By Brian Collins
Green initiatives seem to be everyone’s focus these days. Companies are even using their environmental efforts to market themselves and sell their products. Just about everyone is jumping on this huge bandwagon to avoid being left in the dust.
I set out to talk with a leader in environmentally-friendly and sustainable printing in Canada; someone who is helping to steer this bandwagon in directions that will aid the environment and the printing industry: Matthew Alexander of Colour Innovations.
The sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council, and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Council (SFI, FSC, and PEFC) are three huge certification companies that most printers consider joining to meet their client’s demands for environmentally-friendly printing options. These three certifications are interested in the paper supply, ensuring that it is coming from certified sustainable forests that utilize responsible management of forests. While these three certifications are great, there is a new program that just started accepting applications in August 2008 that’s definitely a step further in the right direction.
The program is called the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). According to their website (www.sgppartnership.org), the program was developed to “encourage and promote participation in the worldwide movement to reduce environmental impact and increase social responsibility of the print and graphic communications industry trough sustainable green printing practices.” More specifically, they are interested in a printer’s entire business operation from what type of raw materials they are using to where they are storing and using their chemicals to how they recycle and dispose of their harmful wastes. Printers who wish to join the partnership need to meet the criteria of the partnership’s established performance standards. Once they have been approved through a verification process, they are listed as a” sustainable green printer” and customers can search the SGP database to find green printers in their area.
The SGP was formed because many printers are becoming certified through SFI, FSC or PEFC and calling themselves “green printers,” which is not entirely true. Printers may be certified and using pulp and paper from certified forests, but that does not take into account what they put down the drains, into the air and how they recycle their products – if they do at all. Without looking at a printer’s entire operations and identifying what areas where they are causing environmental damage, you are not really getting the whole picture painted for you.
Matthew Alexander shared his thoughts with me on the state of the Canadian printing industry’s environmental efforts and why he has committed so much time, effort and money to making his company one of the most certified and environmentally-friendly printers in Canada.
Brain Collins: First of all, congratulations on the three awards you won Feb. 12 at the Environmental Printing Awards (Gold Award for Most Environmentally Progressive Product or Service, Print; Gold Award for Most Environmentally Progressive Printer in Canada, 50-100 employees; Silver Award for Most Progressive Printing Project, Electrophotography). Would you like to comment about the awards you won; are any special to you?
Matthew Alexander: They are all special because they recognize our ongoing commitment to reducing the environmental footprint of ourselves and our clients. We invest a lot of time and money into our environmental policies and programs and it’s gratifying to know that our message is getting out and is being recognized by our peers.
BC: At the awards ceremony, you challenged other printers to follow your example. What exactly would you like other printers to do to get more involved in helping the environment?
MA: We’d like to see our print colleagues move beyond simply using Chain-of-Custody-certified papers as their primary claim to being “Green.” Using certified papers from the leading responsible forestry management organizations is good, but we want them to recognize that a far more important way to reduce their environmental footprint is to monitor and reduce the chemicals and other toxins from the printing process that they are putting into our water and air. Being green is an attitude and it has to become an integral part of a company’s culture embraced by employees at every level.
BC: Do you think that more forestry companies will volunteer to be certified in the future due to increased demand or will it take more than that to get the entire industry on board?
MA: Forest certification is client-drive. The more their clients demand certified papers, the more printers will need them, and the more acreage will come under the management of one of the numerous forest Chain of Custody organizations. More forestry management companies will become certified because it’s good for business as well as being good for the environment.
BC: what are the benefits to a company like yours that commits to the environmental through certification and environmental programs?
MA: The various certification programs provide proof to our clients that we are indeed as environmentally responsible as we say we are because our policies and programs have been audited by a third-party outside organization and have been certified to be as described. Clients and prospects who are serious about improving their environmental position want their print partners to have these certifications. Not least, certifications are another way of separating us from our competition and attracting new clients who share our environmental values.
We have taken a leadership position in the industry with our environmental website “Lost in the Maze?” Through the information we provide and the questions we suggest, our goal is to educate and empower clients to ask their designers and printers the tough questions about environmental responsibility. Our website raises awareness of the environmental aspects of print production and gives clients the tools they need to hold their printers accountable.
BC: What are the advantages of being tri-certified?
