Page 2 of 3

Vince Lombardi Was Wrong

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  That phrase has been closely associated with the legendary Green Bay Packer football coach, and often very widely quoted.  He supposedly used it as early as 1959 in his opening talk of training camp for the team.  Here in Wisconsin, publicly stating that the coach was anything less than perfect is tantamount to heresy and I’ll probably be tarred and feathered sometime next week.  Bring it.

My point is contextual in nature though.  Recently the company that I lead, Visual Impressions, was named a finalist in the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year awards.  There were thirty four companies that made it to the final list and in our category (Small 1 – 99 employees) there were a total of nine companies named.  The black-tie award dinner was fantastic, with Governor Scott Walker giving the keynote address.  It was the Academy Awards of companies that make stuff.

At the awards, right before they announced the winner in our division I reflected on all the great people that give tremendous effort daily at Visual Impressions.  Our talented and creative staff accomplishes more than just screen-printing or embroidering apparel all day.  They provide for their families.  As our customers aren’t just local, every order we ship drives the economic engine for this country.  Shirts that we have decorated are everywhere in the nation, and some even get shipped abroad.  You’ve seen them, you just don’t realize it.  Some of the shirts we’ve printed even have a higher purpose, such as the ones we printed after the Boston Marathon tragedy that raised a tremendous amount of money for the One Fund Boston. (Read my blog article about that experience here – When Lightning Strikes)

That’s how I know Coach Lombardi was wrong.  Winning truly isn’t everything.  It was ok in my heart when Tailored Label Products  won, and we watched them celebrate one table away.  (Congratulations to them – they are awesome by the way!)

Sure it was extraordinary to have Visual Impressions be acknowledged as one of the best run companies in the state.  That doesn’t hurt.  However, I know how incredibly hard our staff works to make Visual Impressions the leader in our industry.  It’s our daily journey that counts.  Our dedication to quality and continuously improving our process has led us to the success and growth we’ve achieved. 

It’s why we are a certified sustainable printer by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.  Leading the decorated apparel industry in sustainability is part of our value proposition, and we leverage that fact every day when building our relationships with clients.

It’s why we participated in the very first ScaleUp Milwaukee program which was dedicated in developing the local Entrepreneur Ecosystem.  Getting out of our comfort zone and learning something new will pay off large dividends in the future.

It’s why we love participating in local non-profit fundraising events and activities.  Giving back matters.  It’s not all about you.

It’s why our customers turn to us in the first place.  There are tons of companies that can print a t-shirt or embroider a polo shirt.  Our customers know and appreciate the level of service and dedication to quality that we provide every day.  They constantly turn to us to help resolve some challenging order, or impossible request.  Hitting homeruns for them is a great feeling.

Well, I guess that’s enough chest thumping for now.  Whew.  I feel better too.  All the tuxedos and pretty dresses have been put away, and everyone is back to work.  We didn’t get to snake through the crowd, high-fiving everyone on the way.  I would have loved to hear owner Jay Berman’s speech thanking our staff, customers, vendors and friends.  I’m sure it was a good one.  We’re still the same company.  We’re still going to be giving 110% every day for our customers, striving to improve and learn something new.  Maybe next year our name will be called.  Until then…

Pathways to the Brain Trust – SGIA Congress of Committee’s Success

Last fall I was invited to participate in the 2014 SGIA Congress of Committees in Fort Lauderdale.  This event, held this past week, brought together the top print industry professionals for a series of meetings that focused exclusively on how the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association can improve, develop, and strengthen their impact for the companies they serve.  It was an amazing event, and I was honored to participate and represent Visual Impressions and the garment decorator industry as a whole.

If you aren’t a member of the association, I’d like you to explore the opportunity for a few moments.  The SGIA is an association that only has one purpose; to make your business stronger.  In the headline above I called it the “Pathway to the Brain Trust” and that’s exactly what the association delivers.  While the event I attended was a mash-up of the who’s who in the print industry, the association taps these people for their experience, skill, and creative imagination to try to understand not only what’s happening in the printing industry now, but where it’s going in the future.  Huge amounts of resource materials are available to you as a member, as well as access to just about anything that could positively affect your business.  With a groundbreaking print industry trade show, and an outstandingly written journal, members have the business advantage over their competitors.  Check out the association website and see for yourself –

I participated in three committee meetings, but had more discussions in between or around the events as well.  Here are some tidbits of information that I think others may be interested in learning:

Tag Words & Accurate Information.  Each association member has the ability to tag their company with words that will show up in a search function.  Unfortunately, a good number of companies don’t accurately portray their company with tags.  The association uses a referral network,  to direct these searches.  SGIA is continually being approached by your potential customers looking for a new vendor.  This is a great way to maximize your membership, as they gave out over 8,000 referrals last year.  To make sure you have the ability to get these referrals, make sure your SGIA membership profile is accurately filled out with great tags that portray all the offerings your company provides.  Also, make sure that your company’s contact information is filled out as well as well.  A good number of the referrals come back with statements that they can’t get a response from the company’s they have contacted.  This is future business opportunities that go missed because of inaccurate information or staff that don’t return a phone call.

SGIA is Revamping Their Website.  A lot of hard work and thought has gone into their Drupal-based website redesign.  They hope to have everything launched and running in March.  There will be added content and it will be more user friendly for members looking for information.

Benefits & Services.  – Besides the plethora of webinars, articles, great content in the journals, SGIA is working to add some new benefits this year.  Some of these include discounts on UPS shipping, credit card processing, the ability for web to print online storefronts, and discounts on software like Corel.

SGIA Journal.  This is one of the best resources on the market for print companies.  I don’t know if you have picked up a recent copy, but each issue is packed with great articles all positioned to make your company better.  If you are a garment decorator, there are now 4 issues a year just for our industry.  What’s really great about the journal is that the folks at SGIA spend a good amount of time compiling the information and authors for each issue.  There’s only 30% of the issue devoted to advertising, so the pages are crammed with information.  The top thought leaders in the print industry are the authors too.

-Sustainability.  One of my favorite topics.  I’m proud of the fact that SGIA takes a lead position on this topic.  During the committee meeting here’s what I learned:

-SGIA has definitely defined itself in the conversation as the leading expert in sustainability education.  The Peer to Peer group meetings are a great way to start the journey for companies.  A good number of them use this as the launching point for their sustainability journey and most end up becoming SGP Certified printers.  (

-Sales Force Training. There could be some development education for sales force training.  After all, what good is it to have a sustainability program if you can’t get the message out about the good you are doing?  Your sales force or customer service team needs to be able to accurately discuss your program with intelligence and understanding.  What is the benefit to your customer?  Why should they care?

-SGIA is the trusted advisor to companies building their programs.  Information on energy reduction, carbon footprint calculations, how to recycle, examinations of the soft costs of sustainability, inks & chemicals, and other hot button issues are all available to SGIA members.

