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Every manufacturing process consumes resources and produces waste. Print included. As one expert expressed, sustainability will never be regulated. It will only occur through market demand. And the question is who is demanding sustainable practices from printers?   

 Exploring that question is easy in some instances, and difficult to impossible in others. One easy case is Estee Lauder (ELC, Inc) who publishes their goals. Perfect for printers capable of servicing an account of that size. They essentially are stating what they want a vendor to provide (hint: that’s value add). If you are the PSP that can provide those benchmarks on green/sustainability, then you have a real shot at winning the business. Demand generated sustainable practices.   

 A benefit to a printer that has a high level of green and sustainable processes and a large client that supports you with their business, there are likely other smaller customers that can then obtain those services simply because they are available. Good, stable businesses have a mix of large and small clients. A PSP that markets with that message to the right prospects will succeed in offering green services.

ELC, Inc. goals for Packaging 

Este Lauder Companies Sustainability report 2020

The challenge facing smaller PSPs with smaller size customers is daunting. Many sustainable practices result in higher cost. Printers already have driven prices down by a pricing per sheet approach rather than value of the project. This willingness plays into the hands of procurement professionals, both internal to the customer or professional print buying companies. Driving costs down is their goal and the metric used to prove their worth. This approach is antithetical to encouraging sustainable solutions and practices. It is true if the end user has specified sustainable practices, then it is more likely higher prices are justified by that demand. 

 For customers who buy based on price, which is often the dynamic with online print buying, price rules. When a PSP who is dependent on Web-to-Print ecommerce customers can offer competitive prices AND sustainable options, they will be a more attractive choice to many of their prospects. Who in the retail B2C markets cares about sustainability and green practices? The numbers and mix of people may surprise many PSP marketing teams and shop owners. Perception versus reality about the demographics is represented in this chart (image below)

From PNAS.org- Underestimation of concern by classification

The required amount of awareness of your target customer’s concern is the information used to express value and determine cost acceptance threshold. If you follow a marketing program, factors of concern must be considered to keep the messaging relevant. For some, it is price, for others, it is the effect on the environment.   

 Marketing a PSP’s green profile must be based on measurable processes and facts. The sales team must understand what is in the customer’s scope of concern and what they can afford for their print requirements. It is imperative that ‘greenwashing’ be avoided. All too often marketing and sales sell smoke over substance. Know that any green effort is appreciated as much as an affordable price. There are organizations that offer certification in green and sustainable practices which provides a position of authority. They determine specifications that are measurable. Certification should be considered a useful marketing tool.

  The cost of certification not only encompasses materials, energy usage and recycling, it also requires adherence and maintenance. They must market honestly, and they must verify all suppliers claims for consumables and other claims related to green.  Ultimately, green certification is an auditing practice that requires the integrity of an accounting program and the diligence of maintaining the data.  Otherwise, it has no value and does not help obtain a more ecological manufacturing operation.   

 The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) https://sgppartnership.org/ “promotes a sustainable print supply chain through best practices, innovation, information sharing and validation.” It is run by volunteers who are knowledgeable on the issues and challenges facing sustainable manufacturing. While the program and certification process are well defined, adoption by the industry has been slow. INKISH estimates there are 60,000 PSPs in the United States and Canada. Only 61 have chosen to be certified. 

 Many who have seriously considered going through the certification process bailed when the scope of the ongoing effort became apparent. To be sure the burden of sustainability falls on the shoulders of the printer. Each PSP must reliably convey their “greenness” to customers that require it. They also bear the responsibility of verifying that consumables such as inks and solvents meet green standards outlined by the SGP certification requirements. To help with increasing authority, SGP is following the Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to establish what green means for various products. Think of it as a truth in advertising validation. 

 The Green Tracker is reporting software that is fed data by the certified facilities. It is intended to benchmark a baseline (from all participating facilities) against which a given facility can compare the results of their green efforts.  The data is anonymous and intended to measure effectiveness of operational efforts to improve all things that can be made greener and more sustainable.

 A greener and sustainable print industry is possible if buyers and manufacturers want it to happen. And that is in and of itself a value equation. Can the print industry afford to be green? Can it afford not to be? 

 Whether you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right. There is no try, only do.

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