MA: Being tri-certified (FSC, PEFC, SFI) simply provides more paper choices for our clients. More choice is always a good thing. Our award-winning environmental website presents each of the major paper merchants’ paper lists and provides colour-coded information on their forest management certifications, post-consumer waste content, eco-management systems, bleaching process, and energy consumption rates for each stock. Check it out at: www.colourinnovations.com and click on “Environmental Responsibility.”
BC: Do each provide their own specific advantage?
MA: There is very little difference between the papers from the major mills. As above, having more than one Chain of Custody certification provides customers with more choices. Some printers support only one certification organization, but we support them all and leave the final decision as to which certified paper best meets their specific environmental requirements up to our clients.
BC: They all seem to be working towards a common purpose. If they merged together, do you think they may be able to form strategic alliances rather than compete? Will they ever merge?
MA: The major suppliers do seem to be working towards a common purpose, but I don’t foresee them merging in any way. They have considerably different management and certification systems and they are financial competitors. There would be no advantage to them merging and indeed, competition between them may be better for the environment and the graphic arts industry.
BC: You were the first company in Canada to achieve “company pending verification” status with SGP, with membership most likely not too far away. What made you want to join the new program which just started accepting applications in August 2008?
MA: The environmental standards of the SGP program are very strict, virtually at ISO 14001 level. We naturally want to keep raising the bar for ourselves as well as continue to reduce our own environmental footprint. As noted earlier, we also want to drive home to our clients, suppliers and industry colleagues that the management of liquid waste and effluent is what affects us most here in Ontario and that’s where our collective efforts should be focused. We believe SGP certification will help in raising industry standards to the next level and we are pleased to take the lead in raising awareness of this new program.
BC: What do you see as the main difference between tri-certification and the SGP?
MA: The two programs are not really comparable in any meaningful way. Tri-certification is strictly about the paper manufacturing and distribution process. These three certifications ensure that the paper we are using comes from well-managed, sustainable forests. It is a good thing, of course, but it is only about paper. The paper part of the printing process is the least of the variables that threaten the environment.
Much more important, as noted earlier, is how printers monitor and mange the chemical and other waste products from the printing process. At Colour Innovations, we are certainly as proud of our EcoLogo CCD-041 TerraChoice certification by the federal government earned back in 1997 (we were the first printer in Ontario to be EcoLogo certified) as we are of tri-certification today because the EcoLogo certification deals with the environmental impact of our effluent, which we have reduced by 70% over the years.
Likewise, the SGP program is much more broadly-based than the forestry management programs and it deals with what we believe are the more serious environmental concerns. Because it is even more comprehensive than our EcoLogo certification, it will take us to a new level of environmental responsibility. If we are going to preach to our clients, colleagues and suppliers about caring for the environment, we must walk the talk ourselves.
BC: Can you name all of the certifications/accreditations your company has?
MA: EcoLogo CCD-041 TerraChoice-certified, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified, Rainforest Alliance-certified, PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification)-certified, SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative)-certified, SGP (Sustainable Green Printing Partnership) CPV (Candidate Pending Verification) status, Bullfrog Powered, TRSP P-2 Assessment.
BC: SO we’ve talked about the advantages of certifications and eco-friendly action from a business standpoint already. Is there a personal reason you feel responsible for the environment?
MA: We all have families, children and grandchildren. We all live in Ontario. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water. If we don’t mend our ways and cleanup how we do business, we will be bequeathing our children and grandchildren a planet that will no longer be able to sustain them. It is only common sense and self-preservation for us and the ones we love. We all have to do our bit and every green action makes a difference.
BC: That is very true. Thank you for your time, Matthew.
I could tell from the way Matthew was talking about the awards, his certifications, his company and the industry, that he’s very passionate about helping the environment and making our planet as healthy as possible for as long as possible. I hope that everyone accepts Matthew’s challenge to be more environmentally friendly and follow in his “green” footsteps.
10 Questions to Ask Your Printer
1. Are they Ecologo, FSC, SFI and or PEFC certified?
2. Are their processes managed to minimize their environmental footprint?
3. Have they gained any industry-specific environmental awards?
4. Do they have an active health and safety committee and policy?
5. Have they conducted a comprehensive Pollution Prevention (P2) assessment?
6. Where does their energy come from?
7. Are they committed to environmental education?
8. Of the three Rs, do they practice the first and middle “Rs”?
9. How many trees did they save last year?
10. Are they offering a digital printing option?