-Shop Towel Rule – this landmark regulation is in your lap as a shop, but do you know anything about it?  Even if you use a third party contractor to handle your shop towels, you are still affected by this law.  You “own” this process, and how the shop towels are handled, treated, disposed of, or laundered still affects you.  You need the complete chain of custody for your shop towels, and need to understand where the waste water is going.  Look at your contracts folks.

Garment Decorator Meeting Notes.  There was some healthy discussion here on numerous topics that Garment Decorators face every day.  Some of the better discussions were focused on:

-Employee Training.  How to find and recruit better employees?  How to train the ones we have?  SGIA already has some good resources online and in the journal, but they will be adding to the discussion more information this year too.  Have you taken advantage of the information on the website?  There are tons of information on wage comparisons, how-to training guides, pre-written job descriptions, webinars, and other videos that you can use.

-E-Commerce.  We had some great conversations about how companies are increasing their e-commerce platforms and how to make it easier for others to use.  Websites that have good customer service and employee social media strategies have better success.  Social media is driving the bus, but your market niche is the road you need to be traveling on.  Find out where your customers are, and use the social media channel that works best to target them.  Younger markets are using Instagram.  Business professionals are on LinkedIn.  More families and moms use Facebook.  Posting on Fridays is the best, but for e-mail blasts send these out on Saturdays, when your audience has more time to read them.

-On-shoring.  More orders are coming back to the US for production.  With increased costs for labor and transportation, it seems that some of the larger jobs that would be outsourced to firms in other countries are coming back to the United States for production.

-“Burst” Production.  This was the new term I learned at the meetings.  This simply is the ability to handle inconsistent and sometimes high volume work at a moment’s notice.  More companies are strategically placing themselves ready for this as they develop the infrastructure and capacity for this by having production available for work.  Presses could sit idle with downtime in between jobs, and Bam!; get booked for jobs that have tighter deadlines.  This is a value add for companies looking for contract printing and part of the new wave of on-shoring production.  Funny, all this time I thought that this was just normal production in the garment industry.  Now I have the accurate name for it.

     -SGIA at MAGIC.  This has been a huge success and SGIA is continuing this as a good recruitment tool for the association.  If you don’t know, MAGIC is the largest apparel show in the United States and concentrates on the retail fashion market.  A lot of printers attend this show, as you can get a good sense as to where the t-shirt industry is heading for design motifs, colors and trends.  SGIA has partnered with some garment decorating industry manufacturers and positioned a press demonstration in the Sourcing area at MAGIC.  This led to some great interactions and has positioned SGIA as the “Best of the Best” for industry knowledge.  Because of this there was some discussion as to the viability of doing the same thing for the PPAI or ASI shows.

     -Wearable Technology.  This is a wave of the future coming to you.  There was some interesting discussion, both at the committee meeting and also during some dinner networking events, on this subject.  This subject is how companies such as Nike, adidas, Apple and others are positioning sensors and other devices in the garments.  These can be interfaced with devices for bio-feedback, music, lighting, heat sources or other fantastic ideas.  How are these to be printed?  How can these garments be decorated later?  Can your company be part of this future?

All in all, the SGIA Congress of Committees was a great event and I was thrilled to be a part of it.  It’s exciting to be on the ground floor of the future in my industry and to see so many great people involved.  If you are not a member of SGIA, I highly encourage you to look into it ( and to learn from the best.  The association’s sole function is to make your company better.  Getting the “behind the scenes” look that drives that home is the brain trust of the members and SGIA staff members that meet continually to improve the print industry.  Bravo SGIA, bravo!

Move Your Company to a Greener Standard – the Why, What and How of Sustainability

Getting started with any new initiative is always difficult.  It’s easy to “talk” about something, much harder to actually “implement” the idea.  This holds true with pushing your company into a more sustainable direction.  You can’t swing a dead cat without bumping into another article, blog, TV news show, or talking head giving us facts about how someone, somewhere is saving the planet and millions of dollars by adopting a greener way of doing business.

But for the average small business that seems like a pie in the sky pipedream.  They are working hard just to find new customers, get orders shipped and meet payroll.  Let’s not even start the discussion on healthcare.  So how can “green” compete for attention with all of that?

First, it starts with a simple conversation.  What can you do, and why do you want to do it?  Is it because it’s the right thing to do?  Is it because your customers are starting to ask about it or demand more from their supply chain?  Is it because you want to create bigger margins by lowering your operating expenses?  What is driving this bus?  Get a few like-minded folks with your company together with some coffee and sit down and detail your needs and objectives.  Get to the “Why”.

Maybe it isn’t time to write an official policy yet, but once you have the why listed, you can start with the what.  “What” as in what you can do about it.  Every company is different, but a lot of the low hanging fruit for sustainability initiatives all center on a few things: energy reduction, recycling, reducing landfill, reducing the carbon footprint, continuous improvement and efficiency, and reusing materials in some way.  What interests you and makes sense for your company?

The third leg on the sustainability stool is “How”.  How is more difficult as it involves work.  You are already busy.  Adding more to your plate can be a non-starter for some.  This is where developing some SMART goals can help.  As you may know already, SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.  To get started with your “How”, develop your SMART goals with your team.  Don’t write this yourself, use your workforce to develop the plan as they will be the ones that will assist you in implementing it.

For example, let’s use the number one sustainability goal for most companies, energy reduction.  Writing a SMART goal centered on this topic could look like this:

Specific – we want to reduce our overall energy spend by 20% for the year.  Last year we spent a total of $50,000 on our electricity, natural gas, propane, and water consumption.  20% of $50,000 would be a $10,000 a year savings.  To achieve our goal, we would need an average reduction of $833.33 a month.

Measureable – By listing the goal of the combined utilities of $833.33 a month, you can easily get that on a spreadsheet and as the bills come in, determine if you are meeting your goal or not.  Be sure to also look up previous years spend on these consumables and get that down on the spreadsheet to use as a comparison.

Achievable – Is this goal achievable?  You don’t want to set your goal too low – say for our example at 1% reduction.  Nor can you go too high – for example 80%.  Make your goal something that is lofty, but a target that you can hit.

Realistic – Similar to achievable, but more grounded.  For our scenario, maybe energy reduction isn’t a good choice as you don’t own your building or have little control on how you can change energy consumption.  A realistic goal is something that you have direct control over.

Timely – Also listed sometimes as Time Driven.  Your goal is specifically for one time period.  In our example, it’s a one year based goal.  As time goes by, you’ll see the results of the effort you are putting into your goal.  Is it working or not?  What can you change to make it better?

To close, building a sustainability program takes good communication, effort and drive.  It is easy to get sidetracked, discouraged and confused.  If it was as easy as checking the mail, everyone would do it.  The payoff of getting your program built is huge, so it’s worth the struggle.  There are plenty of resources, help, information and assistance out there for you.

Not sure where to start and need some help?  Contact me at and I’ll be happy to assist you with your efforts.

2013 Work Sets Up Goals for 2014

First, thank you for reading my blog!!  I appreciate your time and hope that I have contributed something valuable for you.

