Greening the Workplace

By Catherine Diamond, Associate Editor | July 17, 2013

Adopting eco-friendly practices can save companies money while attracting new customers.

It wasn’t too long ago that words like “sustainability,” “green” and “eco-friendly” were miles from a business owner’s mind. In today’s market, however, the green approach is absolutely essential in order to thrive. Companies are taking steps to reduce their energy consumption, waste, and overall negative effect on the environment both to satisfy their customers and to reduce overall costs.

This trend is as likely to be seen in small mom-and-pop shops as it is in major, national brands. Just recently, MillerCoors brewery in Golden, CO, USA – the largest brewery in the United States – became the fifth MillerCoors brewery to go landfill-free. The company estimates that it has eliminated approximately 135 tons of waste that was sent to landfill each month.

In a news release, the brewery said that it recently completed process improvements – to the tune of $1 million – to achieve this goal. Now, MillerCoors reuses and recycles 100% of its waste, including all glass, plastics, paperboard, metal, and brewing byproducts. Residual waste, such as floor sweepings, is sent to a waste-to-energy facility.

Dell, a global technology company that supplies inks and personal computers, among other things, has recently announced its goal of achieving a “waste-free packaging stream” within seven years. By 2020, the company says, its goal is to have 100% of its packaging sourced from sustainable materials that will be recyclable or compostable. Dell has even started working with wheat straw in an effort to turn agricultural waste into a sustainable packaging material. As of right now, the company says more than half of its packaging already meets these goals. 

Reduce, reuse, recycle
Another international company, Dunkin’ Donuts Brands Group Inc. – which owns both Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins – will begin offering an in-store recycling program for its foam cups until it finds what it considers a viable alternative. According to the company’s 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, Dunkin’ Dounuts also has plans to transition to a new spoon made of more sustainable material and to perform a waste/recycling audit at select stores to identify the its top three waste items. 

INX International Ink Co., the third largest producer of inks in North America, introduced an ink cartridge recycling program in the US in March. According to Susie Mendelssohn, international marketing manager, the response has been positive.

“We are encouraged,” she says. “Not everyone embraces recycling, but our dealer channel reports their customers understand the message we are promoting and they are seeing an influx of interest in recycling cartridges.”

Mendelssohn adds that INX has invested significant time and resources over the last 15 years “to determine the company’s actions in regards to the entire sustainability process.

“This includes the development of guidelines involving product and packaging design, responsible manufacturing and energy efficiency with a consistent focus on reducing, reusing and recycling. We will do all we can to support this commitment and more in our efforts to achieve greater sustainability,” she says.

Channeled Resources Group (CRG), a provider of products and services for both manufacturers and consumers of coated, treated, and laminated papers and films, has had a longstanding commitment to eco-friendly practices. Its founder (and L&NW columnist), Calvin Frost, says that CRG’s motto and mission is to “make the world a cleaner, greener place.”

Channeled Resources is both Label Initiative for the Environment (LIFE)-certified through member organization Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI) and ISO 14001 certified. Both certifications, Frost says, require ongoing measurement and improvement on an annualized basis.

“A good example is our record of landfill avoidance,” he says. “In 2012 we diverted 97.99% of byproducts from the landfill. Since we generate approximately 700 tons of byproducts per month, this represents a substantial quantity. We also replaced 25 of our printers and copiers with new energy efficient machines. Finally, in 2012, we started a ‘core reuse’ program. In one month we were able to reuse 910 cores. Since most of our incoming material is roll-to-roll, this is a substantial figure.”

Frost adds, “The bottom line with ‘going green’ is cost savings. If you make the commitment, if your team makes the commitment, the result can be convincingly measured in dollars.”

Ritrama, a global supplier of specialty self-adhesive materials, says that its Minneapolis location has a long history of environmental stewardship initiatives specifically involving recycling, energy conservation and waste reduction. In fact, the company was awarded in 2009 the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Waste Pollution Prevention by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. In 2012, Ritrama decided to formalize its practices and become LIFE-certified. Within one year of becoming certified, the company says it achieved nearly a 50% reduction in landfill waste.

