Where It All Goes

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Curiosity got the best of me the other day.  I wanted to know what happens to the material when our recycling partner, Pioneer Industries, picks up from Visual Impressions and hauls it away.  Pioneer has been an integral part of our sustainability program for over a year now.  It was difficult getting a recycler to help with our program, as even though we are a large apparel decorator, we are small potatoes in the manufacturing sense in Milwaukee.  It was all a volume deal.

That was before I met Marty Oxman with Pioneer Industries.  A second generation recycler, the guy is an encyclopedia of knowledge regarding secondary materials, and is extremely keen on helping companies achieve their sustainability goals through recycling.  My goal was to get a recycling program off the ground, and make it easy for our staff to do the work.  The idea was to move as much material we could through a recycling program, and have it not go to landfill via our dumpsters.  Pioneer helps us with that task, as they provide, for free, large bins called gaylords that we fill with different materials.  We have these all over the shop, segregated by the material and within a few easy steps for our staff.  They also give us the big 90 gallon totes with wheels that are commonly used for your trash pick-up at your home, which we put to good use as well.

The gaylords have a decent size to them, and there are two kinds.  One is a made from heavy duty plastic, and comes with a lid that can be placed on the box for closing.  Then these become stackable.  We’ve found that we like to use them for our polybag remnants and assorted mixed paper.  We polybag our folded shirts for our clients, so they can be handed out easily or presented nicely to their customers.  The remnants are from the automatic machine that closes and heat seals the bag, and produces a small 2” x 8” scrap of clear plastic.  As we have four of these machines churning out product all day, we generate a lot of these little plastic scraps.  The mixed paper is all the general paper that you would think a busy operation like Visual Impressions would generate.  Any type of paper can be segregated into this bin.  Some good examples that a lot of people just throw away is the waxy backing from shipping labels from your Zebra printer, or the tissue paper insert that comes layered inside button-down shirts that you have to remove before you can start the embroidery.

The other type of gaylord is a little larger and is made from thick cardboard.  In these cardboard bins, we disassemble and place all of our scrap cardboard.  We try to reuse boxes when we can, but a good number of these get bent, torn or arrive to us in pretty bad shape.  Some clients prefer to ship their orders out in their own boxes too.  Any cardboard such as collar stays from polos or dress shirts, dividers, or inserts gets chucked into this bin as well.  Despite reusing boxes constantly for shipments, it is still amazing how quickly these cardboard gaylords fill up.

The 90 gallon totes are used for recycling smaller items such as aluminum soda cans, plastic bottles and strapping, glass, metal shipping banding, wickets and small parts.  We have these judiciously placed all over the shop, near where the material is usually generated, but out of the way enough that people can still work.  These totes take longer to fill, but using them is an easier way to divide up the materials, and makes it more convenient for our staff to do the right thing when the big gaylord is too large to fit into a work area.

When any of these containers are full, we pull them out of the line and bring them all to one spot in the building and replace the full container with an empty and start over.  We’ve worked a convenient schedule out with Pioneer, and they pick-up every Wednesday and haul off usually 12-16 gaylords of material a week.  Visual Impressions started our partnership with Pioneer in March of 2013, and as of today (June 28, 2014) we’ve recycled 44.17 tons of material.  This is all stuff that isn’t going to our local landfill.  Are we 100% zero waste and landfill free?  Not yet, as we still have that dreaded embroidery stabilizer challenge to contend with; but you have to start somewhere.  (See “You Can’t Unbake a Biscuit” for more details on that challenge)

Knowing all this you can see why I might be curious as to what happens to all this stuff after the truck pulls away each Wednesday.  Marty graciously accepted my “invite myself over” tour, and provided an excellent overview of his operation.  So, when his friendly driver Jim backed the semi-truck into one of our shipping docks and our crew loaded up our materials, I pulled my car around and followed him back to Pioneer.

The first surprise was that it was only about five miles away.  Nestled between an aging old Milwaukee neighborhood and a spaghetti maze of train tracks, Pioneer Industries occupies several large, rambling buildings.  I pulled in and parked, and as I was doing that the truck was slowly gliding onto a large truck scale.  Marty told me later that this is one method on how they verify the weights for the material for each load.  All of the material that is unloaded is weighed individually on smaller scales in the building so they can send us a documented report after each pick-up, but weighing the truck when it comes in ensures that it all adds up correctly later.  This is how we know exactly how much of each material type we’ve sent in for processing.

