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Green Thumbs Up

Printers Are Rolling Out More Environmentally Sound Practices
Andy Timmons

Andy Timmons says green printing can provide some effective marketing for companies like John C. Otto.

Starting with a long tradition of streamlined production and strengthened by a number of recent conservation-focused initiatives, printers are emerging at the forefront of the green movement, as they incorporate new programs aimed at keeping the presses running lean, mean, and earth friendly.

Ben Franklin, a printer by trade, may not have seen the green-printing trend coming during his years at the press.

But Andy Timmons, executive vice president at John C. Otto Co. in East Longmeadow, thinks Franklin would have embraced the new, environmentally friendly practice, and seen its worth as a tool to streamline business and bolster the bottom line.

“Printers are some of the most adaptive, technology-driven people in this country,” he said. “We welcome change because it’s necessary to improve the work we do every day. There’s no other industry that spends as much time as we do re-evaluating workflow, and it’s always been that way, since the beginning.”

That sentiment is carrying John C. Otto and other printing companies forward, as the latest major change to their work picks up both speed and attention.

‘Green’ is a ubiquitous term these days, speaking to the practices of all businesses and individuals that reduce negative impact on the environment. There’s a strong focus on recycling, as well as on incorporating organic materials whenever possible, to reduce the use of petroleum-based products.

For printers, this means switching to vegetable-based inks, recycling paper by the ton, and monitoring energy consumption. It means placing recycled paper towels in the bathrooms, turning the heat down during slow production times, and keeping a close eye on direct mailings. Two holiday calendars sent to the same office? Not anymore.

Timmons said that, more than anything else, the devil is in the details when it comes to going green. But increasingly, the printing industry is being seen as one of the leaders of the movement.

The Kings of the Forest

One of the buzz terms prevalent in the printing industry recently is ‘FSC certification,’ a designation granted by the Forest Stewardship Council. It follows a rigorous audit and application process, and essentially verifies that any ‘certified’ product can be traced back to an FSC-certified forest, which has gone through a similar certification process.

According to the FSC Web site, the purpose of the certification effort is to “shift the market to eliminate habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, and violence against people and wildlife that often accompanies logging.” In order to use the FSC logo as an ‘environmental claim’ on paper, the product must have flowed through the FSC ‘Chain of Custody,’ or COC, from a certified forest to a paper manufacturer to a merchant and, finally, to a printer who has obtained certification.

Certified paper producers are becoming the norm, and that’s prompting the next industry in the chain, printers, to join.

“The paper companies really drove this,” said Timmons, noting that John C. Otto obtained its FSC certification last year, along with 68 other companies owned by Consolidated Graphics, its parent company, which mandated the change. “It was a situation in which we felt like we had to get on board or get out of the way.”

Becoming FSC-certified requires an investment, and can be time-consuming, said Timmons, adding that the audit process requires an examination of every part of the printing process, which a company must then record and disclose.

“There’s a substantial fee — thousands of dollars,” he added. “It’s not crushing, but it’s enough to get your attention.”

From that point, the certification process requires that a printer use FSC-certified papers, non-toxic inks, and recyclable plates, and must monitor its paper-recycling efforts closely. If and when a company is approved by the FSC, it is provided with a standard operating procedure for printing an FSC job, which involves everyone from the customer and salesperson to the prepress operator and bindery and shipping personnel.

A series of FSC logos are also provided, which can be placed on a completed product to announce its place in the Chain of Custody, but only after the FSC has reviewed and approved the project and its standing as forestry-friendly.

Power and Process

Certification is still a relatively recent phenomenon in the printing industry; the FSC maintains a directory of certified printers across the country, and as of Nov. 5, there were 614 FSC printers in the nation, including 10 in Connecticut and 18 in Massachusetts. Of those, only two, John C. Otto and Bassette Printers in Springfield, make their home in Western Mass.

Still, the process is becoming the next step for many outfits in their ongoing ‘green’ efforts. June Roy-Martin, communications and business development manager with Quality Printing in Pittsfield, said she first looked into the program a year ago, and at that time was told by industry insiders to hold off because FSC didn’t formally apply to printers yet.

“I made some calls regarding FSC certification because I noticed the trend in the paper companies, and was told that it might be something for us to look into in the future,” she said. “But that was just a year ago, and now it’s definitely something we’re moving forward with.”

Roy-Martin explained that while her company has yet to secure FSC certification, Quality Printing has already instituted a number of environmentally sound practices. She agreed with Timmons that printers are a breed that is accepting of change, and that the industry is, in many ways, at the forefront of the green movement.