Establishing a system
Mary Ratzlaff, sales and marketing coordinator for Ritrama, says that the road to LIFE certification was a relatively easy one for her company, as it was already ISO 9001 certified. For many companies without a foot in the door, though, a recycling program or other sustainable initiative may seem more intimidating than intriguing. The LIFE certification program is a popular resource for converters and suppliers looking to take that first step. 

The Label Printers, a converter based in Aurora, IL, USA, was also ISO 9001 certified before it pursued its LIFE certification. According to George Tommasi, the The Label Printers’ human resources director and LIFE team leader, management felt that it was important to have its environmental process third-party certified. He adds that the company’s motivation behind going green is rooted in responsibility.

We recognized that as a label converter, we impact the environment and, as always, we want to be better,” he says. “We want our customers to know that they are dealing with a supplier who is a good environmental steward and for employees to be proud of the company.  The combination of these factors prompted us to take steps to evaluate and improve our environmental footprint.”

Tommasi says the critical first step towards going green was the formation of a sustainability team. In order to evaluate impacts and ideas from different perspectives, the team included members from several areas in the company. The next step was “a learning process” to better understand the company’s environmental impact.

“We undertook solid waste audits and evaluated our use of energy and natural resources,” Tommasi says.  “We also began to educate and engage our employees. This included the implementation of a ‘Green Ideas’ suggestion box. As is always the case, the best ideas came from our employees.”

The final and most critical step for The Label Printers was to evaluate each of its environmental impacts and come up with improvements. “From there, it was just a question of implementing those changes,” Tommasi says.

Labestock supplier UPM Raflatac launched a similar approach five years ago when it developed an Environmental Management System (EMS) in accordance with ISO 14001:2004. According to Laura Cummings, safety, health and environmental manager at UPM Raflatac, a primary focus of the company’s EMS has been diverting office and production waste from landfill collection.

“It has yielded dramatic results,” she says. “The percentage of total landfill waste from our North Carolina facility has decreased from 46.8% in 2007 to 15.9% in 2012.”

On the production side, she adds, UPM Raflatac has built-in recycling systems for cardboard, papers, plastic films and other materials that are staples in its manufacturing processes. “Our latest EMS internal audits indicated that we can identify and obtain more recyclables from our non-production areas with these recycling systems,” she says. “Having recently learned that our local recycling centers can accept new types of materials, we are working diligently to discover new areas where we can improve.”

WS Packaging Group, a label converter with nearly two dozen locations, decided to establish and maintain a formal environmental policy “to ensure its facilities and business operations are in compliance with or exceed federal, state and local environmental standards.” The company established a Corporate Sustainability Committee, as well as a set of guidelines for 22 WS Packaging Facilities.

The company’s established guidelines include recycling initiatives, reduced emissions, energy conservation, pallet and box projects, and sustainability education, among several others. The plan outlines dozens of ways in which WS Packaging decided to reduce waste (and therefore, cost) across the entire company. For example, in order to conserve energy, the company installed dimmer switches and motion sensors for lighting in offices and production areas. Buildings in need of updating underwent changes in order to reduce heating and cooling costs.

WS Packaging’s pallet and box projects include one in which a final-product shipping box is supplied and returned filled with labels for application. The final product is shipped to retail in the same box. According to the company, one of its customer’s measured reusable box program resulted in seven tons of corrugated material saved annually.

According to Rex Lane, CEO, “With environmental consciousness comes cost savings, revenue and differentiation from the competition. We need to be as green as we can be. For example, LIFE certification from TLMI is a tool that can do that. WS Packaging was one of the first converters to obtain the LIFE certification. In adopting such standards, along with our other sustainability and environmental initiatives, WS Packaging gains more credibility and focus.”

