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

  1. Get certified by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.  https://www.sgppartnership.org/
  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) – http://www.fsc.org/.  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: https://docs.google.com/demo/edit?id=scAC2hapAPOr84wH9cKHwcxYA&dt=spreadsheet#spreadsheet
  18. All new appliances or electronic equipment must be Energy Star or EPEAT Certified models.  http://www.energystar.gov/ or http://www.epeat.net/.
  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:  www.dysonairblade.com
  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: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=power_mgt.pr_power_mgt_ez_gpo
  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:  www.powermeterstore.com or www.powercostmonitor.com.
  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: http://www.ehow.com/how_4887638_recycle-wood-pallets.html
  67. Always think three things : Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  68. Calculate your company’s carbon footprint.  http://www.carbonfootprint.com/
  69. Institute a carbon offset program after you’ve measured your company’s carbon.  www.climatetrust.org
  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:  http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/Index.do;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: http://templates.haleymail.com/content/1087916372.pdf
  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: http://www.chemfree.com/ – 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.  http://www.usgbc.org
  83. Install Solar Panels for your building.  There are some tax benefits and other savings.  Here are some websites that offer more information: http://energytaxincentives.org/business/renewables.php, http://www.kyocerasolar.com/, http://www.uni-solar.com
  84. Install Small Scale Wind Turbine for your building.  www.awea.org
  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: http://www.lowimpactliving.com/providers/category/26
  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: http://www.biobased.net/
  89. Consider painting your metal building roof with reflective white coating to reduce the solar heat gain.  For more information: http://www.roofcoatings.org/wcc.html
  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: http://www.solatube.com/
  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:  http://www.hanging-gardens.com/
  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: http://www.vendingmiserstore.com/
  94. Consider donating to environmental non-profit organizations.  www.greatnonprofits.org, www.nrdc.org, www.nature.org, www.envirolink.org
  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: www.socialinvest.org.
  97. Consider adding a sustainable investing option to your 401k plan.  For more information: www.401k.com.
  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:  www.corporatekindness.org.
  99. Sell or donate misprinted, defective or problem garments to organizations that can put them to good use.  For more information:  http://www.worldvision.org, http://www.military.com/benefits/resources/support-our-troops, www.redcross.org, or your local homeless shelter.
  100. Contact me at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let me help you build your sustainability program.  I’d love to help you get on the right track!

Basic Sustainability Tips for T-shirt Print Shops – Here’s the Easy Fruit You Can Pick

Most t-shirt printing shops that I know are only concerned about one thing – getting that particular day’s orders printed and shipped.  Thoughts about building a sustainability program seem very earth-crunchy and usually too foreign to contemplate.  Maybe it’s too big of a project to start, or maybe the shop is too small and limited on resources.  However, it’s really pretty easy if you go into it with the right mindset.

The basic trick that everyone needs to learn is that you can’t do it all at once.  A fully functioning sustainability program can really help your business and actually add some much needed margin back into the bottom line if built correctly.  I get asked constantly about building sustainability programs, and here are my top “go-to” recommendations to get started:

Start with a Sustainability Committee.  You can’t do this alone, and you certainly don’t want to be the energy police and go around the shop yelling “Turn That Off”!  The only way to have success is to build it from the ground up.  Gather as many interested people in your company together as you can and form a committee.  This group should include production staff, office staff, managers and most importantly, your company ownership.  There’s an old adage that states “Man supports what he helps create”, and this certainly applies to a sustainability program.  Your committee should meet more frequently at the beginning, but once established maybe once a quarter is all that’s needed.  Initially, here are a few of the things that should be discussed:

  1. Goal Setting.  Brainstorm with your group and find a few things to work on initially.  These could be projects such as starting a recycling program, lowering your energy consumption, or just some basic research into what resources are available to you locally.  Set some SMART goals (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, & Time Based) and assign due dates.
  2. Divide Up Responsibilities.  Everyone in your group will have a different interest or skill set.  Play into that and have them work on things that interest them.  If two heads are better than one, how valuable would eight be?  What if everyone was to tackle one or two things?  Think about how much progress you can make!!
  3. Set a Meeting Schedule & Method of Reporting.  Look at a calendar and decide your meeting schedule for the next year.  Also decide on how the committee will communicate to each other and the company as a whole about the program.  Buy a bulletin board and start adding important things to it about the program as you progress.  This could be minutes from your meeting, results of the program, or maybe just articles about sustainability that are a topic of interest.
  4. Make It Fun.  What are you going to do as a group to make the project fun so everyone can get involved?  If you achieve your goal will you have a pizza party or other celebration?