So the year 2013 has finally come to a close, and like a lot of people there is some time for some introspection.  All in all, it was a good year.  I owe a lot of accomplishments to my great support team at work (Visual Impression’s awesome staff) and my family at home (wife Jody and son Jack).  Without them, I’m really just a squirrel in a cage running on the wheel by myself.  Some highlights below:

1. Blog.  My goal this year for the blog was to build readership through the use of social media and write at least one blog article a week aimed at the decorated apparel industry.  Using the WordPress analytics tool, I’d say my goal was an outstanding success.  For 2012 I averaged 1 reader per day, and only had 291 readers for the entire year.  Granted, I rarely posted and never really marketed the site so even that number is surprising.  2013 however, was a different story.  I averaged 32 readers a day and had 12,000+ readers for the year.  My record readership for one day was 452.  8,572 readers were from the US, but other readers were from 118 different countries.  Top five blog articles were:

Creating Art for T-shirts: Common Rookie Mistakes Defined

When You Are Up To Your Ass In Alligators

When Lightning Strikes – On the Production Floor with Boston Strong T-shirts

20 Biggest T-shirt Shop Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

10 Creativity Tips for T-shirt Designers

2. Impressions Magazine Contributions.  I have really enjoyed my relationship with Impressions Magazine.  This year, I had a lot of fun writing pieces for the magazine or their newsletter.  Just recently I also put together a video Tech Tips for them (the last one on the list below) which was another enjoyable challenge.  In my mind’s eye, I don’t really think of myself as a writer but between these contributions and my blog, it’s proven to be a good outlet for me.  Here are the links to the pieces from this year:

Why Cross Training is Critical for Your Shop

Secrets to Rush Order Success

Key Traits for Customer Service & Sales Teams

Key Traits for Your Art Department

Key Traits for Your Receiving and Shipping Departments

20 Tips for Hot Market Printing

Key Traits for Your Screen Room

Beat the Heat: 20 Tips for Hot Market Printing

A Social Media Game Plan for Apparel Decorators

Key Traits for Screen Printing Press Operators

Multi-Media Decoration of Color Blocked Hoodies

3. Boston Strong.  The tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon and how two college students responded using our Ink to the People website ( proved that there is indeed hope for this world.  My blog article summed up the initial reaction (When Lightning Strikes – On the Production Floor with Boston Strong T-shirts ) but it didn’t end there.  Since then, they have raised almost a $1,000,000 for the One Fund Boston and they are still going!  I am very proud to be associated with this inspiring effort.  Check them out on Facebook at  If you haven’t already, buy a shirt!!

4. Sustainability.  The idea of focusing a better way of manufacturing (printing) for business has proven to be a great platform for me to use at Visual Impressions and beyond.  At Visual Impressions, we’ve lowered our operating costs significantly by focusing our efforts into four core objectives: Energy Reduction, Materials (Ink, Chemicals, & Supplies), Courier (local deliveries), and Trash/Recycling.  If you are in the apparel decorating industry and haven’t started a sustainability journey, I urge you to look into it.  It’s a fantastic way to build margin, while doing things better for the planet.  How can you lose?  Some key highlights for sustainability for 2013 include:

a.  Speaking at ISS Long Beach again on “Sustainability – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle AND Lower Your Operating Expenses”.  I’m giving the same talk again this year – but with new and updated information.  Register for it at

b.  Speaking at SGIA 2013 in Orlando on “Sustainability Pays Back” – this was a great show, and I even had a client in the audience!

c.  Panelist at the 2013 Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference for the “Profit in Sustainability” breakout session.  You can view the recorded panel discussion here –

d.  Last but not least, being named to the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Board of Directors in December.  Being part of SGP on a national level is a great honor for me and I’m very proud to be working for them to advance sustainability in the printing business.  With Visual Impressions obtaining the certification, that makes two companies that I’ve captained through the process directly.

5.  Fitness.  On a personal level, I started going to the local YMCA on a weekly basis.  I’m averaging 3 or 4 visits a week, depending on my schedule.  I’m certainly not getting any younger (turning 50 in 2014) and going to the gym has been a great release and outlet for me.  I love listening to Spotify while I workout.

a. Ran and finished my first 5k run ever!  The Dragon Dash 5k for my son’s school was great!

b.  On Thanksgiving I ran and completed the 4 Mile Turkey Trot in Memphis with members of my family, despite the 22 degree weather.  It was very challenging for this old guy, but I finished 1987 out of 3100 runners, and 105 in my age group!  Happy not to be last.  A few days before this race I ran over 5 miles in Memphis on their Green Line – it was super!!

c.  Visual Impressions had a Biggest Loser competition.  We had 10 teams of 4 people compete to see who could lose the biggest percentage of weight by the week following Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful experience and a lot of fun.  My team came in 2nd place, and I lost almost 6% of my body weight during the competition.  At the final weigh in I was down to 208 pounds.  Thanks YMCA!!

6.  ScaleUp Milwaukee.  Visual Impressions participated in a fantastic entrepreneurial program called ScaleUp Milwaukee (  The goal of the program is to develop skills and critical thinking with existing businesses to grow their business in the following year.  I wrote a blog article that better describes the classes, Lessons Learned from the Entrepreneur Ecosystem: Scale Up Milwaukee.  Our goal for 2014 – 18% growth.  It is a big, hairy and certainly achievable goal.  Anxious to see how it pans out!!

7.  Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Nomination.  Here’s a great Visual Impressions team award!!  Of the 34 companies nominated only 9 are small businesses like Visual Impressions.  The winner will be announced in February 2014.

8.  Having our Visual Impression’s team achieve the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Certification (License Certification ID: 0413-1364915293), this was a year’s worth of effort and some outstanding improvement for the company.  The certification is with an independent third party audit; and achieving the certification has allowed us to market our company and acquire new client’s with our efforts.  Being an industry leader is a good thing…

9.  Finally finding a company in Milwaukee for Visual Impressions to partner with for our recycling…only interviewed 6 or 7 companies…  Pioneer International makes it incredibly easy and since March of 2013 we have recycled 26.9 tons of cardboard, paper, plastic and metal.

So what professional goals are targeted for 2014?  Here’s the list so far:

1.  Major participation with the SGP Board of Directors.  My goal is to represent the decorated apparel industry with this group and get more printers, suppliers and industry media involved.  I already have one supplier, PolyOne committed to becoming a major sponsor. (Thank You!!) If you want to learn more and can help, please contact me and let’s discuss why you should get involved!

2.  SGIA Leadership Committee.  I will be traveling to Ft. Lauderdale in February for the committee meetings and looking forward to serving on the garment decorating and sustainability committees.