“Over the years, we have always tried to listen to what our customers are saying to us in terms of technology and the environment,” said Roy-Martin. “We have had a recycling program for all end-cuts of paper and office paper for many years, as well as a program for aluminum plates. Over the past five years in particular, we have phased into using exclusively soy-based inks and a wide range of recycled papers, and we only deal with paper distributors that are FSC-certified.”

There are other initiatives planned at Quality Printing, among them the incorporation of renewable energy sources, such as solar power.

“Printers in general accrue very high energy costs, and we don’t want to continue to drain the supply,” she said, noting that in light of Gov. Deval Patrick’s focus on renewable energy, she hopes that state or federal assistance could offset the costs associated with installing a solar power system. “We hope to get grant funding for it, but regardless it will be an investment we’ll make, and we’ll make it because we want to.”

Then there’s something called the ‘merge and purge.’ Often overlooked as merely an administrative function, Quality Printing’s practice of reviewing the names on a mailing list and carefully cross-checking names with addresses has allowed the company to eliminate duplicate mailings to one office or home, said Roy-Martin. The little things are more important than ever, she added, because clients are becoming the industry’s watchdogs.

“We failed to merge and purge once, just once, and you can’t imagine the phone calls,” she said, adding that requests for more environmentally friendly practices are frequent, especially among clients in the academic and non-profit fields, and could very well be a deciding factor in an organization’s decision to contract with a given printer.

“The health of our business has become directly related to environmental printing; we have to be aware, or customers aren’t even going to consider us,” she said. “It’s important to our clients to do business with good stewards of our world, and they’re not afraid to tell you how they feel about it.”

Full-court Press

Deanna Gaulin, safety manager and director of Human Resources at Hitchcock Press in Holyoke, a paper converter and printer specializing in film and foil laminations, gravure printing, specialty coating, and embossing, said that while she, too, will soon be embarking on the long, detailed process of FSC certification, many practices that are now seen as ‘green’ have been part of the printing process for some time, and have given the industry an important boost when incorporating new initiatives.

“I think you’re hearing more and more about green printing, but for many printers, things that are seen as environmental now have long been part of the nature of the job,” she said. “Computerized pre-press operations, for example, have reduced the amount of processing chemicals we use, and save water and energy. Communicating by E-mail saves time, but also paper, and labeling waste carefully keeps paper out of the landfill.”

Gaulin noted that, from a price standpoint, the demand for environmental products has made adding new aspects to Hitchcock’s repertoire simpler, too.

“Certainly, an important aspect of green printing is the paper we use, and we utilize recycled paper whenever possible, as well as vegetable-based inks,” she said. “Our customers are absolutely asking for these things more often, and unlike in the past, it’s not more expensive to use now — sometimes it’s cheaper. In making the switch, we’ve had no difficulty whatsoever.”

That, in turn, has allowed Hitchcock to make some of those smaller changes that are contributing to the green movement — the shop uses ecologically sound cleaning supplies, has installed a sensor system for lights to curb electricity use, and sometimes mixes its own inks to avoid ordering multiple colors.

“We also follow all Mass. DEP regulations and obtain a DEP compliance certification yearly, something we don’t have to do, but volunteer do,” said Gaulin. “We find that using environmentally sound measures not only benefits the environment, but protects the bottom line and minimizes waste.”

Green in the Genes

Timmons agreed that embarking on the FSC-certification process was made easier by the cost-saving, conservation-minded measures John C. Otto had already employed.

“We’ve always had a low output of anything harmful to the environment,” he said, “and we passed the FSC test the first time around. Still, it was eye-opening to see how much waste printers create as part of normal business.”

That has led to a new level of environmental stewardship at the company, but also to a new marketing benefit. Timmons said the FSC logo, or any proof of green practices on the part of a printer, not only retains clients who recognize the importance of environmentalism, but can also generate business.

“Initially, we didn’t see business grow directly out of this,” he said, “but as customers gravitate more toward green printing, the FSC logo makes a very powerful statement for us. We’re seeing an increased level of business that is continuing to pick up steam.”

Timmons said about two in 10 print jobs at John C. Otto now carry an FSC logo, and he theorizes that as that pace quickens, green printing will become yet another intervention that leads to an improved workflow.

“Printers must constantly revise the work they do,” he said, echoing one of Ben Franklin’s more famous quotes, first printed on his own press: keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee.

“The printing industry is defined by change,” Timmons concluded. “But you know what? We’re used to it.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

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