After I parked, I walked around the building and found the front door.  I was buzzed in, and Marty greeted me and issued me my PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – hard hat, brightly colored ANSI safety vest, and eye protection.  Walking through the rabbit-warren like maze inside the Pioneer buildings, I was impressed on how many different types of material they actually handle.  If you didn’t know, Milwaukee is one of the largest printing industry communities in the country, and Pioneer handles a lot of their scrap paper, cardboard and other printed waste that is discarded after the manufacturing process.  Each of these different types of printed material scraps are baled, banded and segregated by type into huge stacks of material.  Once they reach a full trailer load, these are shipped out for processing to become new sheets of paper, cardboard, plastic or other material.

Pioneer has a staff of fourteen people, and they were all busy working while we toured.  Numerous forklifts and bobcat tractors were nimbly moving material around and into balers.  Other staff were checking in materials and grading them, or getting a shipment loaded so it reach its final destination and be recycled.  Lots of clipboards, finger and arm gestures and really heavy stuff being moved around with coordinated effort.  It’s a ballet really, just without music.

Based on my observation, paper and cardboard is the majority substrate that they handle, which is segregated by type as the material comes arrives.  In one large area they have cordoned off a bunch of different bays made with large, heavy concrete blocks.  Each bay is about the width of a small garage, and contains a large pile of a different type of paper or cardboard.  From flimsy loose newsprint that is obtained from our Milwaukee newspaper, to thicker printed cardboard scraps that comes from local printing houses, all of the material is piled up like leaves in your front yard in the fall.

Once the pile gets large enough, it is scooped up with the tractors and placed on an enormous conveyor belt that feeds a 20 foot high baler.  The belt is about six feet wide at least, and an amazing amount of material travels up the belt and into the hopper bin at one time.  The baler squeezes out the compressed material into bales about as big as your couch, but square in shape, and I couldn’t help but think that it resembled a gargantuan Play-doh pumper set that I had when I was a kid.  They stack the bales by type of material in another huge room, and just patiently wait for the collection to grow until it reaches the point it can fill a semi-truck trailer.  It is then shipped off.  Some material is easily processed, as it is very common and there is a known pipeline.  Other material, such as paper that has foil or adhesive on it, is harder to find an avenue for processing.  Eventually it all goes somewhere though.

It was surprising to me that some recycled materials actually go overseas, not processed domestically.  Marty showed me a gigantic wall of spice-bags.  These bales were made of former industrial sized bags of food spices.  Heavy thick brown paper on the outside, but lined with a plastic bag on the inside.  Separating the two materials isn’t something that is handled anywhere but China.  Once they get enough to fill the truck, these get shipped off to join many others and will go overseas for processing.  Evidently over there the labor is cheap enough that these are pulled apart by hand for recycling.  The paper goes in one direction, the plastic in another.

As I was driving back to my office at Visual Impressions, I reflected back on my time spent at Pioneer Industries.  Finding value in the materials that previously we were discarding is something that is pretty amazing.  In fact, Marty and I had a good discussion on the fact that there is a tremendous movement afoot in the world for actually “mining” previously manufactured or processed materials for the core elements that have value.  Not everything can be saved obviously, but unlocking the minerals, metals, and other substances is big business these days.  When our sustainability committee identified recycling and trying to get to just 50% savings to landfill as our targeted goal for work this year for SGP (Sustainable Green Printing Partnership), we had a difficult time finding a recycling partner that made the work easy on our end.  After all, we’re in the decorated apparel industry…not the move stuff around, and sift through trash industry.  Building a recycling program is hard work, but finding a company that gives you tools, makes it easy and values customer service makes that chore a little easier.  I’m very happy that we were able to start our sustainability journey and build a great relationship with a partner like Marty Oxman and Pioneer Industries.

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You Can’t Unbake a Biscuit – Embroidery Stabilizer Landfill Diversion Update

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A few months ago I was able to get some much needed help on a sustainability challenge that I have been struggling with for over a year.  Our shop has a recycling program, and our goal is to move as much material waste as we can into recycling and not push it towards the landfill.  We recycle many items in the shop (38+ tons this past year), but I wanted to turn the big four (cardboard, paper, plastic & metal) into the big five, by adding embroidery stabilizer (sometimes called pellon) to the mix.  Embroidery stabilizer is the material used on the inside of the shirt or jacket to give the commercially sewn image the ability to be produced without puckering, stretching or distorting the fabric.  The problem is that the stabilizer, although great for its intended purpose, has virtually no value after it’s been used.  For all embroidery orders, after each order has been sewn, we have a group of trimmers that go through every garment and trim off the excess pellon material.  Currently all this waste goes to landfill.