3.  More public speaking events on Sustainability.  I’m already slated for the ISS Long Beach show, but am also participating at the Manufacturing Matters conference in Milwaukee at a breakout session on the business value of sustainability –

4.  Recycling – Embroidery Stabilizer.  This is the backing material that we use to keep the embroidery secure on the garment.  Currently there isn’t a way to recycle this material.  This is a project that I’ve believe will change the embroidery industry if we can find a way to recycle this material on a broader scale.  Embroidery shops all across the nation are throwing this material away and it’s all going to landfill.  At Visual Impressions, we fill two 8 yard dumpsters a week with this stuff.  The problem is that it costs more to transport the material to be recycled than what it is ultimately worth.  If you have an idea on how this material can be used, or if you are currently recycling it I’d love to hear from you!!

5.  Social Media growth and networking.  I’ve spent a good deal of effort growing this part of my personal branding and it’s paying off every day.  If you are not connected with me currently, I’d love to network with you to share ideas and learn from each other.  Here are my major channels:

LinkedIn –

Twitter –

Pinterest –

Blog –

6.  Visual Impressions.  As stated previously here, we are all about growth…but this growth has to make sense and be beneficial to both parties.  We want to be your trusted apparel decorator that you can turn to for any order or program.  We are currently adding personnel, equipment and infrastructure to accommodate the growth and get ready for 2014.  It’s an exciting time to be in this industry as there are a lot of new technologies emerging.  Contact me and let me know how we can help you with your success! or (414) 379-6231.

7.  Fitness.  Keep working out weekly and have my weight consistently under 210.  I’d like to run in at least two 5k runs and one 10k run this year.  I’m considering this a professional goal, as my improved fitness has helped me daily with my work goals.  I do a lot of thinking while I’m running or sweating my butt off in the gym.  More than one blog article was “pre-written” while doing laps or grunting through some reps with weights.

8.  Professional Networking.  It’s great to share experiences and stories with others.  Learning and growing are always on the forefront of my mind.  Let’s learn together!

9.  More articles published in industry trade magazines.  I’m still going to write for Impressions, but I’ve also have been asked to contribute to Wearables Magazine and Stitches Magazine this year.  I’m on their Advisory Boards as well.  I’m writing my first piece for Wearables right now!

10.  Be a great husband and father.  Really this should be my number one goal, but it’s a personal one too so it’s good to end the list with this one.  Since working for Visual Impressions I’ve come to appreciate a better work/life balance than what was my daily life in Florida.  The grass is greener over the fence sometimes…   I love you Jody & Jack!!

T-shirt Life-Cycle Questions – What To Do with Those T-shirts

Recently I attended the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference as a speaker on “The Profit in Sustainability”.  After the event, one of the other speakers on my panel (AJ Gordon with Gordon Aluminum Industries – sent me an e-mail follow up, and was wondering about the life-cycle of t-shirts.  He is in the aluminum manufacturing business; and in his industry all the scrap is melted down and reused.

As someone who has been in the decorated apparel business I have probably more t-shirts than your average guy.  The majority of them are shoved into my closet or drawers, and are all usually items that either I designed or had a part in the printing process for an event.  In the basement, I have boxes and boxes of them.  Why am I saving them?  I have no idea.  As time marches on, I’ll add to the collection too.  I’m positive that the average person on the street has a big collection too.  Let’s face it, we love t-shirts!!  I’m happy and proud of this fact as it supports my family every day.

But you have to wonder why we hoard all these t-shirts and if maybe there’s a better repurposed use for them?  Do I really need to keep them?  Do you?

To that end I did some good ol’ fashioned internet research (remember when you had to go to the library to do that?  Yes, I’m that ancient), and dug up some interesting tidbits.  To share…

I found this great quote from a white paper on sustainability ( to set up the discussion from Klaus Toepfer the executive director of UNEP “Consumers are increasingly interested in the world behind the product they buy. Life cycle thinking implies that everyone in the whole chain of a product’s life cycle, from cradle to grave, has a responsibility and a role to play, taking into account all the relevant external effects. The impacts of all life cycle stages [materials and manufacturing, use by the customer, disposal and handling at end of use] need to be considered comprehensively when taking informed decisions on production and consumption patterns, policies and management strategies”   

So, do you think that is true with t-shirts?  Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I’d say that this quote may be true for other products, but not so much with t-shirts.  Sure, your average consumer probably wears their favorite shirts for decades and then relegates them to the “can’t throw it away” pile, or maybe if they are crafty sews it into a quilt, a rug or something.  A good percentage of folks probably donate to their local homeless shelter, Goodwill, or charity clothing drives every year or two.  Shirts also see a second life from garage sales, and hand me downs as well.

But is that “melting them down” like the aluminum block example?  How many T-shirts currently exist right now that are like mine – just stuffed into a box in the corner and forgotten?  Repurposing is one thing; completely recycling the material is another.  Looking at the product life cycle “cradle to grave” generally there are five stages in a products life cycle: Raw Material Acquisition (growing the cotton), Manufacturing (making the t-shirt & decorating it), Distribution Storage & Retail (selling the shirt), Use (you actually wearing the shirt), Disposal and End of Life (what happens to the shirt).  (Recently there was a great segment on NPR Planet Money on t-shirts that’s worth watching if you want to see some video footage on the product origins of your average t-shirt –  So that being said, is there a cost effective way to take the discarded t-shirt and use it as a resource for fibers to make another product?

Actually there is.  Cotton is a lot like paper in that the fibers can be broken down and made into new things.  This is important, as if consumers want to make a difference they can shop for items that are constructed out of recycled content fibers.  The more of the demand for this type of item, the more fibers may be kept out of landfills as the demand for this material stream will increase.  According to the EPA, a little over 5% of the stuff that goes to landfills is textile waste.  (   That’s why keeping your old t-shirts out of the landfill is important, but it is just not always crystal clear to your average consumer.

When you donate your clothing to a local charity your t-shirts are sorted according to quality.  According to a Council on Textile Recycling study (, 45% of items donated are resold or repurposed as secondhand clothing.  30% are recycled into rags, and the remaining 20% is converted into new fibers that end up as carpet or fibers for industry.  The remaining 5% goes to landfill.

So what are the apparel manufacturers doing on this front?  Let’s take a look at a few for examples…

Patagonia is doing something wonderful with their “Take Back” program (     On their website, they posted that they have recycled 56.6 tons of their product into new items since 2005.  I love this.  Their industry leading idea is to take any of their items back for repair or recycling.  They make it easy by giving an address that you can ship the item, or you can bring the item into a store and they will take care of it.  Here’s their policy:

Here’s one newer t-shirt manufacturer that is taking a different approach – SustainU.  Check out this excellent TEDtalk by their founder Chris Yura about his approach to manufacturing t-shirts and how sustainability and the millennial generation will change consumers approach to business –

Gildan has a great approach to sustainability as well, and has devoted a lot of effort to doing things better but are they devoted to repurposing their shirts like Patagonia?  Check out their webpage –

Hanes is also taking a stance on sustainability, and they have a brand that uses recycled polyester called EcoSmart and uses recycled cotton waste to make socks –

So at the end of the day, where are we on the subject of repurposing t-shirts?  Probably in the infancy of a better movement in my view.  As it takes more and more valuable resources to grow cotton and have it converted into fibers to make t-shirts, I think you are going to see more apparel being constructed from recycled synthetic materials (the polyester content in your 50/50 shirt) and more t-shirt manufacturers taking a harder look at recycling cotton fibers from the consumer waste stream.  However, to make it a fully operational function of their process they are going to have to take a better approach similar to how Patagonia has staked out and make it easy for consumers to get the material into their hands to be repurposed.

