American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Big impact

Apr 1, 2010 12:00 AM

         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

There's a perception — especially among some smaller printers — that sustainability programs are expensive and time consuming. Think again.

“Sustainability is more than using recycled paper and soy inks … it's a holistic approach to running a business,” says Gary Jones, director of environmental, health and safety affairs for Printing Industries of America ( “With this approach, many printing operations have been able to save significant costs due to waste prevention, improved product quality and reduced operating expenses.”

Jones adds that smaller printers might actually have the environmental edge over their larger counterparts: “I think the smaller printer has a distinct advantage in that it is much easier to make operational changes and get employees involved, which is a key to having a successful program.”

We spoke with four small printers that are thinking big when it comes to being environmentally responsible. We hope their example will inspire others!

A demonstrable difference

“Printing, engineered with nature in mind.” That's the goal at Mercer Color (Coldwater, OH) a two-time AMERICAN PRINTER Environmental Excellence Award recipient. Mercer Color's quest for sustainable inks, pressroom chemistry and recycled paper was launched in the 1980s.

Pat Berger, vice president, was moved to act after his children told him, “Daddy you stink. You smell like your work.”

“If my children could smell me, I looked at it just like second-hand smoke,” says Berger. “ I was [subjecting] my children to the same awful thing I was exposed to at work.”

In 1990, Mercer embraced sustainable products. In 1996, the Ohio printer developed its trademarked Ecologically Controlled Offset Printing method (Ecolith). Berger credits Ecolith with helping the printer minimize VOCs, decrease ink consumption by more than 30% and recycle more than 30 tons of paper, plastic, cardboard and other materials.

“We stay away from all waterless and UV because of the high energy cost required to keep the press and pressroom in a highly controlled environment and the high energy usage to run the dryers,” Berger notes.

About equipment that aids green printing efficiency and quality, Berger advises, “There is no magic bullet or press. With the proper green chemistry and ink, you can run paper and plastics without UV or infrared [technology]. It's how you configure your equipment.”

Berger maintains that the sustainable printing approach is an attainable, cost efficient strategy, even for smaller operations. “It costs less [overall] to use green supplies,” he says. “They might cost a little more but you use sometimes only one third of the volume, and that equates into real cost savings,” Berger explains. “It's not the cost of the supplies; it's the manufacturing cost reduction [that results].”

Berger urges printers to educate clients about the print's true environmental impact. “I give clients a printed brochure and ask them to read it. I then ask, ‘How much electricity did you use to read the information?’” Berger then tells clients to view the same brochure onscreen, turn off the computer, and then repeat the same process, stressing again the amount of electricity used.

“Then they understand the beauty and cleanliness of print,” Berger says. “If it's looked at or used more than once, paper always wins; they no longer question print or its impact.”


Next Page: Healthy plant, healthy people

Healthy plant, healthy people

Marilyn Jones, owner of Consolidated Printing (Chicago, IL), says her mother inspired Jones' green crusade. Jones credits natural medicines with extending her physically handicapped mother's quality of life for nearly 25 years. That experience prompted her to consider Consolidated's products and processes in a new light.

“It was a powerful motivation to look at those chemicals and say, ‘Oh my God, this stuff is toxic,’” says Jones. “That's when we started replacing these chemicals with [more environmentally friendly] products.”

Consolidated Printing is a “completely green” facility, from its ecoconsciously designed offices and bathrooms to its award-winning, all-natural, trademarked Printedgreen printing process. Jones admits that the level of green implementation executed at her facility took a bit of trial and error and a lot of tenacity.

“What we use for the parts washer is restaurant grease,” Jones offers as one example of the company's resourcefulness. “It took us a year and half to work with a company to refine it enough to make it useable for us. We had to keep at it. Did it take a lot of time away from production and sales? Yes it did. Are we large enough to be able to swallow the cost? No, it did cost us money. But with used restaurant grease, the only potential side effect from it is a serious craving for french fries.”

