IT’S HARD not to be skeptical about the movement toward acting in an environmentally responsible way. Isn’t sustainability just a redux of the push to use recycled paper that fell far short of the goal? What about those stories of recyclables still ending up in landfills, now just in pretty blue bags?
Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” documentary may have garnered an Academy Award nomination, but it’s likely just speaking to the converted…and how many of them still drove an SUV to see the movie or rent the DVD?
How can anyone be sure that electricity really is being generated by wind power, and does it make a difference even if it is? Oh, and don’t forget to factor in how many birds were killed in the process.
There’s even been a term coined—green washing—to describe the act of taking steps to give the appearance of being earth-friendly without making substantive changes.
Even if all the negativity is spot on, there are two reasons why it doesn’t matter.
1.) In the pragmatic, some might say mercenary, view, there is an opportunity to be exploited for as long as it does last and the extent to which it spreads. An opportunity exists regardless of the motives and science behind it.
2.) Really committing to an environmental program, especially in the context of a larger process control and optimization program, can be justified by the internal payoffs alone, say those who have fully embraced the philosophy.
Also, there also are two developments that make things different this time around.
• More companies are now competing in the global marketplace, making the environmental regulations in other countries a factor in their materials sourcing.
• The Internet makes it easier for a supplier to promote its environmental credentials, and for potential buyers to find companies that share their commitment to green printing.
Over the past year or so, paper sustainability and reducing a business’ carbon footprint are the environmental initiatives that have come to the fore in the printing industry. Chain-of-custody certification under the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) programs has had the greatest buy-in, but green power has been coming on strong.
At Pictorial Offset in Carlstadt, NJ, its now systemic environmental program had a very personal beginning. In the mid 1980s, Donald Samuels—one of the printer’s three managing partners—saw a PBS program that showed a company’s maintenance staff dumping solvent out the back door.
“I thought to myself, ‘Gee, that could happen to us.’ As a result, we started getting very strict on what we were bringing into the plant and our maintenance practices,” relates Samuels.
One Man’s Garbage. . .
Donald, along with his brother Lester, started an informal process by going “dumpster diving” to see what the shop was throwing away. They were motivated by the thought that garbage is very expensive, he says. As a consequence, 300 chemical products were removed from the plant and it began recycling corrugated and steel strapping waste.
Pictorial’s efforts have been very much internally driven as it has logged a number of industry “firsts” in the environmental arena. Its approach is founded in the moral values of the company’s owners.
However, the process by which it realizes that vision was formalized in response to a customer demand. “IBM decided it wanted all of its suppliers to be ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certified,” Samuels reports.
This was a reference to ISO 9001 quality management certification, but the company came across ISO 14001 environmental management certification in its learning process. Gary Samuels, the third managing partner, thought it didn’t make sense to have to pursue the two certifications separately.
“We asked about doing that and they (the standards body) said no one had ever done it before. They thought it would be too much work to tackle both at once,” Donald Samuels recalls.
Pictorial ended up getting its way and, in 1997, became the first dual-certified printing company. The tracking and reporting required for ISO certification has given the company a leg up in going after other certifications, reports Gary Pawlaczyk, vice president of sales and marketing.
“The ISO standard is the foundation companies should build on,” he says. “When the auditors came out to conduct our FSC review, they asked about our other certifications. They went right to the materials we prepared for the ISO standards and said we already basically answered all of the things they needed to know.
“FSC certification is about process control and being able to trace paper coming into the shop, all the way through production and prove that you did run the job on that paper,” Pawlaczyk explains.
Implementing the ISO practices put everybody at Pictorial on the same page, according to Donald Samuels. “Now our goal is to make sure that our industry follows good standards and practices.”
“We have a full-time compliance officer, but everyone in our facility takes ownership of our quality and environmental initiatives,” adds Pawlaczyk. “We live that commitment every day and our hope for the industry is that it (environmental responsibility) won’t just be something companies market. ‘Green washing’ is something that has come into vogue.”
Along with its ISO and FSC certifications, Pictorial also has FSI chain-of-custody certification, is recognized as being carbon neutral through the Go Zero program of The Conservation Fund and has implemented the U.S. EPA Environmental Performance Track program. The company planted more than 5,000 trees in a southern New Jersey forest to offset the entire carbon footprint of its operations. It elected to get SFC and SFI certified in order to be able to offer clients a broader range of sustainably produced stocks, particularly coated papers.
Samuels says going the carbon neutral route demonstrates more of a commitment to the environment than simply purchasing “green” power. Also, he believes there’s a greater potential for companies buying “green” power to be examples of green washing since it is a simple step to take and only addresses the carbon emissions related to a company’s power usage, assuming it goes 100 percent green power.
Although not the objective, Pictorial’s efforts have had a financial payoff derived from greater production efficiency, reduced energy usage and enhanced employee involvement, along with being a marketing asset. The company attributes more than $4 million in recent revenue gains to new corporate clients that sought out the printer because of its environmental policies and practices.
Corporations, Johnson & Johnson among them, want to better position themselves with shareholders and customers by being environmentally responsible. This philosophy is being applied to their printed communications in general, but has also given rise to new opportunities in the form of corporate social responsibility, philanthropy and sustainability reports.
Taking Measured Steps
The roots of the current environmental initiatives at L.P. Thebault, in Parsippany, NJ, also trace back to its ISO 9001 certification. “ISO 9001 established a platform for process management, metrics, analysis and corrective action at our company,” notes Don Seitz, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
“We wanted to get the process right; get our workflow right,” adds David Podmayersky, director of continuous improvement and sustainability. “We set very stringent parameters for waste and defect control. Having gotten that done, we looked at ISO 14001, but all it would have done for us is put process to our environmental program, and were already way beyond that.