Measure.  Start a spreadsheet or two.  Remember you can’t manage what you don’t measure.  If you have some data from previous years, get that down on your spreadsheet as a baseline.  Build different spreadsheets around energy consumption, trash pick-up and recycling, or shop consumables (ink, emulsion, chemicals, etc.)  If you can, normalize your totals with the amount of work performed for each time period (week, month, year, etc.) by using the amount of impressions printed.  This is important as if you are busier one month or year than another, you naturally will be consuming more energy or materials.  What you are looking for though, is to show how efficient that work really is.

Get an Energy Audit.  Whether you own your shop space or are just renting, getting an energy audit is probably the number one task to start when building your program.  Your local utility company has an auditor that they can send out to your facility to review your shop.  They will poke around the building and then come back to you with a report on your yearly energy consumption and usually will have a grocery list of things you can do to help conserve energy in the future.  These guys dance cards are usually full, so be prepared to get in line…but it is worth the wait.

Get City, County and State Help.  These days you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a governmental sustainability program.  They are in existence to help you and add support to your program.  Often, they have money to spend on retrofitting lighting, windows, HVAC or other items for your building.  These could be outright grants of money or zero/low interest loans.  Thinking of adding some equipment to your shop?  One of these entities may help you with the purchase if you can prove that it will save energy.  You won’t know unless you ask, so get busy!!

Be Receptive to New Ideas.  Most of the time shops are bombarded with sales people wanting to pitch their newest thing.  I know my phone and e-mail is jammed every day with folks hawking their wares.  The funny thing is that sometimes these guys have something that you haven’t thought of before and may need…and these can be part of your sustainability program.  Instead of thinking “we don’t need that, we’ve been doing it the old way for years”, get out of your own way and listen to how new technology could help you.  I’m not going to pitch products here, but let me tell you that I’ve found at least six things in the past year that we’ve switched, added or changed that have made a huge impact on our sustainability program and have increased our margins.  You won’t know unless you listen.

The Three “R”s.  Think about starting your program based on this easy to remember guideline – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

  1. Reduce.  Reduce the amount of consumables you are purchasing and using.  Using some Lean thinking, examine your workflow and processes and try to see what you  can change to reduce the amount of material you are using, energy you are consuming, and steps it takes you to do your work.  It’s basically an efficiency mindset.  If something takes five steps to do, how can you achieve the same task in three?  What can you do to reduce your energy consumption on a daily basis?  Small things add up quickly here.
  2. Reuse.  What can you reuse around your shop so you won’t have to purchase new?  The easiest example is always shop towels.  Why buy new when you can use defective or misprinted shirts?  Can you reuse cardboard boxes or drums for something?
  3. Recycle.  More than just soda cans…  You can recycle light bulbs, cardboard, paper, batteries, chemicals, computers, office furniture, metal, old equipment, ink, plastic, and other materials.  The trick is to find how to do it in your area.  To build our recycling program, it took nearly a year’s worth of effort to find a recycling partner that would help us achieve our goals correctly.  But in the end, the wait was worth it as they make the program very easy.  You just have to keep plugging away!

Talk to People and Share Ideas.  In your local community, industry forum, LinkedIn group or any other network you may have there are folks that are either thinking about starting a sustainability program or are already doing something.  Share ideas and tips.  What worked and what didn’t?  How did you get started?  Was the local chamber of commerce helpful?  Who did you call?  Remember you aren’t in this alone, and networking and building your program with the help of others is a good thing.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and it is 100% ok to copy someone else.  There isn’t a test and you don’t get any extra points for being an original.

Equipment Preventative Maintenance.  This is not only critical to the life blood of your shop, but makes perfect sense for sustainability too.  Make sure every piece of equipment is fully functional and operating at peak efficiency.  You should have an equipment log and perform regular maintenance checks to be sure everything is working at peak efficiency.  Replace broken or missing parts.  It seems obvious, but you would be surprised at how many of your staff just “live with” the challenges with their equipment every day instead of speaking up and getting things fixed.  Your managers should be on top of this and constantly asking what is needed or how they can support your teams.  Use your eyes and ears when walking the floor and take notes about what could be corrected.  Something not look right?  Leaking oil?  Hearing the hiss of an air leak?  Don’t put up with those problems – get them fixed!!

Sign Up for Certification.  If you are going to build a program, you may as well do it right and follow best industry practices right?  What are the top shops doing?  One way to find out is to sign up for and work towards getting your shop certified as a sustainable printer with a third party auditing system.  The benefit is that you will learn the skills and guidelines for doing things the right way, and know at the end of the program you can market your company as a certified green printer.  My recommendation is to go with the certification from the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership; or SGP for short.  (www.sgppartnership.org)   The SGP program is extremely robust and will mentor you all along the way towards their certification.  When you are ready, an auditor will come out to your shop for two days and examine your program.  If you have achieved your goals, you can be certified as a Green Printer and use this label to market yourself.  It is a way to differentiate your company in the marketplace, all the while building a best in class program.

