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EarthColor is this year’s Beyond Sustainability Award winner

Published on June 13, 2011

Dave Podmayersky, Director of Sustainability for EarthColor shares with Richard Romano just how they won the award for Beyond Sustainability at the Third Annual Environmental Innovation Awards

Richard Romano:  Hi, this is Richard Romano.  I’m Managing Editor of What They Think is Going Green Blog and we’re here at Atlanta Georgia for the Third Annual Environmental Innovation Awards.  And we’re talking with Dave Podmayersky who is the Director of Sustainability for Earth Color who is this year’s Beyond Sustainability Award winner.  So, first of all congratulations.

Dave Podmayersky: Thank you sir.

Richard:  Now you were last year’s Thought Leader winner in the Second Annual Environmental Innovation Awards and the sheer tonnage of the stuff that guys you do in terms of sustainability is really kind of astounding and one of the comments I hear from printers who haven’t necessarily embraced the sustainability is that well who has the time, never mind the expense, to sort of do all these things.  I mean I guess I’m just wondering how you make time to pursue all the avenues that you guys are pursuing.

Dave:  Well it’s a great question and we make time because it makes business sense.  It makes financial sense.  It makes marketing sense.  It makes positioning sense.  So we make time because it’s part of who we are, how we’re conducting our business, and is part of our business model.  So in an effort to be sustainable this is not about tree hugging, this is about reinventing our business, establishing who we are, how we do business, how we generate profits.  

Richard: So you’re investing in a lot of new technologies.  Can you give me some examples of some of the stuff that you’re looking at.  

Dave: Sure, one of the technologies we’ve been in the forefront of is using bio-oxidation to consume plant emissions; airborne emissions.  So what we’re doing basically is using the airs natural organic processes to do what’s called an oxidation reduction reaction.  So basically simply we’re sucking all the air from the plant into these devices, there’s enzymes and natural bacteria in there that are scrubbing the air, scrubbing the gases and the particulars out of it, and consuming it.  So rather than producing air pollution, goes into these devices, rather than going into the lungs of our employees, it’s going in these devices and is being eaten by these bugs if you will.  So that’s just one example; the types of new technologies that we’re using.

Richard:  And you’re also redeveloping some footprint calculators.  How do those differ from some of the standard ones you find online these days?

Dave:  Well most of the calculators are looking specifically at the paper footprint.  So they’re looking at water, the carbon emissions, energy consumption from the production of paper.  So if you look at the environmental paper network or the calculators from the mills, they’re looking specifically at the paper.  What we did is we took our processes and I think we’re the first ones to do this we took the entire paper and print production supply chain. So we took the paper metrics and calculations and we add on to top of that the printing process, energy, VOCs, carbon emissions from the printing process, we add it all together and we’re calculating the entire supply chain footprint rather than just paper.  That’s where we’ve taken it to the next step.

Richard:  It sounds like you have sort of a scientific or engineering background.

Dave:  I’ve studied engineering.  I basically earned my living in this industry for the past 20 years as an efficiency expert.  So really looking at sustainability from the standpoint of being efficient with time, logistics, raw materials was the genesis of what we did.  So we just added the lenses of environmental responsibility and social integrity on top of efficiency engineering.  This really started out as a ISO 9000 initiative and then we just layered on top of that those efficiencies, Six Sigma, and then really looking at the global reporting initiative in terms of environmental metrics.  Then we basically hired my son who’s a young computer scientist who created the algorithms to do the calculator output. So we took our environmentally engineered workflows, developed algorithms and turned it into a piece of computer software.

Richard:  So it’s all about data and IT analysis.

Dave: Yeah, well it’s about the metrics, right.  At the end of the day it’s about hard core data and metrics.  If you’re not measuring it and monitoring it, you can’t make any claims against that.  So my thing has always been unless we’re moving energy and unless we’re reconstructing molecules differently or using energy, kilowatts of energy, differently or moving things at the microscopic level, we’re just talking about things.  So that’s where the science and engineering comes in to reinventing the way we’re doing things.