As a t-shirt printer, maybe that means we need to become a source point for that collection.  We are already segregating our cardboard, paper, plastic, metal, and other materials for recycling.  Adding one more item to that could be something that we could take a closer examination and see if we could make a difference.  It all has to start with the industry supply chain communicating together and understanding steps to make it a reality.  Who is going to lead that effort?

I’d love to hear your viewpoints on this subject in the comments section below!!  Let’s start the conversation with a simple question “what do you do with your t-shirts that you don’t wear”?

100 Things You Can Do To Make Your Print Shop More Sustainable

  1. Get certified by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.
  2. Sign up for an energy audit for your company by your local utility.  Chances are this is a free service.  They can provide you with a comprehensive report on how you can reduce your energy consumption, and tips on improvements.
  3. Form a Sustainability Committee within your company.  Have a variety of participants from different departments form the nucleus of the group.  There should be at least one person from accounting, management, HR, production, and at least one production line worker.  The committee should meet at least once a quarter.
  4. The Sustainability Committee should write the company Sustainability Mission Statement.  This statement should be promoted and adopted throughout the company, and the company should operate based on the tenets.  This Sustainability Mission Statement should be publically promoted and signed off on by the company president or CEO.
  5. The Sustainability Committee should communicate a “Green Tip” each month to promote awareness and change.
  6. Promote environmental & sustainability awareness by promoting the program in your company’s new hire packet during training with new staff members.
  7. Have upper management discuss the importance of the sustainability program with your staff at least twice a year in a public format.  Stress goal setting, the status of the program currently, upcoming key events, and publically praise top sustainable performers.  Make it fun!!
  8. Create and track all energy consumption and costs on an Excel spreadsheet.  Compare to prior year’s data.  Calculate the bottom line savings to your company.
  9. Communicate company sustainability efforts, goals and results via different methods.  Publish in your company’s newsletter, on your company’s website, or break room bulletin board.
  10. For office copy paper, use only 100% post-consumer recycled fiber paper which are also chlorine free.
  11. Reduce your standard company paper margins in order to decrease the length of the documents printed.  Get more type on that page to reduce the number of pages needed to print anything.
  12. Print or copy on both sides of a page whenever possible.  Double-siding is set as a common default on all office computers and copiers.  Place a sign above the copier as a reminder to use double sided printing.
  13. Save paper when printing and copying by reusing paper that has been previously printed on one side.  Keep a scrap paper pile near your printer or copier for this purpose.
  14. Paper that has been printed one side can also be made into a scratch pad by applying glue to one edge.
  15. If your company publishes a newsletter offer an electronic version that readers can select instead of a printed one.
  16. For paper printing with outside vendors, ensure that the paper is at least 50% recycled content and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) –  If available, try to use vegetable based inks.  Have the print design incorporate as few varnishes and coatings as possible.
  17. Try to not print the paper at all.  You can post forms, spreadsheets and other types of documents online via Google Docs.  For more info:
  18. All new appliances or electronic equipment must be Energy Star or EPEAT Certified models. or
  19. Check before purchasing any new office furniture that a pre-owned source isn’t available.
  20. If you need to dispose of old furniture or equipment, try to find a good second home for it before throwing it away.  Donate it to a local charity; sell it on Craig’s list, etc.
  21. Keep doors closed if possible.  Opening and closing doors adds to the overall energy consumption of an internal business environment.  Install automatic door closers, and also small door signs that could read “Meeting in Progress” on one side and “Conference Room Open” on the other.
  22. Switch to using environmentally preferable cleaning supplies, dishwashing soap and other products.
  23. Switch to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL’s) or LED bulbs in all desk lamps and appropriate lighting.
  24. Switch to using rechargeable batteries for devices that use batteries.  If possible use a solar powered charger.
  25. All office, break-room, bathroom or kitchen supplies are verified to have at least 50% recycled content.  This includes envelopes, post-it notes, and copy paper.
  26. Eliminate paper towels in the break-rooms and bathrooms by installing an air-blade instead.  Dyson’s airblades are extremely energy efficient, can operate without touching the equipment, and doesn’t produce any solid waste like using a paper towel can.  For more information:
  27. At least once a month, have staff members “donate” reusable office supplies back to the office supply closet.  The list of the supplies includes everything that accumulates during the normal workday: folders, paper clips, pens, highlighters, binders, etc.
  28. Try e-mailing customer invoices instead of printing and mailing them using postage.  Examine your yearly postage, paper, envelope, and stationary expenditure.  If you e-mailed the invoices calculate your yearly savings.  Chances are, it’s thousands of dollars.  Encourage electronic payment.
  29. Position recycling station bins throughout your company at key areas.  Near the mail station, copier/fax, break-room and workstations.
  30. Recycling reminder signs are posted throughout the company, and always near the recycling station bins.
  31. Sensitive paper documents can be shredded and then recycled.  There are bulk commercial shredder companies that can assist you with developing a program.
  32. Have at least one recycling bin dedicated to small electronics such as CFLs, CDs, audio tapes, batteries, cell phones, pagers, PDAs, and inkjet printer cartridges. This collection area has been publicized and signs exist explaining what can be recycled here.
  33. Another recycling bin should be dedicated to large electronics such as computers, laptops, printers, monitors and old office phones.  This collection area has been publicized and signs exist explaining what can be recycled here.
  34. Before purchasing a new computer, have a professional determine if the unit could just be upgraded instead.
  35. Some inkjet toner cartridges can be recycled by sending them back to the manufacturer, and some can be recycled via your office supply vendor.  Set up your program for this function and have a key point person assigned to the task.  This usually is your office manager.
  36. Microwaves, coffee makers and other small appliances are unplugged at night or are programmed to shut off via a timer.
  37. Eliminate the purchase of Styrofoam or paper cups for coffee and drinks.  Have staff members bring their own coffee mugs and drink ware to use at the office.  Provide a set of coffee mugs and drink ware for guests.
  38. Encourage your staff to bring lunches or meals to work in reusable containers instead of plastic storage bags.  Many companies provide a meal bags, coffee mugs and other branded food storage items as an incentive to their staff.
  39. For events and meetings avoid the use of purchasing boxed lunches or meals.  Plan the catering to include the least amount of packaging possible.
  40. Encourage the use of using aluminum or stainless steel water bottles throughout your company in order to reduce plastic bottle and cup waste.
  41. Reduce waste in the break-room by providing bulk containers of salt, sugar, sweetener, & condiments instead of individual packets.
  42. Make a supply of reuseable tote bags available in your break-room for supply trips and for employee use.  This could be a branding opportunity for your company’s program.
  43. Transition to using motion & noise sensor light switches in all public spaces within your company.  This includes meeting rooms, break rooms, storage areas and bathrooms.
  44. Replace your bottled water service or reverse osmosis water treatment system with a charcoal or other simple water filtration system, or switch to tap water.
  45. Move thermostats to public areas, set them and lock them so only key personnel can adjust them.  Set temperatures and fan speed to appropriate levels during the cooling and heating seasons.
  46. If you don’t already have one, install an Energy Star rated programmable thermostats throughout your building.  Set the thermostats to the best temperatures for average use, and lock them down with a key code that is in limited circulation to prevent unauthorized changes.
  47. Have your HVAC unit serviced regularly inspected and maintained.  Change filters according to schedule.
  48. During cold or hot weather, all windows (including storm windows) are closed tightly.  At night the blinds are closed to retain the temperature.
  49. Install an awning system to help control your energy consumption.  Studies have shown that installing an awning on the South facing window can reduce solar heat gain by 65%, for a West facing window it’s a 77% reduction.
  50. Installing blinds in windows can help as well.  Vertical or horizontal either way is great, but these are more effective at preventing summer heat gain, then winter heat loss.
  51. Inspect and caulk all windows as needed.  Put this on your yearly checklist.  Inefficient windows can be responsible for 50% of energy loss.
  52. Turn off your monitors and/or manually send your computers into energy saving modes (hibernate or standby) when not in use and be sure to turn them off at night.
