Get Your Green On
Green is the new black. But is that shade of green lightening? Steve Vogel, marketing specialist of De Pere, Wisconsin-based Independent Printing Company has been observing this trend and believes that may be a positive for those companies that are serious about being eco-friendly.
"While it seems like the green hype is fading, it's a good thing. Because most of it was just that—hype. Now customers are smarter and they do research more to find companies that are serious in being environmentally responsible and taking action versus a company tooting its green horn just to get you to open your wallet," he asserted.
New green initiatives may be waning due to expenses. "There was a definite spike in 'green' product interest, but there has been a decline in those inquiries. Cost seems to be the determining factor, as well as the availability of raw materials in the quantities (usually smaller quantities) needed," said Mark Gerling, executive vice president of sales and marketing of Parsons, Kansas-based The Flesh Company. "In many cases, there are minimum order volumes that exceed what is needed to produce a given job. For the most part, the excess material that we are required to purchase is rolled into the cost of the job, significantly inflating the cost to the customer. We have several customers for whom we have manufactured products that use SFI-certified paper, and any additional business is appreciated."
Vogel encouraged customers not to be dissuaded by costs. "Every day that you're not getting 'greener,' I think it's hurting your company. These days customers demand eco-responsibility as a standard. Not only that, reducing, reusing and recycling saves money and that's definitely important considering the economic state."
However, he admitted his company is seeing many more eco-conscious, but cost-sensitive, customers. They want the sustainability factor, but are not willing to put out the extra money. To serve these customers, Innovative Printing Company continues to develop new solutions and search for alternative and less expensive green materials, Vogel said.
He also recommended companies consider starting out on a smaller scale. "Look at the big picture, trim the fat, start reusing items, reducing costs and waste wherever you can. The money your company saves you can put towards purchasing more efficient equipment and eco-conscious raw materials," he commented.
Gerling shared these sentiments. Companies can look beyond materials and products to reduce their energy consumption. "Most companies are looking at the cost benefit from any process changes they make. Some green initiatives are expensive. Think more about efficient lighting or HVAC or windows or insulation in your home. Then compare the size of your home to the size of most printing factories and you can start to imagine what it costs to improve energy efficiency. And in a down economy, those costs could be crippling. So, from a cost benefit standpoint, we are looking for the 'low-hanging fruit,'" he said.
For example, he suggested installing 'smart' thermostats that can be programmed to adjust temperatures when areas are not occupied and adding sensors that shut off lights in unoccupied areas.
Forrest Reaves, quality assurance coordinator and FSC, SFI, PEFC chain of custody manager of Greenville, South Carolina-based growll.com, believes going green is worth the investment and customers shouldn't be discouraged by seemingly higher costs. "This is a misconception based on the experience of three years ago. We now have available very competitive priced papers that are compliant for the programs," he said.
In fact, this—the ability to offer customers a broader range of papers to print on and still be able to use a green logo that is trackable and provable—is what motivated growll.com to become tri-certified. The company received its FSC, SFI and PEFC certifications in mid-March and has printed several pieces for its customers.
On another note, he said the SFI program in North America guarantees that for every tree harvested, at least one or more trees will be planted to replace it, ultimately perpetuating renewable timber resources. The FSC program is a global program that protects the interests of the forests, the wildlife and the indigenous peoples who live in and earn their livings from the forest.
Mike Lawing, growll.com vice president of operations, observed more companies on a national level are requiring their vendors to be a part of this initiative. And Sam Vignjevic, e-commerce director, said, "We were very excited when the announcement came that we had been certified because we had been doing these requirements for years. Now we have the certification to show for it and can provide our resellers an additional product to offer their customers."
It may be too early to predict if the company will see repeat business, but Reaves did note customers have indicated a desire to print more certified products with them.
Independent Printing Company is FSC-certified, which can be an extensive process, but Vogel acknowledged the payoff is substantial. Meanwhile, The Flesh Company is both FSC and SFI chain of custody certified. Gerling remarked the certification process will cause less headaches if a company has good inventory control and accounting processes in place. "Once you have documented your processes, then you have to be able to prove that you have the 'checks' in place to ensure that you follow the same process every time. You also have to stand up to an annual recertification audit by the individual organizations," he stated.
All three companies are able to support their claims through their business products and policies. Lawing stressed growll.com always reviews materials to see if the company can make it a green purchase before making the actual purchase. Vignjevic expanded, "On the front end, we've streamlined several areas from eliminating paper usage from our internal workflow processes to redesigning our paper swatch in our reseller kit that now uses two-thirds less paper than our old one."
Reaves and Vignjevic often receive requests inquiring whether a particular type or brand of paper is compliant with one of the programs so a customer can use the corresponding logo on his or her printed product. Vignjevic added, "The requests for FSC-certified papers are picking up as more and more of our customers find out about our certification."
Reaves said, "For the sustainable forest initiatives, we have a big selection of papers to chose from. Three years ago, there were only 574 printers and paper manufacturers certified under one or more of the programs. Today, there are [more than] 1,880. The fiber makeup of the paper can be virgin fiber, recycled fiber, fiber from controlled sources or a mixture of all of these fibers."
When asked about the initiatives being made to eliminate paper and if it was giving people false hope that they were improving their carbon footprint, Lawing responded, "Naturally, being a printer I view this as paying our debt. We all can make an impact by being environmentally conscious by recycling, which eliminates much of the paper eventually taken to the landfill."
The Flesh Company has implemented an extensive recycling program of paper, ink, chemicals, pallets, office waste, aluminum plates, other metals, label liner and others. "We have reduced the volume of material that goes into the landfill by 75 percent of what it was in 2004. We offer our customers the opportunity to purchase products manufactured from SFI- or FSC-certified paper," Gerling proclaimed.
Vogel continued, "When you're in the business of selling marketing services, you can work with your customer to come up with a solution that best fits the project per each client. That way you can keep printed materials out of the hands of those who throw it in the landfill right away and provide them with a digital solution, while you can send your other customers printed materials because you know they'll use them."
In the end, is the green really worth the green? Gerling believes it is. "We consider the development of these products as part of our research and development work that is ongoing and believe the investment will pay off," he said. "Our efforts to maintain a healthy workplace and recycle as much as possible have not been costly to us as a business and have been worth it."