The pellon material is composed of cellulose and polyester fibers that are fused together with a chemical bonding agent that is similar to glue.  Both the cellulose and polyester fibers are from recycled content already.  However, because how the material is constructed the pellon can’t be commercially recycled by breaking it back down to its original components.  You can’t take a biscuit and then later break it back down into flour, butter, salt, baking powder, and milk.  A biscuit stays a biscuit.  Pellon will stay a pellon.  A biscuit is better with melted butter though.  Maybe some honey too.

At the beginning of the year, I was able to get a University of Wisconsin business school class to adopt this challenge as part of a class project.  A team of four students spent some time interviewing me, touring our facility, calling suppliers, vendors, and recycling experts to try to solve this recycling conundrum.   Could the manufacturers construct the pellon differently so it could be recycled?  Could there be a post-production process that could use the material somehow?  How could the material be recycled – are there any options?  Just what could we do with this stuff?  I explained that this problem wasn’t just isolated to our shop, but really every commercial embroiderer as everyone just throws this material away.  It’s all going to landfill.  Everywhere.  Could they find the magic bullet I was after?  Here is their report (used with their permission):

Click here to watch their video presentation.

Final Report – Visual Impressions – Embroidery Stabilizer Diversion

Report by: Jon Goeres, Sue Montgomery, Colton Schara, Joe Van Rossum – University of Wisconsin Business School

Visual Impressions is a screen-printing, embroidery and specialty printer that has been doing business in Milwaukee, Wisconsin since 1990.  Visual Impressions has implemented changes to reduce their environmental impact and increase their social responsibility in order to become a certified sustainable printer by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.  Efforts today have focused upon energy use and reducing the volume of waste being sent to the landfill.  Energy costs have been reduced by nearly 18% while over 35 tons of waste has been recycled as of March 2014.

Project Objective: To reduce the volume of embroidery stabilizer (pellon) being sent to the landfill.

Project Details:

Visual Impressions utilizes pellon that comes pre-cut in approximately nine-inch square pieces which are sized to fit the embroidery equipment utilized at their production facility.  After the image has been embroidered onto the garment, production workers manually cut and discard excess pellon from each garment.  Pellon is a material that is used in the embroidery process to keep the embroidered image tight and even when it is being applied to a garment.  The pellon utilized by Visual Impressions is a nonwoven fabric consisting of a blend of polyester and cellulose fibers with a chemical bonding agent.  The specific blend of the materials is dependent upon the thickness of the stabilizer product.

Currently Visual Impressions utilizes a private hauler for waste services that empties their 8 cubic yard waste bin two times per week.  Staff believes that if the pellon material can be diverted from the waste, the number of pickups could be reduced to one pickup every week or a 50% reduction in service.  This would reduce the waste management costs annually by $1,735.  Based upon the generation of 8 cubic yards of pellon waste per week it is estimated that 96,000 pounds of waste is disposed of per year, though the volume can vary based upon production levels.

Landfill Alternatives

Energy recovery option:

Many manufactured materials have energy that is embedded during the manufacturing process.  One end of life option to recover this embedded energy is to utilize the material as an alternative fuel to coal, natural gas or oil.  This waste to energy option can take a number of forms. In this case the best option is to convert the pellon material into a fuel pellet that can be burned in industrial boilers as a coal substitute.

Greenwood Energy is a firm with a fuel production plant located in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  They convert various paper and plastic waste materials into fuel pellets.  This is the nearest firm of this type to Visual Impressions, and their purchasing manager Steve Devere, has evaluated and approved the pellon material as an acceptable feedstock for their process.

In order to utilize this option, the materials must be transported to Greenwood’s location in Green Bay.  The most economical manner to transport the material would be to bale the waste to maximize the bulk density of the material and transport via semitrailer.  It is recommended that a down-stroke manual baler be purchased and installed.  Based upon industry estimates the baled material will be approximately 480 pounds per cubic yard or two times the original density.  We estimate there will be a semi-trailer of baled material produced every 20 weeks based upon the waste volume provided.

The economics of the recovery option are challenging.  A scenario of purchasing a reconditioned baler with a projected 10-year life span to prepare materials for shipment to Greenwood Energy would result in an increased cost of $2,365 per year.  If Greenwood were to waive tipping fees (the charge Greenwood would asses at $25/ton) the cost would be $1,165 per year.  This would have a negative impact upon Visual Impression’s economic bottom line but may be worth pursing if this step would achieve a zero waste to landfill target.