“We opted to go down the path of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in conjunction with Ceres because it advocates public transparency in sustainability reporting that is much more robust than ISO 14000. ISO doesn’t require you to report outwardly,” Podmayersky explains.
GRI reports parameters such as a company’s energy usage, water consumption and CO2 footprint tied into the social responsibility aspects of operating a business.
L.P. Thebault is one of only two printers that have been invited to become members of Ceres, notes Seitz. The organization is a collection of institutional investors and environmental groups focusing on implementing environmentally sustainable business practices with public reporting and transparency. It was established in response to the Exxon Valdez disaster, and the group’s members now collectively control $14 trillion of assets.
“Ceres’ members have found that companies with good environmental policies are sound financial bets,” Podmayersky says.
Along with its GRI initiative, L.P. Thebault is FSC certified, a member of the EPA Green Power Partnership, CarbonFree with Carbonfund.org and is Green-e certified. The company had previously decided to take a wait-and-see approach to SFI chain-of-custody certification, but is now ready to take another look. It had the same concerns as many environmental groups that the initiative might be too tied into the business interests of the forestry and paper industry. The organization has since gained a greater degree of independence, he notes.
While they’ve become more formalized of late, Seitz says the printer has a long history operating in a responsible manner. “We’ve had a full-time manager of health and human safety who has been driving a lot of environmental programs for decades now. ISO certification helped us further pinpoint and focus in on the metrics of materials usage and waste management to minimize our environmental footprint,” he explains.
“We’ve taken the continuous improvement concepts of ISO and process engineering and fused them into sustainable business practices,” Podmayersky adds.
Commitment to continuous improvement, and environmental initiatives by extension, has been from the top—J. Brian Thebaul—down at L.P. Thebault. Management follows what it calls a “triple bottom line” approach to running the business, which puts environmental and social impacts on equal par with financial performance.
Adding by Subtraction
The programs the company has put in place are about sound business practices, not being part of a cause. Implementing tools such as Six Sigma/Lean Sigma has made it a more efficient print producer and cut defects, thereby reducing its waste. More efficient processes also happen to be more environmentally friendly and create cost savings, the company representatives assess.
“We’ve developed a process called DEPCR—design, engineering, procure, consume and recycle,” Podmayersky points out. “The earlier we can get engaged with the client, upfront in job design, the more eco-engineering we can incorporate into a project. Very often we can keep that price point of a piece where it was and incorporate a lot of environmentally friendly aspects into its production.”
Paper is one of the major drivers of costs in printing, so by reducing the size of a piece or making another change it’s possible to get a cost and environmental benefit, Seitz says. “You’re not necessarily paying to achieve it (eco-friendly print), you’re actually saving to achieve it,” he adds.
Process improvement may be the main driver for L.P. Thebault’s efforts, but it doesn’t hurt that being environmentally responsible can have a marketing benefit. “It certainly is part of what makes us a very attractive supplier for clients to do business with,” Podmayersky maintains.
Both company representatives agree that the stakes are too high for sustainable and carbon neutral business practices to be a passing fad.
“We’ll do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Podmayersky vows. “If you look at the Dow Jones Sustainabililty Index, you’ll seeing that this trend is rippling through more sectors. It’s huge in financial services now, and we’re starting to see it in pharmaceuticals. It’s not going to go away because this isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s very much a financial and economic issue.”
There’s no big advantage to starting with one initiative over another, he believes, since the goal should be to build a comprehensive process optimization program. Some may view the various certifications as kind of trophies, Podmayersky laments, noting that it’s possible to collect FSC or FSI chain-of-custody certification without really becoming an environmentally responsible printer.
“This is a journey,” he says. “You can start at any level of ease or sophistication you want. Once you start, it’s endless what you can do to get more efficient.”
The formalized portion of Art Litho Printing Solutions’ environmental journey got a jump start last year. The Baltimore-based, mid-size sheetfed and web printing operation became FSC certified in August of 2006, then closed out the year by signing a contract that enables it to offer clients 100 percent utilization of wind energy to produce their jobs.
There was no particular significance to the sequence of events, admits Kari Laudano, marketing coordinator. “In the printing industry, both paper and energy are used in excess,” she observes.
Art Litho’s story is similar in that its management team saw the potential to dramatically improve the company’s production processes and reduce waste by becoming more environmentally responsible. With paper being the main resource used by a printer, it’s a natural place to start.
“It was not an either or choice between FSC certification and wind power. Both are extremely important,” Laudano notes. “The main difference is that becoming FSC required the commitment of Art Litho Printing Solutions and its vendors.”
What’s required to institute an environmental program depends on several factors, she says. The process is easier if a company has previously taken at least some initial steps, such as having a recycling program like Art Litho did, so there’s already employee buy-in.
A single point person should be able to manage an environmental program for a small company, but establishing a committee is probably the better route for operations with 100 employees or more, she advises. Using outside consultants can be beneficial when a company is starting a completely fresh program and does not know where to begin, or to manage a major initiative, Laudano adds.
Art Litho, too, has gained new clients that selected the company over other printers because of its environmental beliefs and actions. “More and more businesses are striving to implement green practices,” she notes. “The time and effort required to implement environmental practices is minuscule compared to the overall detrimental outcome of not doing so.” PI
Forest Stewardship Council: www.fscus.org
Sustainable Forestry Initiative: www.sfi.org
Global Reporting Initiative: www.globalreporting.org
Rainforest Alliance: www.rainforest-alliance.org
Smart Wood: www.smartwood.org
International Organization for Standardization: www.iso.org
The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero program: www.conservationfund.org
EPA Green Power Partnership: www.epa.gov/greenpower
EPA Environmental Performance: www.epa.gov/performancetrack