decision to become the greenest printer in North America—and the world? Was the impetus to “go green” a top-down or bottom-up movement? Both?Kouwenhoven
: The original focus came from the top down, but it didn’t take long for a very active internal group to take over. We really kicked off our green focus in 2004 with our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.
While it’s fairly common to printers now, we were an early adopter and that lead us to think about sustainability as a business strategy.
That led us to create the committee that developed our first environmental policy. As we set our goals to reflect the values of the company, the committee said, “Let’s set the standard internationally for green printing...for environmentally progressive printing.” It came out of a sincere desire to be a responsible business and to address our environmental footprint.
That was an ambitious goal; it seemed a little beyond the scope of where we were then. As we thought about it, we said, “Why not? Why can’t we be?” Our final decision was that if we do it, we might as well do it really well. It actually happened!
We didn’t go into it as a marketing strategy or a desire to differentiate our company, but rather a desire to lead the industry. We’re pleased to see other companies—both other printers and our clients—focused on sustainability too.
Gail: How can a company make a business case for sustainability initiatives? How did you go about it?Kouwenhoven
: We’ve discovered that initiatives driven by a desire to be green often have a positive financial impact. There are many instances where we’ve discovered that what is good for the environment also saves money.
There are really two parts to a business case. First is the cost side. By concentrating on “lean manufacturing” you can measure results through waste reduction and process improvement. For example, by changing some of our processes, we’ve cut our waste pickup from daily to twice weekly and that saves us $10,000 to $15,000 a year.
The biggest improvement recently has been our filtration system. As a company, we had to deal with a variety of waste chemicals, water usage and discharge issues; those have been eliminated. We invested $70,000 in the system and the labor savings alone have given us a one-year payback.
You discover these things as you go along. If you try to build a business case to save money, you might never attempt projects like these.
The other part of the business case is the revenue side. It’s harder to measure, but initiatives like “Zero”—our carbon neutral printing program
—and our FSC endorsement are all stories our sales reps can use to differentiate us as a company. How many companies respond because we are a green company? That’s hard to document.
It’s a combination of elements—quality, pricing, and environmental sensitivity—that all come together. We are seeing more requests for proposal (RFPs) that have environmental specifications where we are measured against other companies. We know we’ve been awarded contracts in part because of our environmental initiatives.
We’ve learned from, networked with, and shared practices with other companies in our community to broaden the effects of these programs. We readily share what has worked for us and where we have found the biggest impacts. Next week: Dick Kouwenhoven will talk about measuring the results of Hemlock’s green initiatives, the company’s incentives and reporting, and working with designers to create projects that are recyclable or reusable. About Hemlock Printers
Founded more than 40 years ago, Hemlock Printers generates sales of about $30 million CDN and the company’s 170 employees deliver high-quality commercial offset and digital printing services and online print procurement and management solutions. For more information, visit www.hemlock.com.