Jones understands the challenges printers face when trying to implement green practices, but she maintains that it is a realistic goal. “I want to ask printers, do they really want to look at their advantages or disadvantages? There are pluses and minuses on both sides,” she says. “But large printers can get it done and so can smaller printers. Just get to doing it already.”

“Be diligent and candid about your environmental initiatives,” advises Jones. “We can't let greenwashing happen because there is no impetus for [manufacturers and their clients to practice true stewardship]. Why would I go to an all-natural process when I can just lie and say that I am doing it?” she asks. “I am afraid that's going to hurt the movement more than anything else because people don't have the time to learn to buy printing or other consumer goods. They have to rely on standards, and in some areas of the movement, there are no standards.”

Jones says that her dedication to green printing has been her life's work and she has no regrets on the time that she has spent as an activist. “To do what we have done for this many years, it has to be a passion. And not only is it a passion for us, it is a necessity.”


Building green momentum

Established in 1982, Svec Conway (Silver Spring, MD) launched its print operations during a decade when the environmental enthusiasm that spawned Earth Day had waned a bit. When Sheila and Bob Firestein bought the company in 2003, the couple was committed to offering a fresh perspective on green printing strategies.

Sheila Firestein believes smaller printers have an advantage in implementing sustain-ability programs vs. larger printers, but she adds that the responsibility typically falls on the owner's shoulders. “The expense and economics can at times create challenges, [but] my husband and I are determined never to allow that to enter as part of the equation.”

Another key initiative in Svec Conway's sustainability program is education and collaboration with clients on the importance of green practices. “We engage our sales and customer service team to promote our initiative to our clients, ultimately trying to gain their participation on the client's printed material,” says Firestein. “Sometimes it is hard to convince them to [use] part of their printed pieces to promote any green initiatives utilized but when done properly, the responses are typically positive.”

Firestein believes that the print industry and consumers in general are finally recognizing the importance of being environmentally conscious. “We are now seeing the results and impact of participation in recent years. Once more people see the positive results, we should have more participation.”

As for her own environmental stewardship, Firestein says, “Bob and I have two beautiful girls, and our oldest is extremely into being green. Combine that with the extreme pleasure I receive when educating clients on the positive results of utilizing our green initiative and sustainability, and it has made a challenging experience enjoyable.”


An incremental approach

As one of the largest Minuteman Press operations in the United States, Ambit Press (Cambridge, MA) is a digital and offset printer that in its 12 years of operation has recognized and experienced the benefits of being environmentally responsible.

Owner Peter Reed says Ambit takes an incremental approach. “An environmental program can't be developed overnight. Certain initiatives we have are going to be completed in phases as the budget allows,” says Reed. “We try to plan in advance and as the need to replace old equipment arises we analyze our choices for environmental concern. As a smaller printer, we have the ability and desire to spend extra time researching our equipment and space to find what makes the most sense for us and our environmental footprint.” That time and research has led Ambit to make several equipment upgrades that have yielded positive results.

“Our 52DI press from Presstek has been one of the most important environmental choices we have made,” says Reed. “It is a waterless, 4-color press that creates digital plates, therefore requiring no chemicals for cleanup. We also have Canon's imagePRESS C6000 and C6000VP digital presses. These EnergyStar rated devices have not only saved on energy costs, but have also reduced waste. Both take just a few sheets of paper to start a run and with relatively no streaking, we rarely waste paper.”

Ambit has taken its approach beyond equipment, recently moving its printing production to a more energy efficient facility. “Over the next 12-18 months, we are planning to make many small improvements that will add up,” says Reed. “For example, we will systematically move through our space to replace worn weather stripping and we are currently reviewing our ink, plate and press chemistry system for opportunities to reduce materials and setup costs. We will also begin separating our recyclable papers into two categories: scrap; and materials that can be reused as-is, for example at elementary schools. This last initiative not only benefits us, but our local community, as well,” says Reed.

Reed says Ambit's environmental programs refute many consumer misperceptions about print. “By offering ways to minimize waste through equipment, paper options and even marketing advice, we can counteract the attitude people have toward print,” says Reed. “Print isn't going anywhere; the tactile nature of ink on paper is too powerful a communication device.”