Letters From The Earth

Driving Green

May 13, 2008

The president called me and asked, "Are we green?" "Heavens no," I responded. There was a pause and he asked, "Can you help us get green?" I replied, "Sure, I can help you. But at the end of the day it's up to you, you and your team. You have to drive green. You have to want to be green. I can facilitate, but I can't force change. That has to come from within. And remember, change won't be easy, and it will cost money."

That conversation took place several years ago with the head of a large printing house. I was reminded of it when I talked recently with Dan Magallanes of Pitman Company. Dan will serve as moderator for a seminar for the Western (northern California) Flexo and Label Association (WFLA). Half of their meet (I would have hoped the entire meeting) will focus on running "greener" operations. Our conversation and the timing couldn't have been more appropriate.

I had just returned from a brief trip to northern California where I attended the semi-annual meeting of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). Some of us had heard Anne Johnson's impassioned presentation at TLMI's Technical Conference last September and I wanted more. Boy, I couldn't have bargained for a better couple of days. Not only did we hear from the California greenies, but we had a host of presentations from multinational label users that included Marks & Spencer, Pepsico and Wal-Mart, to name a few. I personally talked with Estee Lauder, Burt's Bees, Clorox, Constellation Wines, and many others. It was a neat experience, and when Dan called the following week it merely reinforced my belief that change is happening in a big way.

Dan wanted some ideas on how to weave "green practices" through his seminar. He wanted a concise definition of sustainability and how it applies to our industry.

I don't know about you but I've read and heard so many definitions of sustainability that I've developed green blood. There's so much out there that at times it's confusing, certainly to the layperson. Dan's favorite is, "a resource or system that meets present needs without compromising those of future generations." My friend Lester Brown never really defines sustainability. He surrounds it with discussions on aquifiers, fisheries, forests, population, fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and the like. Like Lester, I'm less concerned with definitions than I am by actions that create sustainability. To that end, I suggested to Dan that his meeting focus on green metrics such as:

-    The elimination of solvent technology wherever possible. This includes many aspects of our business, such as plates, inks, adhesives, and cleaning.
-    The promotion of liner recycling with the end user, the converter's customer. The converter can offer a solution. It is part of his responsibility.
-    Along with liner, make sure that used metalized PET (hot stamp foil) is recycled.
-    Divert matrix waste from the landfill. Support alternatives that may cost more but certainly reduce carbon footprint.

I mentioned to Dan that I have visited two companies in northern California that have established best practices. Both companies are committed to supporting solutions that are sustainable. They are Spectrum Label in Hayward and G3 Enterprises in Modesto. Kudos to these two. There are obviously many others that have and/or are in the process of putting best practices metrics into every day use. To them, congratulations.

Sustainable Green Printing Partnership

Many of you might be aware of two emerging programs that embrace sustainability with green operating standards and criteria. One program has been introduced, while the other is still in development. I'd like to describe the first in detail and share a few highlights of the second which will be introduced later this year. Both support the concepts of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and Dan's efforts to focus on green manufacturing practices.

The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), a venture among several industry associations, defines sustainable green printing and identifies steps to establish manufacturing practices and products that are more environmentally sustainable. Its aim is to serve as "the foundation for a broader sustainability initiative that also encompasses social and economic elements."

SGP is a "registration" program that recognizes each printer's individuality. It establishes a central depository for green information and green practices. The SGP approach uses product, process and envelope as a map for sustainable green printing. These are defined as follows:

Product includes the design aspects and input material management to create products.

Process includes all manufacturing steps – e.g., prepress, press, and postpress – involved in converting raw materials into a finished product, including process byproducts such as solid wastes, air pollution, and waste water that have an environmental, health, and safety impact.

Envelope includes all manufacturing support activities and includes the building, grounds, utilities, employees, and other functions at an individual site.

There will be two types of registry:

Candidate Pending Verification (CPV): a provisional status pending full conformity with the requirements for an SGP printer.

SGP Printer: the full participation level with requirements relating to sustainable business practices.

CPV registrants will have to meet industry regulatory compliance, SGP Guiding Principles, and environmental, health and safety policy.

SGP Printer registrants will have to meet the above as well as management systems, best practices, social aspects, metric systems, and produce an annual progress report. The SGP Printer will require third party verification.

The organizations that created SGP (FTA, PIA/GATF, and SGIA) have done an outstanding job in creating an entity that sets metrics across all print technologies. The goal is to bring commonality to best practices standards. SGP will be a separate organization with an executive director and outside board of directors. Members will have to apply for registration and obviously pay association dues.

TLMI's initiative

TLMI has established its own best practices initiative. The initiative has been in discussion and process since the fall of 2006. A task force was established in 2007 and by June of this year the metrics will be beta tested with a cross section of initiates. There will be geographic and size diversity in this group. The program will be authored by TLMI. The focus is on narrow web printing and converting. There will be a requirement for third party verification and, like SGP, will recognize company individuality, both focus and strengths. Education of sustainable practices is a prime element of the TLMI program.

The one aspect that needs to be addressed is to make sure these initiatives don't create confusion in the marketplace. Already, for example, the paper industry is concerned about a plethora of sustainability standards, which are creating confusion. The industry is looking for clarification and consolidation. Global packaging companies want simple guidelines for sustainable packaging that cover all aspects of print technology. Whether that is possible remains to be seen.

Another Letter from the Earth.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.