  53. As a good back up, adjust your power management settings on your computer to save the most energy based on your usage and work habits.  If changing these setting requires administrative rights, contact your IT support for assistance.
  54. Encourage the use of sleep mode for all copiers, fax machines and printers after five minutes of inactivity.
  55. Have your IT department use the EZ GPO feature to determine the best energy settings for networked computers.  For more information:
  56. Another option is to purchase and install electricity usage meters.  These run between $15 – $100 each depending on the manufacturer and options.  A great way to determine the actual cost of running an appliance or some equipment.  You can then calculate an estimated yearly cost of the device and see if it’s time to upgrade the item.  For more information: or
  57. Invest in technology.  Many newer office copiers have some new features that may help decrease the need to actually print paper.  Try using “Fax to File”, “Fax Forwarding”, and “Print to Mailbox” features to get the information sent without having to print a document.  Chances are most people are going to just read it and file it away anyway, so this is a good option to explore.  Examine the cost savings by eliminating printing paper, physical storage, and other labor to help offset new technology costs.
  58. Set reminders on your computer to send e-mails to your staff before any holidays, weekends or breaks to implement an energy saving checklist before leaving their work area.
  59. Complete a workflow study regarding using networked printers or other electronic devices within your facility to reduce the amount of items simultaneously running.
  60. Use power strips as central turn-off points for individual work stations and switch them off each night.  Occasionally audit the office and complete a checklist to ensure compliance.
  61. If you have more than one air compressor, stagger their start up times to fifteen minute intervals to avoid a daily energy spike.  This won’t save any more electricity than just starting them all at once; but it will reduce your overall energy costs as it will keep your usage to more stable levels.
  62. Maintain all equipment to manufacturer’s specs, and perform regular preventative maintenance.  Keep a log book and record all work performed on each piece of equipment.  Keep equipment clean and ready to work.
  63. Use a pest control company that utilizes eco-conscious and safe chemicals.
  64. Be receptive to new ideas.  Have a suggestion box, or an open forum where staff members can contribute their ideas.
  65. Consider changing your product to offer a greener solution.  Using organic, recycled, or local materials can help reduce the environmental impact of a product, but still maintain profitability and margin.  Think of ways you can change your product line.
  66. Recycle your shipping pallets.  For more information:
  67. Always think three things : Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  68. Calculate your company’s carbon footprint.
  69. Institute a carbon offset program after you’ve measured your company’s carbon.
  70. Contact your vendors about the amount of catalogs and publications sent to your company.  If possible, try to use an online version instead of printed.
  71. Save and reuse cardboard boxes instead of purchasing new.
  72. Save and reuse all packing peanuts, bubble wrap or other type of packing materials instead of purchasing new.
  73. Encourage the use of office car-pooling.  Have a sign-up sheet available, and possibly some type of extra benefit as an incentive such as preferred parking spaces.  There also could be a quarterly “car-pool” lunch paid for by the company, gas card, or other tangible item.
  74. Encourage alternative transportation by installing bike racks for staff.  Encourage this use by offering per mile credits for donations to charity for employees that bike to work.  (Or walk!!)
  75. Purchase hybrid or energy efficient vehicles for delivery and company use.   For more information:;jsessionid=8230d473e1a4604b517e
  76. Use online tools such as Skype, GoToMeeting, or other services to avoid business travel to complete your client conferencing.
  77. Consider having your staff telecommute instead of coming into the office.  Chances are there are only some portions of your staff’s work that is critical that they are in the building.  Most staff work at their desk or cubicle.  Do some research and see if this is a viable option for your company.  For more information:
  78. When planning work related travel, consult websites to explore greener transportation options via PlanetTran (taxis), and ZipCar (car rental), or rent hybrid vehicles.  For hotels, look for certifications for Energy Star Label for Hospitality, LEED, a membership in the Green Hotels Association, or EcoRoom.
  79. Inspire other companies around your area by publically discussing your program at Chamber of Commerce, Industrial Park Association, Small Business Roundtable, or other meetings.  Be a mentor to another company starting their sustainability program.
  80. Use bioremediation technology for cleaning squeegees, floodbars and other stuff around the shop.  For more information: – they have a 30 day free trial.
  81. Keep a preferred list of vendors that make good environmentally sound choices, use hybrid or energy efficient vehicles, or carbon footprint reducing measures.  Ask questions we negotiating with outside vendors and encourage sustainable behavior by doing business with other companies that have a public sustainability policy.
  82. For any new construction or remodeling, use a LEED accredited contractor.
  83. Install Solar Panels for your building.  There are some tax benefits and other savings.  Here are some websites that offer more information:,,
  84. Install Small Scale Wind Turbine for your building.
  85. Capture and reuse storm water for irrigation.  Install rain barrels or cisterns at the end of gutter downspouts.  Here’s a link for low impact surface water information:
  86. Check and maintain all faucets, sinks, toilets and other items to ensure that your facility is handling water correctly without any system leaks.  Make repairs as necessary.
  87. If you have a hot water heater, make sure it’s properly insulated with a water heater jacket.
  88. Check to see if your building has proper insulation during your energy audit.  This could possibly help reduce your energy consumption.  If you need to add insulation, ensure you are using insulation with a high recycled content.  Depending on the type of insulation you purchase, some have up to 100% recycled content (Plastic Non-Woven Batt).  Rock-Wool & Cellulose Loose Fill & Spray have up to 75% recycled content.  Fiberglass can be up to 25% recovered glass cullet.  Bio-based insulation is also available:
  89. Consider painting your metal building roof with reflective white coating to reduce the solar heat gain.  For more information:
  90. Look into installing or building a daylighting system for your building.  Daylighting is the practice of placing windows or other transparent media and reflective surfaces so that during the day interior rooms are illuminated without the use of conventional lighting.  For more information:
  91. Consider having more office plants around.  Not only do they look great, but some have some valuable characteristics:  Rubber & corn plants are well known for removing indoor air pollutants; English Ivy is not only easy to grow, but it helps eliminate mold.
  92. For that matter, look into installing a green roof system.  A green roof system is a roof structure that is partially or completely covered with soil and vegetation.  This won’t be for everybody as the roof needs to be able to support the weight.  Green roofs are great, because they provide energy savings (both heating and cooling), water runoff reduction, increased roof lifespan, aesthetic improvements, as well as other environmental benefits.  For more information:
  93. Change your vending machine program to new technology.  Make sure your vendor replaces older machines with newer, more modern units.  These should have smart “Vend-Miser” technology that reduce electrical drain.  These machines can also be supported with motion sensors in the breakroom to power down when nobody is around.  Remove the front light bulbs upon installation in the building.   You can still select anything offered, but the lighting doesn’t need to be on for that task.  Many newer machines also support wireless technology.  The machines can report to the vendor what supplies are needed for refilling.  Studies have shown that this technology can save 10% per year on energy consumed to fill the machines.  For more information:
  94. Consider donating to environmental non-profit organizations.,,,
  95. Have your company participate in an annual community environmental clean-up.  Whether it’s picking up trash on the side of the road, repurposing an area, or help with a local area nature park, this could be a fun and productive event for your company.  Have your staff take suggestions and vote on what needs to be accomplished in your area.  Don’t forget to document and publicize your efforts!
  96. If your company is investing any cash in the market, consider investing in a green company.  For more information:
  97. Consider adding a sustainable investing option to your 401k plan.  For more information:
  98. Report on your sustainability efforts by hiring or outsourcing the task to a Chief Sustainability Officer.  This position should maximize resource benefits by increasing cost efficiencies with regard to managing energy consumption and resource waste.  Triple bottom line reporting is a great way to generate revenue and increase funding potential.  For more information:
  99. Sell or donate misprinted, defective or problem garments to organizations that can put them to good use.  For more information:,,, or your local homeless shelter.
  100. Contact me at and let me help you build your sustainability program.  I’d love to help you get on the right track!

