Sustainability in the Marketplace

SGP Update

I recently attended a meeting that aimed to present the concept of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership to a prominent environmental organization. The meeting was precipitated by the organization’s query into what a printing facility was doing that went beyond the certification requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council. The organization, long a supporter of FSC certification, is now asking questions that go beyond substrate choices and into the realm of corporate sustainability practices. Further, the organization has begun to realize the boundaries set around FSC certification. The FSC-certification program sets international standards for responsible forest/timber management. Although a strong certification program, there is no mention of compliance obligations, continuous improvements, carbon footprints or energy reductions. While a fine system for certification of one substrate, it is not a holistic approach to corporate sustainability. This trend of looking beyond FSC or Sustainable Forestry Initiative certification to a more comprehensive approach to sustainability is a growing trend in today’s marketplace.

More importantly, the recognition that the SGP Partnership does indeed provide this holistic approach is beginning to resonate with our customer base. One such customer is sports footwear and apparel maker, Nike. Long viewed as one of the most progressive companies in the sustainability arena, Nike recognizes the benefits of the SGP Partnership program. First, they grasp and understand the need for a sector-based sustainability initiative — and one that requires the facility to consider all parts of the operation within the purview of the program. To this end, Nike is the first major customer to include a contractual requirement asking screen printing and wide-format digital imaging companies to become SGP certified within 12 months. Are they totally ignoring FSC or SFI certification? The answer is, no, they are not. They are still committed to using printers in the commercial printing market that are FSC certified.

It has been argued that in the current economic climate, the notion of green or sustainability has lost its attraction. We find that the customer base of the imaging community disagrees. A survey of 2,000 packaging suppliers and brand owners by Packaging Digest magazine found that 80 percent of the companies are somewhat familiar with sustainability initiatives. A more telling statistic is that 57 percent have customers who require some type of sustainability initiative. This is supported by a 2009 survey undertaken by Graphic Arts Monthly. The GAM survey built upon a similar research survey launched in 2008.

The GAM survey included the following question: In the past year, do you feel the emphasis on sustainable printing has increased, stayed about the same or decreased in importance? The question was asked of more than 600 printing facilities utilizing a variety of print platforms, including wide-format digital imaging. The response was telling; 73 percent of the respondents saw an increased emphasis in the marketplace.

These same printers were asked to report the percentage of their customers asking or inquiring about sustainable printing. In 2008, 6 percent of the printers indicated that over half of their customers were asking the question. By 2009, the number had increased to 9 percent. A bigger jump can be seen by the percentage of the customer base requiring sustainable printing. In 2008, 4 percent of the respondents indicated that about half of their customers were requiring sustainable printing. By 2009, this number increased to 7 percent of the print community. Just looking at these numbers, one can conclude that sustainability in the printing industry will likely increase in importance.

A new study, “Sustainable Print in a Dynamic Global Market: What Going Green Means,” due to be released by the Print Industries Market Information and Research Organization (PRIMIR), lists the following as characteristics of a green organization:

  • They pursue sustainability of their own initiative.
  • They have an environmental management system.
  • They understand the importance of accreditation.
  • They enjoy management commitment on sustainability.
  • They actively promote their green practices.

These characteristics also can be attributed to those printers that have undertaken the task of certification under the SGP Partnership and also why companies, such as Nike, recognize the viability of using the program to help make their supply chains greener.

Corporate sustainability is about innovation. It is an entirely fresh way of doing business that makes sense, not only for the community in which the business operates but also for the bottom line. It is a time of fundamental change and a paradigm shift in how business is done. The bottom line now is more than just a number; the bottom line is accountability. Nike recognizes and embraces this concept as the first company to adopt the SGP Partnership Program as a procurement strategy to ensure a sustainable supply chain. We see the trend continuing as more retailers recognize the need for a more holistic approach.

The mission of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership is to encourage and promote environmental responsibility of the print and graphics providers through sustainable green printing practices. For more information about the SGP Partnership and to learn how to become SGP certified, visit