A Year of LIFE

By Jack Kenny | September 2, 2009

An update on environmental action

Editor's note: One day in July, on vacation in the beautiful state of Maine, I was browsing through a rack of humorous bumper stickers in a store that had a decidedly green slant to its product offerings. And there it was, the sticker that brought the laugh of the day: "At Least We're Winning the War on the Environment."

The message has layers of meaning, not all of them funny. I kept thinking about this, and I realized that I know quite a few people, leaders of companies, who are not engaged in war on the environment, but instead have armed themselves and their teams for the war on waste, pollution and resource depletion.

Last year, the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI) created a program that lets its members seek certification as companies that have succeeded in reducing their environmental footprint. It is called Project LIFE – the Label Initiative For the Environment – and it most certainly is not a mere gesture in the direction of sustainability. LIFE requires work on internal practices over several areas of a company, the implementation of policies and systems, and the successful completion of a paid audit. Once achieved, the certified company may exhibit the LIFE emblem on its marketing materials, declaring to its customers and the world that it strives for high standards of environmental excellence.

Since its implementation, four US companies in the label industry – two converters and two suppliers – have achieved LIFE certification. Here are their stories.

Grand Rapids Label, Grand Rapids, MI

Bill Muir, president of Grand Rapids Label, was a member of the task force that worked for two years putting Project LIFE together. At its conclusion, his company agreed to be the first to undertake the quest for certification.

"I look at us, myself in particular, as accidental environmentalists. It's something I have been concerned about for a long time: Doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do. My father, who preceded me in this position, was very much that way as well. He was going to do what was right, and efficient, and he started to get people to think that way. There are definitely people in our organization who are on board with it. Others are on board without knowing that they are.

"We are ISO:14001 certified, and that's a big reason we asked to be the pilot program for Project LIFE. So why do LIFE if you have ISO? The biggest difference between the two is that some aspects of LIFE are much more specific to the printing industry. In ISO you document your usage and try to reduce; you're not pushed heavily. LIFE is continuous improvement, striving to get better in all aspects of the program. It has made us think more about the printing process. I think it's easier to get your arms wrapped around LIFE than around ISO."

Improvements made at the Grand Rapids Label plant include a new roof with a white membrane that reflects sunlight in the heat of summer and keeps the building cooler. "In winter it is covered with snow," Muir says, "so it doesn't matter. It makes sense; it's the practical thing to do."
The company cut back on its water usage, turning off the automatic lawn sprinklers, and using them only on mornings when it hasn't rained. "The city came to check our meter and thought it was broken. Our usage went down 30 percent," says Muir.

Turning computers off during nights and weekends is resulting in savings of more than $1,200 a year. Installing motion sensors for bathroom lighting and turning off lights in unoccupied rooms is saving $1,500.

What is the reaction from customers who learn of the certification? "The reactions are mixed," says Muir. Some could care less. With others it has helped us to gain business. The green movement is alive and well out there. LIFE certification can be beneficial especially if a customer has products that are environmentally friendly. With those companies it gives us a leg up on the competition."

UPM Raflatac, Fletcher, NC, USA

"UPM Raflatac has green roots," says Laura Cummings, sustainability and environmental manager. "We are part of UPM and its long commitment to protecting our environment – for example, sourcing wood fiber from responsibly managed forests. When UPM Raflatac was founded nearly 40 years ago, we carried forward that tradition with our own commitment to using solvent-free adhesives.

"Not only do we believe that reducing our environmental impact is the right thing to do, we also believe that proactively addressing sustainability issues is necessary to compete successfully today."

UPM Raflatac developed third-party certified Environmental Management Systems (EMS) in accordance with the ISO 14001:2004 standard in its labelstock factories worldwide. The company achieved certification for its North Carolina facility in November 2008, and expects that its Illinois facility, which opened in 2008, will be certified by the end of 2009.

"One of the goals of our Pro Green campaign is to encourage environmental sustainability within our industry," Cummings says. "We were pleased to support Project LIFE, which we judged to be a credible environmental program streamlined for the label and narrow web industry. In addition to obtaining another certification for our company, we hope to use our first-hand experience with Project LIFE to help our customers achieve this important certification, and further our goal of promoting sustainability within our industry.

"The LIFE program addresses four key elements: clean production, energy and greenhouse gases, product and environmentally preferable materials, and management practices. These elements were largely addressed in the EMS that was developed in the NC facility in 2008.

"Design and implementation of the EMS in NC took us approximately six months and required that we identify and prioritize the environmental aspects of our operation (including legal requirements) that were most critical. We formed a cross-functional EMS team to carry out the work. Rather than being a challenge, we found that employees embraced the idea of creating an EMS, and found the work generated enthusiasm among employees. Third-party certification for ISO 14001:2004 and Project LIFE involves auditor interviews of employees at all levels of the organization. Wide participation in these audits was required. It is clear that these efforts is a source of continued interest and pride for our employees."