Promoting Sustainability for T-shirt Shops – 2014 and Beyond

ATKINSON SPEAKING SUSTAINABILITY 3This has been a big week for me.  Let’s recap and then get to some information that you can use to improve your business.

On Wednesday I was elected to the Board of Directors for the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership at their annual meeting in Chicago.  (  As someone who has successfully navigated two large t-shirt printing shops through the maze of third party audits and certification, it’s apparent that I’m all in on how sustainability can be an incredibly positive idea for businesses (not to mention margin builder).   I’m extremely honored and proud to serve on the board and represent the apparel decorating industry…I’m still smiling about it!  These guys rock!!

On Friday I helped the 6th annual Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Conference by serving on an expert panel entitled “The Profit in Sustainability” in one of their morning breakout sessions.  (  This was a wonderful event hosted by Lands’ End in Dodgeville, Wisconsin on their beautiful campus.  (Yes, we did the tour – very impressive)  The conference was dedicated to how all businesses in Wisconsin should be pursuing sustainable choices, and there was plenty of discussion on how, where and why.  One thing that became very obvious is that companies are using their sustainability programs as a competitive advantage to gain market share more frequently than ever before.  There is an expectation now that companies should be sustainable, and if you are not something is wrong.  It is a differentiator for sales choices.

So let’s share what I discussed in my session, “The Profit in Sustainability”.  In a nutshell I reviewed the process from starting our sustainability program at Visual Impressions when I started there in late 2011, some areas of focus, and our current direction today.  We keep tabs on basically four cost items: Our Energy (Electricity, Natural Gas, Water, & Propane), our Courier (We use a courier service for local deliveries to our clients), our Ink and Consumables (Ink, emulsion, chemicals, boxes, and other necessary supplies), and our Trash.

2011 (Baseline year – before starting anything) = cost per imprint $0.12

$530,450.72 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 4,407,767 impressions

2012 (Sustainability program started) = cost per imprint $0.08

$443,263.03 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 5,193,543 impressions

2013 (YTD with two weeks left) = cost per imprint $0.065

$360,386.08 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 5,495,984 impressions

We started our recycling program in March and to date have recycled 24.9 tons of cardboard, plastic, paper & metal

As you can easily see, our hard cost normalized by the work performed drops, while we are actually getting busier.  This entire effort goes straight to the bottom line.  So what are we doing that you are not?  Here are a few things that I highly recommend:

  1. Start a Sustainability Committee with your staff and get going!  Discuss what you can do, divide up the work, set due dates on a calendar, and get some momentum started by taking some first steps.  Make it fun, and set some clear expectations and goals.
  2. Get an Energy Audit.  Your local utility will come out (usually for free) and examine your building and give you a grocery list of things you can do to conserve energy.  This will have immediate payback if you take their advice.
  3. Examine how you operate in your shop.  Your workflow, your purchasing decisions, the Cost of Poor Quality, virtually every facet of your shop can have an effect on your bottom line.  Sustainability isn’t a buzzword about saving trees, it’s about doing things better and more responsibly.   Two words: Continuous Improvement.
  4. Fix or replace broken or problematic equipment.  Upgrade if you can.  New technology operates faster, more efficiently, and often with less energy than older models.  Sure, that old piece of junk is paid for…but there is a cost to keeping it too.  How many more impressions, printed at less cost could you obtain with newer equipment?
  5. Talk to your vendors.  What choices can they give you to operate more sustainably and at less cost?
  6. Check out the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) for guidance and best industry practices for developing your Sustainability Program and the benefits of obtaining certification.

If you want more detail and a step by step on how we did it a Visual Impressions you can sign up for my talk at ISS Long Beach 2014 “Sustainability: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle AND Lower Your Operation Expenses” on Friday, January 17, 8:30 to 10:00 am.  It’s an hour and a half discussion jam-packed with tips, photos, suggestions and helpful ideas.  Come and learn and then walk the show!  Click here to register:

As always, you can always feel free to use me as a resource if you need some advice, mentoring or as a consultant.  Reach out to me at  Also, I’d love for you to leave a comment below on what you are doing in your shop, any new products or techniques that you are using, or any question on sustainability that you might have!

Sustainability Challenge – Embroidery Stabilizers

If you embroider apparel you are very familiar with this problem.  After your machine has completed the run, the next step in production is to remove the excess embroidery stabilizer (or pellon, backing, or whatever you call it in your shop).  Depending on the version, this could be tear-away, white, black and many varying thicknesses.  Most often you will have to cut closely around the item.  The remaining material is discarded.