Market and Publicize Your EffortsDon’t keep your program a secret!  Shout it out at the top of your lungs and let everyone know what you are doing!  Use social media, your newsletters, even discussion with clients and vendors.  The more you discuss and promote your program, the more valuable and impactful it will become.  Success will keep feeding it, and you’ll start to see some intangible benefits.  Remember, always be truthful.  Don’t exaggerate and use real science and data when discussing your results.  Don’t worry if someone else has better numbers, it’s important to view your program as its own entity and that it is always getting better.  The more you celebrate sustainability at your shop, the better results you are going to get.

These are just some initial ideas.  The trick is to just get started and score some easy wins.  If you would like some help building your program, you can contact me at maktinson4804@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to consult with you on how to get started.

Why a Sustainability Program Makes Economic Sense for Your Shop

I could easily write an article describing the myriad of ways that every apparel decorator can contribute to the “greening” of the industry.  You can’t pick up a newspaper, magazine or watch a TV show without someone blathering on about Global Warming, Save the Planet or another trendy, talking-head catch-phrase.  Removing the feel good and karma building reasons why a shop sustainability program should be implemented, the purpose of this article is to discuss the real reason why many companies are actually making the effort, and that reason is simple: MONEY.

Many larger corporations are demanding sustainability programs from their supply chain partners.  Go to the corporate sustainability webpages of Wal-Mart (http://walmartstores.com/sustainability/), Coca-Cola (http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/citizenship), Nike (http://nikeinc.com/pages/responsibility) or adidas (http://www.adidas-group.com/en/sustainability/welcome.aspx) and see how they are addressing the issue.  Usually when the big boys latch onto something and start educating consumers, it’s going to have a trickle-down effect eventually and make it to the local marketplace.  If you haven’t noticed this already, there’s tons of press about this issue every day focusing on the triple bottom line in corporate America.  But why are they really doing this?  A good reason is that they understand that they can link aspects of their Lean Manufacturing programs, governmental regulatory responsibilities, tax incentives, and good old-fashioned marketing to make a public stance on sustainability and drive consumer spending their way if they can.

Ok, by now you are saying to yourself “I’m not Wal-Mart, Coke, Nike or adidas – how does this apply to me?”  It’s the same principle, but just on a smaller scale.  Greg Kitson with Mind’s Eye Graphics (http://www.mindseyeg.com/) calls it “finding nickels”.  He has a sustainability program in his shop, as he knows that if he can save money by doing something he’s already tasked to do, his cost for printing that shirt just went down.  If he can save five cents here, or a few pennies there…it eventually adds up to more margin and profit at the end of the year.  Common sense, right?

The three core tenets of any sustainability program are Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.  I’d like to add a fourth, which is ReEconomize.  To elaborate:

                Reduce – means simply that.  Find ways around your shop to reduce the amount of energy, materials, labor, or other ideas to get the same results for the task.  Using less electricity or energy, masking tape, ink, paper, or other commodities often goes overlooked in the desire to get that order printed and out the door.  Finding the discipline to question everything, document what you are doing, finding methods for reduction, setting goals, and then actually doing the work tracking everything is a lot of work, but worth it.  Already doing that?  Great!  That’s a big part of a sustainability program…

                Reuse – means repurposing one thing and using it in a different way.  For example, lots of shops cut down their 30 gallon ink or chemical barrels and use them as trash cans.  Or use defective or misprinted shirts as shop towels.  In your shop, what can you reuse instead of just throwing it away?  When you buy – can you purchase something already made such as a press or office furniture?  Can you repurpose your scrap paper into office notepads?

                Recycle – everyone is familiar with this idea – but do you really have a recycling program?  Paper, cardboard, metal, plastic, electronic devices, hydraulic oil, light bulbs, office furniture, phones, computers, appliances, equipment, even ink – all can be recycled.  How are you managing this in your shop?  Are you in control, or is it a free-for-all?

                ReEconomize, which I freely admit is a word I just made up; means to take everything listed above and document, track or otherwise show how you are either saving money, or making money on your efforts.  This can’t just be a “gut instinct” either – to do this correctly the industry best practice is to document by creating a list or spreadsheet to use for the program.  By continually tracking your efforts, you can quickly understand what’s successful or not, and focus your efforts accordingly.   For example, if you document your energy costs over a period of time you can link your expenditures with the amount of impressions printed.  For the sake of easy numbers, let’s say your shop spends $100,000 a year on energy (electricity, water, natural gas, & propane), a simple 5% annual reduction as a goal could amount to a savings of $5,000 per year.  Every shop is different, but how many shirts would you have to print to make a $5,000 profit?  Do you know what it costs per impression to print per year?  What if you could drop that cost a penny per shirt?