Waste Reduction:

Embroidery stabilizers come in various thicknesses of weights varying between one ounce per square yard (osy) and 3 osy.  Visual Impressions should match the weight and density of the stabilizer to the designs stitch count and density while taking into account the weight and stretch of the garment’s fabric.  Fabrics that are stable can use lighter weight stabilizers.  There may be some added costs in project set-up to match stabilizer with fabrics as well as an increased inventory and inventory management costs for having various weights of stabilizers on hand.  Reducing the osy of the stabilizers will reduce the weight of the waste material generated.  The size of the weight reduction is dependent upon the osy of the stabilizer currently used.

Materials substitution:

We investigated other stabilizer materials, such as cellulose and dissolvable stabilizers.  Our research indicated the cellulose products had performance issues, and the dissolvable stabilizers made from polyvinyl alcohol merely shifted the problem from solid waste to waste water.  The dissolvable stabilizer would also require an additional step in the manufacturing process in order to wash off the remnants of the dissolvable stabilizers.

Recycling:

Fabrics and textiles have long been reused and recycled.  The pellon material being comprised of three different base materials is not a good candidate for recycling.  While the polyester can be recycled, the cellulose and binder are contaminants that a recycler is unable to separate.  We shared several samples of material with textile recyclers and waste material brokers none of whom were able to find a viable end user.

Reuse:

Reuse options for this material will require close proximity between the waste generator and waste user, as there is little to no value in the material.  We were unable to locate a viable reuse opportunity for the pellon material.

Recommendation:

Visual Impressions leadership should advocate for industry change by working with suppliers of embroidery equipment to develop technology that eliminates the need for stabilizer materials.  Visual Impressions’ participation in the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership provides a starting point for this effort.  Steps will need to be taken to invite other firms involved with manufacturing embroidered products as well as equipment manufacturers and equipment designers.  It will also be beneficial to involve the suppliers of the garments that are commonly embroidered in the process.  The intended outcome of this effort will be to develop technology that can modify existing production equipment in addition to being utilized by new equipment.

The development of embroidery equipment or a process that eliminated the need for stabilizers will have to focus upon the mechanisms that hold garments in place during stitching.  There are some fabrics, such as twill, that are less dependent upon stabilizers that others but may not be acceptable garment choices for Visual Impressions’ customer base.  So efforts to find mechanisms that provide variable tension based upon fabric needs will be imperative.  The technology will also have to avoid damaging the garment.

The achievement of stabilizer-free embroidery will have a significant impact not only for Visual Impressions but for the industry as a whole.  Eliminating the stabilizer will impact production costs in three ways:

  1. The landfill disposal cost for scrap material will be eliminated.
  2. The labor costs for cutting away excess stabilizer will be eliminated.
  3. There will no longer be a cost to purchase the stabilizer.

Visual Impressions can lead this effort to transform the embroidery industry and have a lasting impact upon the volume of waste generated and the environmental impact of their products.

Appendix

Calculations and Assumptions

Energy Recovery

8 Cubic yards of pellon produced per week per Marshall Atkinson

Textile weight density – from MN Score report

Loose mixed textiles – 240#/yd3

Baled mixed textiles – 480#/yd3

Semi-trailer volume – 146 cubic yards

Semi-trailer weight limit – 40,000 pounds

83.3 cubic yards of baled textiles = 40,000 pounds

Economics:

Capital Cost for baler – $7,850 (reconditioned and installed)

Annual cost at 15% opportunity

$2,500 at a 5-year baler life

$1,550 at a 10-year baler life

Baler operation & maintenance – $700

Baler labor cost (not included)

Bale storage cost (not included)

Transportation cost

–          115 miles from VI to Greenwood Energy

–          Hauling costs – $2.25 per loaded mile ($1.63 per loaded mile x 25% profit margin + 10% contingency: still may be too low)

–          38,000 pounds per truckload of baled material

–          Estimated 2.5 truckloads per year

Tip fee at Greenwood Energy $25/ton (Maximum)

Anticipated cost-

–          5 year scenario – $5,000

–          10 year scenario – $4,100

Waste services cost reduction

–          If reduced to one pick-up per week savings of $144.58/month or $1,734.96/year

–          If reduced to one pick-up every two weeks savings of $275.58/month or $3,306.96/year

 

9 Core Skills Every Apparel Decorator Should Master

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When I go to trade shows or industry networking events, I’m constantly amazed at the completely different stories from people about how they got into this industry.  It’s one of my favorite questions to ask, as it reveals so much about the other person and where they are on their journey.  Some have a business background and started their shop because of an opportunity.  Some, like me, have an art background and got involved because it gave them a paycheck to go along with using their creative skills.  At the end of the discussion though, you find that everyone lacks something and we’re all searching to fill in that gap.  Great business people aren’t really good artists.  Creative people are often not very skilled in business.  Then there’s the actual craft of learning to print or embroider.  Below, I’ve ranked the top 9 core skills that I think every shop should work towards mastering, and maybe a tip or two along the way too.  If I left something out, or you don’t like my rankings – leave a comment!!  Participation is a good thing.

