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Business + Management: Marty Mcghie

Sustainable Best Practices

The concept of best practices is nothing new, but applying it to sustainability is.




The concept of best practices has been around for a long time, but the extension of best practices into sustainability is relatively new—especially for the printing industry.

Basically, best practices are activities or methods that produce desirable results in the most effcient and effective ways. Do you test and document the processes by which your shop makes prints, sets up presses, or packages jobs for shipment? If so, your business is already engaged in establishing best practices.

The next step you should take is to evaluate your operation in terms of sustainability and determine ways in which you can implement best practices. To simplify matters, let’s divide best practices for sustainability into three areas: the product, the process, and the envelope.

Product and process
You know what your products are, but expanding the way you define them to include the design aspects and materials used in their creation brings you closer to best practices for sustainability. Consider the following simple steps you can take and programs you can implement.

Have a discussion with your customers about the most effective ways to use materials. Don’t expect your customers to come with suggestions in hand. You are the print expert—the customers will look to you for guidance. Would a slight change in graphics allow for more effcient use of an ink? Less ink? A lower temperature for ink curing? Less waste? Think about the options you can offer your customers. Making the right changes may result in cost savings.

Establish routine, formal meetings with your suppliers.
At these meetings you can ask about new products or options that are available to you. These meetings also afford you the opportunity to discuss your facility’s plans and engage the suppliers in conversations as to how they can help you achieve your goals. Suggested topics include: mechanisms to reduce or eliminate redundant shipping, including shipping distances and optimization of routing and delivery systems; guidance from the supplier to minimize use of or eliminate outdated materials; options to reuse and recycle unused materials and disposable packaging, such as cores, cartons, drums, or cans; exploration of products that minimize or eliminate waste; use of minimal packaging; establishment of take-back programs for unused materials; and awareness of substrate characteristics, including biodegradability, compostibility, recyclability, and recycled content—including pre- and post-consumer content, source and content of non-paper substrates, and amount of renewable energy used in the manufacturing process.


The process includes all manufacturing steps (e.g., prepress, on press, and finishing) involved with converting raw materials into fi nished products, including process byproducts—solid wastes, air pollution, and wastewater, for example—that have an environmental, health, and safety impact.

Engage in discussions with your press operators regarding raw-material usage. Can they put a program in place to estimate raw-material usage per job, and can you successfully provide only the minimum amount of these raw materials to them? Such a program can reduce raw-material contamination, especially true with inks, and cost-avoidance for your customer. Take time to review the proofingsystems you have in place—do your clients know that soft proofing is an option?

Major equipment purchases may be required to replace/upgrade an existing piece of equipment that has served its useful life. Such assets can also be purchased to expand your business’s existing operations or capabilities.

Your equipment purchases should undergo a review for environmental, health, and safety considerations and to minimize energy consumption.

The envelope
The envelope includes all the manufacturing-support activities and the building, grounds, utilities, employees, and other functions at a site. Let’s look briefl y at shipping, with a more detailed look at energy/utilities.

Shipping is part of the best-management practices within the envelope. Take time to evaluate your packaging materials. Have you established procedures to minimize packaging waste, and can you reuse packaging whenever possible?


When it comes to utilities or energy usage, the fi rst step is to conduct an energy audit. The audit results enable you to investigate alternative energy sources and new trends in energy-reduction opportunities and solutions. Conduct an audit once every two years, and be sure to document the process and results. Local utility companies usually provide this type of service for free or at a very low cost to their existing customers. Some third-party energy providers will also provide this service upon request. External consultants are also available for this service.

Keep track of your annual energy consumption. Many shops now monitor energy consumption on a monthly basis to help identify the sources in their shops that impact utility costs and to identify new ways to reduce energy consumption. Some shops changed their lighting sources years ago to more efficient bulbs or to task-oriented from area lighting, but it’s time to revisit this topic. Consider installing motion-sensor-triggered illumination for areas with low or infrequent light usage. These systems ensure lighting is used only when a person is in the room and that the lighting will automatically be turned off when no one is in the area.

Exterior lighting is another factor in your shop’s overall consumption of energy. You can improve your efficiency by installing either motion sensors or energy-efficient, dusk-to-dawn lighting. Just paying attention to the lighting in the parking lot or building as you drive up to work one morning can provide opportunities for improvement.

This simple inspection of your dusk-to-dawn lighting may reveal a burned-out sensor that results in the light being on continuously. This is a problem you can quickly address by installing a new light fi xture, thereby avoiding the long-term energy cost of that light being on all the time.

You should review energy-consumption data and the availability of auto shut-o features in any new equipment you’re evaluating. This includes computers, computer monitors, microwave ovens, refrigerators, and more. Purchasing Energy Star-rated equipment is a good investment. Not only are you purchasing equipment to replace existing equipment or to improve operations, but you’re also helping to reduce your energy consumption and energy costs.

Speaking of which, another possible consideration: energy efficient vending machines. These came to the marketplace in the past few years. One such machine maintains canned soft drinks at a desired temperature, but it eliminates all other electrical use, such as display lighting, unless there is foot traffic in the immediate area.


What it’s really about
Sustainability is about looking at the materials we use and determining whether we really need to use them. If we do not, then we eliminate those materials—and in doing so, we also get rid of all the hidden costs that come along for the ride.

You clearly can take a wide range of actions to demonstrate sustainability. It begins with employee time and commitment, moves into actual process changes and discussions with customers/supplies, and ends with major equipment purchases. Major equipment purchases are not always required, although some print providers may choose to purchase more energy-effcient printing equipment. Others will evaluate their existing delivery truck and decide to go the biodiesel route for fuel—or downsize to a delivery car, or possibly an alternative/fl ex-fuel vehicle. Other shops may select Energy Star-rated appliances for the breakroom. If you really need a particular item, can you find an environmentally friendlier way to obtain or use it? Is a more environmentally friendly version of the material available?

For example, can you source and use pesticide-free, organic cotton in place of conventional cotton? What’s the greater impact of continued use of the less ecologically sensible material? Do you really need to buy ink from the EU because it’s cheaper? Or should you pay a bit more, and purchase it from a vendor located 20 miles away, thereby paying less in shipping charges and impacting the environment less as a result of the shorter shipping distance (less fuel used in the shipping process, with less air pollution generated by the vehicle)? And do customers really want a print shop engaged in these types of activities? Or is it all just hype?

There are as many ways to answer these questions as there are print providers. Each shop has to do what works best for it based on its print processes, its customers, its locations, and its employees. The answer isn’t always easy or obvious. You may travel a twisted path to get to the answer only to find there’s more than one answer. That’s really what sustainability is about: looking at your operations and eliminating unnecessary practices or modifying existing practices for more useful purposes.

Many changes made in the name of sustainability bring with them opportunities for cost reduction or avoidance. With cost savings comes the increased profi tability for your long-term operation.

KAREN GROSS is executive director of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (, an organization that promotes sustainable printing practices and certifies print providers that meet established criteria and performance standards for sustainability. This column is excerpted from her feature for our sister publication, Screen Printing magazine.





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