What’s good for the goose…
There is something to be said for doing the right thing. Recycling initiatives and other eco-friendly practices are no doubt healthy for a company’s bottom line, but can also inspire other ways in which a business can contribute to the world.

An extended text label by WS Packaging reduces the overall package.
For example, in February of this year, The Label Printers launched its “Take Stock for Education” program. The converter invited teachers from West Aurora, IL, schools to come to its plant and choose from any available materials not usable for manufacturing, such as cores, labelstock and laminates, oversized papers and miscellaneous office supplies.

Tommasi says of the program, “The ‘Take Stock for Education’ program offers a variety of materials, some of which will be used with students, others may be used to decorate classrooms or as office supplies for teachers in fulfilling the administrative aspects of their positions. These materials will not only help teachers provide a more enriched learning environment, but they also save the school district critical financial resources. We are happy to have been able to help teachers and students and we look forward to expanding this program to additional school districts and offering many open houses in the future.” 

He adds, “It has been incredible to see what has been made with materials that were sent to landfill before the sustainability program began.”

Jay Luft, vice president of technology at McDowell Label, Plano, TX, USA, says that his company has reaped many financial benefits since going green, but the most remarkable one has been the change amongst employees.

“Of all the benefits related to achieving our goals for greening the workplace, including reduction in energy costs, reduction of hundreds of thousands kWh annually, increased productivity, finding a home for waste, increased recycling, etc., the greatest immeasurable has been the employee buy-in and ownership for actively learning new and improved procedures and processes. It’s woven into our culture. You could say, ‘the cheese has moved’.”

Tommasi, of The Label Printers, adds, “One of the most significant benefits has been seeing our employees realize that green initiatives
can have a significant environmental impact but do not have to come at a cost. It has helped us all realize that on both a business and a personal level, being a better environmental steward can also be financially beneficial.”

TLMI establishes LIFE mentoring program
The TLMI Environmental Health and Safety Committee has recently announced the formation of the LIFE Mentoring Program. The program’s aim is to assist TLMI member companies who are considering the certification process or about to embark on becoming certified, by partnering companies with certified members who can help them with any questions or concerns they have.

Committee member Brian Hurst, VP manufacturing for Yerecic Label, explains what was behind the creation of the program and the committee’s goals in offering the program to members. “Those of us on the committee started speaking with one another about some of the feedback we were receiving from companies who are not yet TLMI LIFE certified. A comment that we heard repeated was, ‘We’re afraid.’ People are afraid of the unknown. I made the suggestion of starting a mentoring program to TLMI LIFE Committee Chair John McDermott because I think when companies begin the process, some of them might be very interested in being connected with a certified company they can speak to.”

The Mentoring Program was officially put in place last fall, directly following the TLMI Annual Meeting. The program currently has 10 mentors – six converters and four suppliers. According to Hurst, when asked why they have not yet become LIFE certified, companies often voice concerns about costs and how becoming certified might impact their day to day operation. “What a lot of companies don’t realize is that if something is a good business practice, then it’s probably also a good environmental practice,” Hurst says. “The first company I assisted was already doing some of the steps within the LIFE certification process and didn’t even realize it.”

At the Annual Meeting, the committee hosted a breakfast that was open to all member companies seeking information about LIFE and the certification process. Committee members report that a number of companies are already using the program, and they anticipate the total number of certified companies will exceed 50 facilities by the end of 2013 (currently, 46 facilities have achieved LIFE certification).
When asked about how a company should begin the certification process, Hurst commented on his own experience. “I would recommend that anyone who is beginning the certification process form a team across all departments of their company. There are elements of the certification process that involve accounting, sales, operations, etc. and you want to have a cross functional team in place. When we started, I made an announcement to everyone that we were embarking on something called LIFE certification and that this program was not only good for Yerecic Label, it was good for the environment as well. That first day I had 14 volunteers who were interested in being part of the certification process. We broke the scorecard down step by step and decided who was best suited to work on these items given their departmental function.” – from TLMI Illuminator, June 2013

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