  1. Communication.  That’s right; I’m not ranking “skills as a printer” or “skills as an embroiderer” number one.  Here’s why.  I asked my 9 year old son the other day why he had two ears and only one mouth.  His response was classic for him, “so you can turn your head to listen while eating a cookie”.  Almost right.  As I’m sure everyone knows the old adage is “so you can listen twice as much as you speak”.  Effective communication in your shop by your entire staff is the number one skill that you should constantly focus on developing.  This is outward, customer facing; as well as throughout your shop with your staff.  Information has been, and always will be the key to success.  Most of us (sadly including me) aren’t really listening all the time; they are just waiting for the opportunity to reply.  Communication in your shop includes how you handle everyday tasks, but also how you write an e-mail, talk on the phone, hold a meeting, and build a work order.  Obtaining all of the correct information from your customer, and then processing it effectively so that it travels through your company on the work order is imperative for everyone to do their jobs correctly. Tip: For more discussion on work order skills – read this – Blueprint for Success: Your Work Order 
  2. Skills as a Printer/Embroider.  Yep, it’s number two.  Although many will argue it should be number one, for shop success Communication has to top it, as there are so many other facets and people involved than just printing/embroidering.  Still, at number two it ranks high on the list and importance.  This is all about craftsmanship.  Probably the most wonderful thing about the decorated apparel industry is the mixture of art and science for business.  You have to do things correctly in each step along the way in order to have your final production run come out consistently perfect.  That takes a tremendous amount of effort in developing those skills.  Standardizing how your shop operates, training your staff, and developing the core production skills will be the main drivers for success.  I see all too often printers/embroiderers accepting jobs that are beyond their skill level, reaching out on the internet forums for help at the midnight hour.  Think you might have to print on a 2-ply jacket, turn a CMYK job, run a puff embroidered hat, or print over hoodie seams?  Spend some time researching, attending a trade show how-to seminar, or just mess around with it in your shop and learn how.  Take some notes.  Keep a journal or log book and record what you did, what worked, and what didn’t.  Build a recipe for success that you can come back to six months later when someone requests something out of your norm.  By then, maybe you are an expert; or at least skilled enough to know if you can do the job or not.  Keep pushing the envelope with your skills, and insist on excellence and quality on your shop floor.  Regardless of your decoration method, the key is to keep improving, training your staff, and learning!
  3. Business or Marketing Plan.  I talk or e-mail a good number of shops all over the world these days.  Some have challenges that relate to their sales.  All want more business coming in, and are looking for a magic bullet to make that happen.  The first question I ask is always “Have you written a business plan?”  Surprisingly few have.  A good business plan is a living document (it can change!!) that outlines your company, your customers and set some obtainable goals for the next three to five years.  Who are your ideal customers?  How are you going to reach them?  Who is your competition?  What are your company strengths?  Weaknesses?  The business plan aims your company in the right direction and sets the course of your actions.  Instead of shot-gunning your efforts all over the place, the business plan can help guide your efforts with better precision as you will have the direction you need to work on achieving goals you have set.  A marketing plan is similar, but outlines the communication and branding efforts for your company to achieve your established business goals.  The value in spending your time and effort in writing these plans is that they give you the tools and direction to aggressively target your core customers and bring business in, rather than passively waiting for orders to trickle into your company.  Ready, Fire, Aim usually doesn’t work.  So, if you are reading this and you haven’t written a business plan and set some goals; what are you waiting for?  Do yourself (and your company) a favor and grab a cup of coffee and get busy!!
  4. Sound Business Decisions – Pricing.  I talk to a lot of shops, and read on the forums, regarding companies taking orders that aren’t priced to be profitable jobs.  “I’ll charge less now and increase the pricing on the client later”.  Be careful of what you give away too.  Some shops give their art, screens or some other item away for free. This strategy ultimately doesn’t always work, as when you try to bump up the price they will just go elsewhere.  Instead, have a rock solid methodology on your pricing and build your stable of clients that are based on your value proposition and don’t revolve around nickel and diming you to death.  You want to be around ten years from now right?  Be competitive, but your value proposition is what will drive your success.  Tip: for a more in depth look at this discussion read this – Race to the Bottom: Pricing Wars 
  5. Training.  The bedrock of running a successful business with employees is developing your core skills with a training program.  By hiring people with great attitudes, you can develop their skills over time by giving them the opportunity to grow and learn on the job.  This makes for a happier workforce, and a stronger company.  Key tasks within your business should have at least three people that know how to do something.  This could be quoting an order, separating an art file, digitizing a logo, registering screens on press, or shipping an order, etc.  You can’t have your entire business dependent on it coming down to the fact that if “Fred” (insert your key employees name here) is sick or on vacation that job can’t be produced today.  Tribal knowledge that is centered on skills can bring your company to a standstill.  A better plan is to list the top ten or twenty things each core skill that is needed in your company.  How do you do “x”?  Take pictures or screenshots.  Build a guidebook.  Use this as the key expectations for handling tasks successfully in each of your departments.  Give employees the opportunity to learn different tasks.  Tip: for a more in depth look at cross training read this – Why Cross Training is Critical for Your Shop 