And there’s the problem.  We just throw it away.  For the past year or so, I have been trying to find an after production use or strategy to recycle this material.  At Visual Impressions we run 120 embroidery heads with two complete shifts.  We nearly fill a dumpster every two days with this material.  We currently recycle every other material in the building: paper, plastic, cardboard, metal, batteries, light bulbs, electronics, etc.  Finding a source to pick up and use this has been proven to be the biggest challenge to date.

The stabilizer material is some sort of cotton and polyester composite fiber material.  I have discussed this with our vendor and salesperson, and although there is some interest in the discussion, nothing has developed yet.  To me, it make perfect sense that this stuff could be shredded and chopped up to be used for stuffing, insulation, filler, or maybe recycled back into its same form again.  I have shown it to about a dozen recycling companies now, and nobody has an answer.  This seems like a big opportunity for someone to step up.

So, if you are an embroidery shop out there in production-land, what are you doing with your stabilizer material?  Is it just going into the dumpster?  Are you recycling it somehow?  I would love to hear from you.  Maybe there is some way we can pool our voices and find a solution to this challenge.

Contact me at and let’s help each other!

Are You A Red Printer?

By now everyone is completely familiar with the ubiquitous term “Green” for environmental concerns.  Being a responsible steward of the environment is not only good for your overall karma, as it’s the right thing to do; it’s also proven to be great for business.

As we’re in the graphic communications industry, I’m sure you are aware of the color wheel.  The opposite of green on the color wheel is red.  So environmentally speaking, if you aren’t a “Green Printer” does that make you a “Red Printer” if you don’t develop a sustainability program?  Think about it.  What are you doing in your shop today, that’s environmentally friendly?

Just recycling your soda cans doesn’t count.  Is that the best you can do?

Have you ever looked at what it would take to get something going and really do it right?  The adage “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” is really true.  I am extremely proud of the fact that Visual Impressions, where I’m the COO, just became the next printer in the United States to become Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) certified (  Our journey took a little over a year, and with a lot of hard work, creative thinking, teamwork, research, and support we accomplished our goal.

Well, so what you ask?  What did you really accomplish you may wonder?  Quite a lot actually.

First we established a Sustainability Committee.  This is a group of interested staff members that are tasked to develop our program and give their mental effort to drive our actions.  We wrote a Sustainability Mission Statement that we use to guide our business, and for 2012 we voted to work to reduce our energy expenditure by 20%.

The committee developed SMART goals that focused our efforts, and laid the roadmap out for success.  We worked all year on this effort and employed many tasks, such as installing motion sensors for lights in common areas like break rooms and bathrooms; lowering our dryer temperatures to correct levels, adjusting the thermostats in the shop and office, fixed equipment to perform better, keeping equipment turned off when not in use and other ideas.  Small, easy and seemingly inconsequential things add up to big savings.  Did we reach our goal at the end of the year?  Actually no, but we did save 17.82% from our energy costs compared to 2011.  As we’re in a 100,000 square foot facility and operate on two shifts, this was a good chunk of money.  If you think about it in terms of your energy cost per imprint – we reduced it by 28.38%.

I also appointed a Sustainability Coordinator, Jake Gallas.  Jake is one of our key managers already, and he is a great asset for this initiative.  Most of the leg work moves through him, and he delegates the effort out to his staff.  He also is responsible for coordinating all the training and daily follow up with our crew.

We signed up for an Energy Audit from our local utility and they provided us with a detailed report on our energy consumption.  They also professionally validated a lot of our efforts and offered some tips to keep them moving forward.

Jake and I participated in several months of SGP support Peer to Peer webinars run by Marci Kinter from SGIA.  These were wonderful, hour long talks that walked us through all the different facets on building our program and preparing us for our third party audit that earns you the certification.  This was invaluable.

Through the SGP program we calculated our carbon footprint, measured our VOC’s and HAP’s, wrote policies and procedures on crucial aspects of the company (some were new; some were just formalizing existing ones).  We also designed a training program for sustainability, safety and hazard communication for all employees.  Because of the program, we also had some great conversations with our existing vendors and suppliers, and changed a few ways we order materials.

Our sustainability efforts weren’t just limited to our main goal of energy reduction either.  We also had worked on several challenges such as eliminating the use of masking tape in the screen room, reusing cardboard boxes in a better way, recycling our ink into a new color, finding a recycler to help handle our materials, sourced a new shrink wrap for pallet wrapping, and other projects all aimed at the three “R”s – Reduce, Reuse or Recycle.

We also are participating in two local Milwaukee Sustainability Programs – ME2 & ME3.   We started with the ME3 program ( – if you watch the documentary video we are featured) and obtained a grant that allowed us to bring in a team of engineers to audit Visual Impressions to help find ways to reduce our energy.  They gave us a short list of potential projects, and we chose to examine the efficiency of our natural gas operated dryers for screen-printing.  We are also using the grant money to convert our office lighting to LED’s.

The ME2 program ( is also grant based, and its focus is helping companies with support for major capital investments, and we are using the money to acquire a new Kornit Avalanche direct to garment printer.  The sustainability savings here is focused on driving more orders to be digitally printed, rather than traditionally screen-printed – which requires more effort, energy and process.

Our 2013 SMART goal that our Sustainability Committee developed is to reduce our landfill by 50% by the end of the year.  We’ve finally teamed up with couple of recycling companies, and have put in place a program to segregate and recycle our waste cardboard, paper, plastic, metal, batteries, electronics, light bulbs, and waste chemicals.  One final material that we’re having trouble with is finding someone that can use our scrap embroidery pellon stabilizer.  At the time of this post, I have six companies working on it.  (If anyone is recycling this material, please contact me!!)

All in all, we have made tremendous progress from doing virtually nothing at the end of 2011.  (Then we just compacted and recycled our cardboard and soda cans)  Since then our sustainability program has provided a value of well over $140,000 (savings and grant money combined).  Not bad for a first year initiative.

So, if you are a “Red” printer and feel that this sustainability stuff is just a feel good, tree hugging exercise with little real value, think again. What are you waiting for?  Take your first step and start with some low hanging fruit.  Here’s what I would do:

  1. Contact SGP and learn how this program can help you.
  2. Start a sustainability committee.  Discuss what you can do with at your company.  Set some simple goals.
  3. Get an Energy Audit from your local utility.  It’s probably free.  They will come out and poke around your building and should give you a report on what you can do to save energy.  Follow their recommendations.
  4. Turn stuff off when not in use.
  5. Talk to your vendors, suppliers and customers – what can they do to help?
  6. Does your local area or government have any sustainability programs?  Contact your chamber of commerce, city or county government, or just simply Google some key words.  There is grant money available for switching out our lights, improving your building, even buying new equipment.

Hope this article helps you, and maybe even inspires you to do something different.  I authored an article in Impressions Magazine in 2012 that may help you too –

Remember, you can’t do it all at once – just getting started is the key.  You also, can’t do it alone; it’s a group effort.

I have many pictures of different sustainability ideas on my Pinterest board “Behind the Curtain at a T-shirt Shop” –

If you need help, please let me know and I’ll be happy to discuss how to get things going.