Cummings notes that the company is frequently asked to assist its customers "as an environmentally well qualified supply chain partner who can help address the environmental/sustainability concerns of large brand owners. Brand owners, especially those with new, green products, view having sustainability in the supply chain as critical to protecting brand integrity. With our green heritage and certifications, including LIFE, we are able to engender confidence in brand owners that reliable environmental performance is in place among vendors in their supply chains."

Multi-Color Corporation, Green Bay, WI, USA

Before it embarked on the LIFE certification effort at its plant in Green Bay, WI, USA, Multi-Color Corporation had a strong commitment to environmental conservation.

"Historically we have had a very extensive environmental program run from our corporate level," says Lance George, director of engineering. "Once a year I conduct a 200-point audit, both from environmental and safety perspectives. Just prior to starting Project LIFE we had put together a Health, Safety & Environment Council, developed a charter, and brought everything together under one program from that perspective. We do audits, and track from one year to the next how our various locations are performing." The audits cover all North American operations. Multi-Color has operations in Australia and South Africa, which have their own environmental programs parallel to those in the West.

George says that the company viewed LIFE as "a mechanism, a platform from which to organize the information, advertise the information, and consistently track the information. At the plant level the initiative took some effort to organize," he adds. "We tried to dig a little deeper to find more ways to minimize our impact on the environment. In this economy, with everyone cutting back, the challenge was to maintain focus, to pull together to achieve certification in a timely manner."

Many of the programs that minimize waste were already in use at Multi-Color's plants, says George. "For example, we use secondary material for startup of the presses rather than good raw virgin materials. On the back end we recycle as much as possible. Our company is extra cost-conscious, and recycling and waste minimization to us are cost-conscious activities. We pursued almost everything we could think of to maximize profitability. This program doesn't necessarily gear you toward how much money you can make, but how you can minimize the environmental impact.

One specific challenge faced by the Green Bay plant was the disposition of matrix waste. "What we found out in Green Bay was that we were able to develop a program with matrix recycling. In the past it wasn't something to make money from – you couldn't find someone to buy matrix. What this project forced us to do is dig a little deeper and eplore alternatives, and we found a company that would take it at the same cost we were paying to dispose of it. They would use it for a fuel. Because of the nature of that PS matrix, it isn't a friendly product to use for much of anything. The key there is that without this program we wouldn't have pursued and dug into alternatives and brought in multiple parties to minimize tonnage at a cost-neutral basis. There are tons of material now as a direct result of this project that are not going to the landfill."

Green Bay was just the first Multi-Color facility to seek LIFE certification. There will be more, George says.

Channeled Resources - Maratech, Marathon, WI, USA

Plant Manager Joe Nowak says that LIFE certification is "a source of pride for all employees, particularly those in the plant who actually do what is necessary to qualify on a daily basis. The process made us feel better about ourselves, that we were doing something to protect the environment. It went from being a chore to a fun project where we started competing with each other on ideas to reduce waste. Many of us took the things we learned and are now applying them to our everyday lives at home. I would encourage everyone to go through the process to experience the same satisfaction our group did.

"This project gave us the incentive to continue to find ways to improve and not remain stagnant. We must demonstrate improvement to requalify.

"It's a sales tool for sales representatives – more and more our customers are asking questions about sustainability and what we do to back our company tagline – 'Making the world a greener and cleaner place'. It's a tool for our management staff as well. We like to see ourselves as a prominent member of TLMI and are very pleased to be among the first members to receive the certification.

Nowak adds that the plant is currently saving $1,000 a month in utilities after making changes. "We cut our water usage by 40 percent and landfill by 25 percent. (The cutback in landfill was mainly due to finding more markets for our product.) It's a win-win. Less going to landfill, more going to the bottom line."

Channeled Resources, which recovers and sells B-grade labelstocks, is headed by Calvin Frost, chairman of TLMI's Environmental Committee, author of L&NW's Letters from the Earth column, and an ardent environmentalist.

In the near future, several more companies will be audited for LIFE certification. One of those will be Label World, Rochester, NY, USA. President John McDermott, who headed the task force that created Project LIFE, says that the company is achieving savings through several avenues of waste reduction. One is the transfer of all waste labelstock and matrix to an incineration facility for energy generation.

"TLMI will focus now on promoting the program, to get a critical mass of suppliers and converters on board," McDermott says. "We need to get regular messages out there: public relations to members and expanding beyond to the rest of the converting community, and ultimately to the customer community."

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