  6. Counting & Keeping Track of Inventory.  We do a lot with math every day, mostly in multiples of twelve.  In receiving and in production, make sure the quantities add up to what they are supposed to be several times along the way. (Calculators are allowed! It’s ok…).  At a minimum your receiving team should count and verify everything the same day the goods come in.  Checked against the packing slip and your internal work order, every item on the job should be accounted for before anything is staged in production.  Any challenges should be reported immediately for action by the account rep or salesperson.  In production, the goods should be verified to be 100% complete before running the job.  During production, your crews should count and check off from the work order as shirts are being produced to verify that your quantities match up.  At the end of the run, all of the numbers should add up and be consistently the same.  Misprints and defective shirts during the run should be culled out and reported on the job too.  Why insist on perfect counting?  This is an easy question to answer from a pure economic standpoint.  Just think of each shirt as dollars instead of garments.  Would you misplace a box of money?  Smaller shops look at this problem and may not comprehend why it even exists…but the larger your shop grows, the more people that touch things along the way, the larger your schedule and stress increases.  Insist on excellence along the way.
  7. Creative Artwork.  A great art team can define a shop and send huge waves of business your way.  Most of your clients are not artists, and they are going to rely on you to provide them with artwork and ideas.  You need to wow them.  Finding, obtaining, and harnessing this creative talent can be a great thing for your company.  Unfortunately, learning the skills needed to design and separate artwork for this industry can take some time to develop.  They don’t teach simulated process separations in design school; it’s all on the job training.  Your art team should reflect the market that you serve, and understand and follow design trends and techniques.  Remember, production friendly art is always a good thing.  Some shops are known for their art, and have such a unique style or perfection with their work that people will come to them to use that skill.  Want more business?  Find a great art staff and pay them well.  Can’t afford to have artists on the payroll yet?  Find a network of great freelancers to use.  Unless you are a shirt distributor, shipping blank inventory isn’t part of the business model for most companies.  You are being judged on your ability to design, separate, digitize and create the most fantastic and wonderful art you can every day.  Tip: If you are new to this industry you might want to check out this article – Creating Art for t-shirts – Common Rookie Mistakes Defined 
  8. Continuous Improvement.  One core skill to possess is the desire to get better and constantly tweak how your shop operates.  This can be a people training initiative, centering some thought on workflow efficiency, or automating a task with some new equipment.  Every project that you start, finish and master will champion your efforts to improve your business.  Highly successful shops are always learning or developing something in order to obtain a competitive edge.  Think about your shop.  How many projects do you have right now, where you are trying something out?  A new chemical, ink, emulsion, process, technique…whatever.  The journey that matters is trying to find new ways that are better or cheaper.  This is hard work.  It requires teamwork, communication, leadership and brain power.  There is a lot of failure along the way too, and that’s important as that is where the learning comes in.  It’s ok to fail.  Keep trying, and eventually you will succeed!!  Also, this is where attending a trade show, taking a class, listening to your ink sales rep, posting a question on an internet forum or group, or using a consultant to resolve a challenge, can really pay off.  Other people have traveled down the same road you are traveling now.  How did they do it?  All it takes is a question.  Are you ready for the answer?  For more information read this: How to Increase Efficiency & Maximize Workflow
  9. Sustainability.  Yep, here I go again on this topic.  Why do I always talk about sustainability, and why should it be a core skill that every shop should master?  Besides being the right thing to do for health or environmental reasons, the main reason is purely financial.  Starting your sustainability journey will be the best choice you can make today to start lowering your operating costs.  Every shop uses energy.  Every shop uses materials.  Every shop can recycle.  We are essentially manufacturers, as we have production and use commodities to make things and ship orders.  This is an easy thing to talk about, but harder in reality as it takes work, thought, time and actual leadership to complete.  Do you want to make more money at the end of the year?  A sustainability program is an effective tool to lower your operating costs.  To get started, get a committee together in your shop and brainstorm on what would be a few easy projects to score some quick touchdowns.  Get an energy audit from your local utility, start a recycling program, look to see if you can reduce some of your materials you consume, maybe even invest in new equipment that will operate more efficiently and with less cost.  Depending on your geographic area, there is grant money available or low interest loans that you can qualify for if you investigate them.  I highly recommend that you look into getting third party certified by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) –   Tip: for a more in depth look at sustainability read this article – Why a Sustainability Program Makes Economic Sense for Your Shop