Richard:  Now you’ve also investigating some sort of tree-free paper as alternatives to paper like wheat based papers.

Dave:  Yeah.  

Richard:  How have they performed in terms of cost and printability and all those sorts of things? 

Dave:  They’ve performed very well.  This initiative we started working with a non-profit organization.  They’re based out of primarily Canada called Canopy.  And they were working with – they have initiative called you’re basically using agriculture residue to create papers.  And it was a really unique idea from their prospective of looking at hey, we’ve only made paper from trees for the last 150 years or so, we can take pressure off of our forests by looking at non-tree related pulp.  So forever, as humans, we’ve been making paper from non-tree sources.  So it’s kind of a giant leap backwards.  There’s tremendous amounts of wheat chaff.  So the beauty of this whole process is we can take the food value from harvesting the wheat crop, then we all this chaff left and indeed we can make good quality paper out of it.  Right now, the testing that we’ve done, we’ve been bringing the paper in from India where the cieling mill is made.  There’s an analysis going on now to do this in conjunction with the Canadian government and some paper mills in Canada to possibly build a mill in North America to do wheat paper production.  So the originally testing we’ve limited to our digital printing presses.  Smaller format, but in that context it’s performed very well.  The sheets that we’re using is 95% wheat fiber and they’ve printed tremendously well.  It’s not for everything.  We’re not to the point of using coded papers for this now but it certainly has a potential that we can make a major shift forward from primarily tree production that we can look at wheat production as a primary source for paper pulping in North America.

Richard:  I also can’t help but wonder if wheat paper would be good with port wine cheese on it.  

Dave:  Oh, absolutely. 

Richard:  Now you’re also participating in a carbon trading program with some communities down in South America.  Can you talk about that a little bit?

Dave:  Yeah, well we have an international program so we were working with Conservation International and supporting the Makira Reserve project which is in Madagascar.  Basically identified as one of the 70 or so bio-diversity hot spots on the planet, so basically funding, buying carbon offsets to fund underground research of scientists, understand the bio-diversity, taking that carbon value and protecting the remaining forests of Madagascar.  There’s only like 10% of it left.  With the help that we can, A) save the bio-diversity and start to repopulate it.  This year we’ve added a domestic program where we’re working with a non-profit called MACED in Appalachia where they’re working with small format land owners who are now taking those carbon osagyer and those dollars and using that to basically protect their land, not cut down the trees, kind of help preserve some of the mountaintop removal that’s going on and some of what’s going down there.  They don’t care about the forest, they just plow to the side to get to the coal but this gives them the incentive, these small land owners, to use their land in a more sustainable manner.  So that’s got the social engineering and the environmental engineering and MACED is just a little small non-profit out of Appalachia but doing all the right things for the right reasons.  And we’ve been fortunate to be able to support that.

Richard:  Terrific.  Now what are some of the tangible benefits that Earth Color itself has seen as a result of its commitment to sustainability? 

Dave:  Well, there’s it goes into three legs really. The tangible results certainly goes into our attractiveness to our clients.  A lot of our clients are major corporations and so they’re saddled with sustainability directives from their corporation.  So they’re looking to engineering to build sustainable supply chains.  So what we can do is go into these corporations, work every much on a consultative basis many times to they know they need to green up their supply chains but they don’t know how to go about it.  They’re experts in what they do, not what we do, so we can work with our clients to engineer new workflows, new products and have a much lower footprint, making us more attractive to employees, certainly to our investors in the overall value of our company and ultimately managing our bottom line in a much more efficient manner.  If done correctly, sustainability is all about optimizing the use of materials and resources, time and logistics.  So we’ve had tremendous benefits for all aspects of our corporation. So it’s really not about tree hugging, right.  It’s about reengineering our business.  It’s about reengineering our industry.  We’ve had a resurgence in manufacturing just starting up in this country. So that’s what it’s all about, is really the resurgence and reinventing our industry and our country in a much more sustainable efficient manner.

Richard: Great.  Fantastic and thanks for talking to us, and congratulations again.

Dave: Pleasure. Thank you.

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