A Sustainable Business Case
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A Sustainable Business Case

An increasing number of customers are asking their imagers about their sustainability efforts, either in face-to-face meetings or formal requests for proposals.

By Marcia Y. Kinter, SGIA

Reluctance still exists in regards to sustainability, but the realities and profits continue to present themselves.

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  • Information collected from imagers that have chosen to pursue the sustainability pathway support the hypothesis that sustainability as a new business model is here to stay. We continue to see both brands and retail establishments work to integrate sustainability metrics into their supply chains.

    Even with this momentum, there are still those that argue that sustainability is merely the fad du jour, and will eventually fade away. There still exists a high level of reluctance on the part of many to embrace sustainability initiatives. Still, there are others moving down this pathway and profiting from it. Once companies begin to pursue sustainability initiatives, they tend to discover more opportunities to reduce costs, create new revenue streams and develop more innovative business models.

    With the continued growth of the Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership, both in terms of number of certified facilities, as well as an emerging influence in the marketplace, facilities implementing sustainable business practices are beginning to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Sustainability does sell. An increasing number of customers are asking their imagers about their sustainability efforts, either in face-to-face meetings or formal requests for proposals. One large telecommunications company stated that in 2007, there were only 50 RFPs, out of about 400, requesting information on their company's sustainability efforts. By 2009, there were more than 200 requesting the same information. Now we are beginning to see a trend of businesses developing procurement preference packages for sustainable operations, not only within the retail community, but within state and local governments as well.

    The biggest driver for inclusion of sustainability practices continues to be the customer base. And, while the major argument against adoption continues to be cost, we now have information illustrating that there are savings to be incurred. Those companies that have moved down this pathway indicate that the first year's cost savings, in terms of energy and waste reductions, begin to offset any associated costs. A sustainable business model forces you to justify any initiative from a strategic, financial, operational, marketing, and employee recruitment and retention perspective.

    This new model recognizes that balance sheets may not communicate the full value of a company, and financial indicators must be augmented by a variety of non-financial indicators. Protecting your corporate reputation now requires you to go beyond simple environmental compliance to responding to expectations of socially acceptable business practices. Your customers are now asking you to make an investment, not only in the manufacturing capabilities of your organization, but in areas relating to societal impact: The triple bottom line of "people, profit and planet."

    Recipients of SGIA's 2011 Sustainability Recognition Award, as well as SGIA members who have taken the step to become certified under the SGP Partnership program provide successful illustrations of how to adopt a sustainable model. These companies are engaged in a process of providing information about the continuous improvements that can be undertaken at their facilities.

    Sustainability Savings Through SGIA
    Meisel, a SGIA member and SGP-certified printer, sought to lower their energy usage. In 2009, this facility worked to replace all their lighting with low-energy fluorescents. As a result, Meisel currently saves approximately $2,000 per month.

    As a recipient of the SGIA Sustainability Recognition Award, Instagraphics Inc. realized energy savings of more than 68,000 kilowatt hours annually.

    Through their energy reduction program, Laird Plastics was able to realize a 9.1 percent reduction in their energy usage. These companies have taken a significant step toward reducing their overall environmental footprint by using SGIA's resources to implement these reduction programs.

    Another facility-wide project that provides both a strong financial and environmental benefit is the reduc-tion of solid waste. Again, program recepients indicated a strong desire to reduce their footprint by reducing the amount of solid waste disposed with a strong increase in the amount of product recycled.

    In 2010, Rainier Industries increased the amount of product they recycled by 57 percent from the previous year. They were further able to decrease the amount of solid waste sent to the landfill by 10 percent. Another SGIA Sustainability Recognition Award recipient, Aurora Specialty Textiles, recycled 17 tons of polyester scrap and 16 tons of packaging and production waste in 2010. All recycled waste was diverted from the landfill and once again, reduced the environmental footprint of the company. Laird, long recognized as a strong leader in the recycling marketplace, doubled their total pounds recycled to 6.8 million pounds in 2010.

    Serigraph, Inc., now formally recognized as a Green Tier participant at the Tier Two level, through Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources, has undertaken a variety of continuous improvement projects that clearly illustrate the business case for sustainability. With the adoption of their Environmental Management System (EMS), they are able to expand and identify additional areas for environmental improvement. Integration of the EMS into their business operation provides the mechanism to evaluate actions, not only from a financial point of view, but environmentally as well. In 2011, Serigraph was recognized for reducing their water consumption by 65 percent due to improved reclamation processes.

    If any one of these companies were queried, they would readily admit that the process to integrate these new practices is neither simple nor straightforward. However, once started, it is self-perpetuating. Companies begin to see the savings and most importantly, are able to align themselves with their cus-tomers' sustainability goals and objectives. Certification under the SGP Partnership puts a company out front and identifies it as invested in the sustainability movement. It provides discussion points for those customers where sustainability concerns rank high within their organization.

    Avoiding Greenwashing
    A cautionary note here is needed: Whenever discussions regarding sustainability take place, one must use extreme caution to not be accused of "greenwashing." This term not only applies to products, but also to companies that seek to make unsubstantiated claims regarding their business practices.

    There are steps a company can take to circumvent this argument. Transparency becomes an important element. And not just for highlighting your successes, but also your failures. Being willing to discuss initiatives that are still under development helps to strengthen your credibility and build onto the foundation that your sustainability program is continually evolving.

    Building a business case for sustainability within your company will take time, but it is worth the effort. Movement is underway, through a variety of stakeholders, to further develop transparent methodologies, tools and strategies to drive a new generation of products and supply networks that address environmental, social and economic imperatives. The focus is shifting away from individual products and headed toward a systematic approach. Working now to integrate a sustainable business ethic into your organization can help ensure your alignment in the future marketplace.

    Marcia Y. Kinter, SGIA's Vice President of Government and Business Information, oversees the Association's development of management resources. She represents the specialty imaging community, and its associated supplier base, before federal and state regulatory agencies and the US Congress on environmental, safety and other issues that directly impact the industry.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, November/December 2011 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2011 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.

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