So, did I cover everything that would make your list?  What did I miss?  Feel free to comment and let’s have a discussion!!  Want to see how I run Visual Impressions?  Check out our Pinterest board Behind the Curtain at a T-shirt Shop

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…

2014 ISS Long Beach Wrap Up

Marshall HollywoodSixteen degrees and snowing…  That was the weather in Milwaukee when I left for the sunny, and high seventies/low eighties weather of Long Beach, California for this years Imprinted Sportswear Show.  If anyone needed a reason to jet out and check out what’s the latest from hundreds of vendors and trade experts; that just might be the best.

From my perspective though, this year’s largest apparel decorator event kicked off 2014 in a big way.  Crowds were not only huge, but overwhelmingly optimistic on their business outlook for this upcoming year.  I spoke with printers, shop owners, vendors and industry media, and everyone was pointing to this year being a great one.  Let me tell you, that is really encouraging.  Why?  Well, it’s been my experience that sometimes this industry puts on the “doom and gloom hat” and that’s one party favor that’s sometimes hard to take off.

From the shop perspective, the dozens of folks that I spoke with were all on the hunt for something special for their company.  New equipment, the latest styles of apparel blanks, ink, chemicals, emulsion, screen-frames, embroidery, heat transfer, dye-sub, applique, shop supplies…you name it, they had it on the floor.  It was great bumping into long time industry friends and making new ones.  I had a huge list of people that I wanted to see, but if I missed you – I just flat ran out of time (or I came by your booth and you were too swamped)!!

For the third year running, I taught a class on Sustainability and how shops can lower their operating costs by adopting a better strategy for running their companies.  The turnout was great, with 30 some-odd people in the class, but the interaction from the group was better.  It is always wonderful when people open up and share, and I am very thankful that these people took time out of their day to learn something new. (Thanks!!)  Adopting a Sustainability program has proven that you can do the right thing, while operating with bigger profits.  If you took my class – I’m still challenging you to start your program and work towards getting your Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) certification!!  www.sgppartnershp.org

So what were my show highlights from the floor?  I’m not going to name everyone that I spoke with (who would want to read that?)  But maybe some of the experiences stand out…here goes (in no particular order):

1.  Loved the huge booth for the alphabroder rebranding, not to mention the great live model catwalk with the latest fashions.   It was a good splash!!

2.  Catching up with Bill Hood hanging out in the Action Engineering booth.  That guy still knows everything.

3.  Was it me or were there less dye-sub machines on the floor than last year?  I swear at the 2013 show, you couldn’t turn around without seeing another “entry-level” dye-sub machine available.  That’s still a great process, but I just don’t want to see every yahoo around starting a t-shirt decorating business in their dining room.

4.  Speaking of technology and equipment, I’m really excited to see where the new developments with some major equipment manufacturers will ripple down and inspire others.

a.  Kornit’s Avalanche Hexa printer is a 6 color direct to garment printer that features the traditional CMYK channels, plus an additional red and green channels for an extended color gamut.  Visual Impressions already owns an Avalanche, so we are intimately knowledgeable about the blazing speed and color control of this series printer, but having Hexachrome based process printing really adds something to the mix.

b.  M&R’s new direct to screen printer with the LED exposure unit is still knocking everyone’s socks off.  Debuted at the 2013 SGIA show in Orlando, the company’s dedicated showroom for this product was standing room only all weekend.  It’s great to see sustainable technology improving existing equipment.  Why was everyone interested?  You can image a full size sep on a screen and expose it in under one minute.  I timed it with my art, so that’s no foolin’.  Couple that speed with not having the huge electricity hog that is an exposure table, and that’s a big winner.