If you don’t already have a program, saving that $5,000+ a year on costs now seems like a good idea, but how do you get started?  First, and I can’t stress this enough, it can’t be a one-man show.  To make any real impact at your company this program can’t just come from the owner or production manager whereby he tells everyone in the shop that “we are saving money so turn off the lights when you leave the room”.  It’s not that simple.  The best industry practice is to build a teamwork culture where everyone shares in the effort and is committed to the success of the program.

Start with organizing a Sustainability Committee consisting of representatives in all facets of your business.  From the shop floor to accounting, the more people invested in the success of the program the better.  Make them responsible and accountable for the program.  They will quickly brainstorm on some ideas and be eager to get going, but may need to have some direction.  SGIA has some great ideas on getting started.  (www.sgia.org)  Based on my experience here are a few must do’s to get started:

  1. Write your Sustainability Policy – this will be the core principle that drives your success, and that people will refer back to if they are trying to make a decision.  It doesn’t have to be overly complex, but it should give direction and demonstrate company responsibility.  The policy should show that you are to be in compliance with environmental, health and safety regulations.  Give direction for continuous improvement, including areas not subject to regulation.  Emphasize pollution prevention from source reduction, reuse and recycling.  And finally, communicate information on your sustainability performance.  In a nutshell, make it work for your business and how you operate.
  2. Get an energy audit.  In your local marketplace this could be a free service that your utility company will provide, or one that you may have to pay a small fee to schedule, but either way it’s going to be a great way to get started and to learn how to save money.  Someone will come out and tour your shop, poke around and measure for energy inefficiencies such as heat or cooling loss, HVAC maintenance recommendations, and other ideas.  An individual report should be written on how you can reduce your consumption and provide you examples of where you are wasting money.  Chalk this up to “getting an expert to help”, similar to getting an annual physical from your doctor.
  3. Engage your staff.  Make the program fun!  Reward their effort and make everyone part of the success.  Publish information, graphs, events, and news in the company newsletter, webpage, or on a bulletin board in the shop.  This program can’t be a secret.  Celebrate your successes as you go.  Give “attaboys” when you catch someone doing something right.  Think long term, and don’t let the initial fire die out.
  4. Engage your vendors.  What are they doing?  How can you partner with them to revamp how you purchase to be a more sustainable effort for everyone?  What are the potential cost savings?  For example, maybe changing the frequency of your purchases can save on shipping or delivery costs.  Review year to date information, and purchase quarterly.  Does the added volume purchases on some items amount to a savings?  Can you negotiate a rebate based on the vendor saving on shipping costs?  You will never know unless you ask.
  5. Engage your customers.  What’s important to them?  Inform them that you are getting started and want to know what they are doing.  Partner with them on strengthening your relationship by trying something new.  Just having this conversation could be a selling opportunity alone.  Can you change their purchasing behavior as part of the program?  What if they sent their PO’s in electronically instead of a fax or mail (yes, people still do that), or can you invoice them with a .pdf attachment instead of mailing them a statement?  Can you set up electronic payment so you don’t have to use traditional paper checks and deposits?  Make sure you annualize the savings and document your efforts so you can see the bigger picture.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask “Why”.  Why are you doing something?  What if you do something differently?  The statements we’ve all heard before (and unfortunately continue to hear), “We’ve always done it this way”, “I’m too busy”, “I don’t have time”, or “It’s too costly to change” need to be thrown out as lazy thinking.  You are in control of your process, not the process is in control of you.  Don’t accept mediocrity as the status quo, as this is costing you money.

While you are building your program you may also look into if obtaining certification through the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (www.sgppartnership.org/) makes sense for your company.  Depending on your market niche, obtaining this particular certification could be tremendously beneficial as many companies are demanding that their suppliers not only have sustainability programs, but that they are third party documented and certified.  The SGP program encompasses the entire graphic printing community, so it’s larger than just t-shirt printers.  It’s only been around for a few years, but its gaining momentum.  Currently there’s close to 40 printers certified, and a handful of those are apparel decorators with more getting certified every year.  Marci Kinter, chairperson of the SGP Board of Directors, says that sustainability is quickly becoming a bigger requirement in the business world and that “in the new economy companies are looking to reduce waste, use the least harmful products, and find more sustainable print systems.  Companies that obtain certification differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and can drive more business to them by framing their sustainability story by demonstrating accountability and aligning themselves with the values of their customers”.  SGP has prepared a great three part video on building a program, check it out: (http://preview.tinyurl.com/8xq8jb8)