The road to business sustainability can be a bumpy one, and some of the biggest bumps in the road are the assumptions that environmentally friendly products and services don’t work as well and cost a lot more than their mainstream equivalents. These common assumptions have a big impact on the markets for energy, transportation, building, food, and just about anything else.
While almost everyone will say they want to do the right thing for the environment when they’re surveyed on the phone, most of us don’t want to pay more for it. When we get to the cash register, most of us still buy stuff by looking at what things cost. Businesses are no different. A few will embrace sustainability for its own sake, but most are keenly interested in what it means for their bottom line.
Despite assumptions to the contrary though, businesses can provide value far beyond their environmental benefits. When I recently visited Thomas Ackerman at his shop for Spirit Graphics and Printing in Chula Vista, California (near San Diego), he walked me through some of the steps they’ve taken to deliver great printing, good business, and sound environmental stewardship all at the same time.
The shop was clean and print machines humming when I walked through with Ackerman, talking about the business and his family.
Ackerman’s family has been in the printing business for decades, and he’s been in print shops since he was seven, steeped in a pride in his work and a depth of experience that seems increasingly unusually.
Few people question the environmental impact of printing–wasted forests, waste water, and toxic inks and fumes. They just want their stationary and business cards. The part that worries us is the value we get out of printing. The trick is moving toward sustainability while keeping costs low and quality high. “As a business owner, I’m always trying to strike a balance of great, affordable and also sustainable printing,” said Ackerman.
Others may have thought he was crazy at the time, but by investing in efficient new printing technology Ackerman reduced their water use dramatically. They recycle almost everything, and use the latest and greatest in sustainably certified paper (FSC and SFI), reducing the impact on forests. Inks are made from soy, cutting back on volatile organics, fumes for workers, and waste to handle. And the operations of the shop are being offset with wind energy.
Spirit Graphics and Printing isn’t tilting at windmills (or turbines, as it were)–it’s a part of daily business for them, a part of who they are, and a key to their success. Reducing water use, wasting less energy, reducing paper waste, and reducing chemical waste all saves money for Ackerman and Spirit. Recycled papers offer the highest quality for printing, and eco-friendlier soy inks can look even better than standard inks. All of this helps Spirit stay competitive in price with other shops, and keep their quality high. And by making these changes, they’re differentiating themselves and standing out in the crow in a competitive industry,
Despite the onslaught of digital media, printing is still a fundamental fact of business life and won’t go away any time soon. The first impression many people have of your business is still often based on printed materials like business cards, brochures, banners, notepads, or mailers. If your printed material is cheap but low quality it may go straight into the circular waste file. If more environmentally friendly printed products are also high value and high quality, that makes connections and brings in business. At that point, making these decisions are just good business whether you care about the environment or not.
Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses” and “Starting Green”, helping businesses to start green and grow greener. You can get reach him at www.startingupgreen.com