5.  Loved discussing sustainability with everyone on the show floor.  Very impressed with PolyOne, as they were out in front with their marketing on the subject.  (Also very happy that they are committed to being a patron for SGP for 2014 – great job!!)

6.  Good seeing Rodney Blackwell with TShirtForums.com – that’s one cool cat!

7.  Ink Kitchen – Tom Davenport and Rick Roth have a new adventure starting for this industry.  Stopped by their booth for a chat, and Tom asked me to help contribute some content this year towards their effort!!  Happy to help.  Good job guys…  http://theinkkitchen.com/

8.  Two things really intrigued my sustainability class, and they are worth a mention as there was some good discussion regarding these topics…

a.  SmartWasher – the latest in squeegee cleaner – parts washer development.  Replace that parts washer you get from Safety Kleen with a new sustainable technology called “bio-remediation”.  Essentially this is a process where microbes suspended in a fluid eat your excess ink when you clean them in this washer.  Their branded process is called “Ozzy Juice”.  It’s far cheaper than how most shops do this, and a lot safer.  www.chemfree.com  – there’s a free 30 day trial available.

b.  How Visual Impressions has virtually eliminated the use of masking tape with our screens.  I wrote about this in the April edition of Impressions (“Making Economic Sense of Sustainability” – http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nielsen/impressions_201204/#/56).  If you are using static frames, we outsource ours from a company called Graphic Screen Fashion, as they have a Screen Sealant process where they border the frame where you would put the tape and then caulk the edge between the mesh and the frame.  Frank and his crew were at the show, and they actually had a copy of the article on the table.  http://www.graphicscreenfashion.com/

9.  Got to chat for a bit with Marci Kinter from SGIA.  I’m ready for next month’s SGIA Leadership Meeting in Ft. Lauderdale.  Yep, another chance to leave the snow and work where it’s sunny and beautiful.  (Watch it rain now…)

10.  Had a great time at the Thursday night official “unofficial” meet-up.  Over twenty or so folks showed up and discussed everything under the sun over wings and beer.  Many thanks to Greg Kitson for help organizing, and to everyone that stopped by!!  Awesome!!

11.  Loved talking to people and they tell me that they read my blog or articles in Impressions!!  Thank you very much for taking the time to read my musings…I love it.  I just want to help people in this industry.  It’s wonderful to get feedback and expand on ideas that I’ve shared previously.  One of the benefits is always learning a different aspect of something that I’ve worked on or struggled to resolve.

12.  That PolyOne party Friday night was awesome!  Now that’s how you throw down.  Just curious how everyone was able to work the booth on Saturday morning…

13.  (it’s lucky!!)  January is already almost over.  How’s your year going so far?  2014 is going to be a great year for this industry I can feel it.  Maybe I’m just an optimist though.  I know there are some companies that are struggling, and want or need to improve now.  Need some help?  Contact me at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s talk about how I can help you achieve your goals.

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 (www.inktothepeople.com) 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 https://www.facebook.com/StayStrongBostonStrong.  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 http://tinyurl.com/loms9eu.

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 – http://tinyurl.com/k7cquot

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.   www.sgppartnership.org

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!  http://www.thedragondash.com/

b.  On Thanksgiving I ran and completed the 4 Mile Turkey Trot in Memphis with members of my family, despite the 22 degree weather.  http://memphisturkeytrot.racesonline.com/  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!!  http://greatermemphisgreenline.com/

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 (www.scaleupmilwaukee.org).  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.  http://www.wmc.org/news/breaking-news/2013-wisconsin-manufacturer-of-the-year-award-nominees-revealed/

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.  www.pioneerintl.com

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 – http://www.manufacturingmatters.org/sessions/sustainability-driven-business-value

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 – www.linkedin.com/in/marshallatkinson/

Twitter – www.twitter.com/atkinsontshirt/

Pinterest – www.pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/

Blog – http://atkinsontshirt.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!  marshall@visualimp.com 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!!

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!

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.  (www.sgppartnership.org)  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.  (http://www.wisconsinsustainability.com/annual-conference/)  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.  www.sgppartnership.org

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: http://tinyurl.com/loms9eu

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 matkinson4804@gmail.com.  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!

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.