Last week’s PrintingForLess (PFL) press release about its recent FSC certification caught my eye as Earth Day approached.  This is the icing on the cake for this environmentally conscious web-based printing company located in Livingston, Montana.  In 2006, the company moved into a brand-new building that was designed according to its business model, culture, the needs of its employees, its community, and the environment.  WhatTheyThink spoke with Wyeth Windham, the company’s Production Manager, an articulate and very knowledgeable individual who has heavily involved in many of the company’s environmental initiatives.  Wyeth indicates that with the proper planning and consideration, the building was not any more expensive than an environmentally-insensitive building would have been.  Here’s more from Wyeth.

WTT:  Wyeth, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule there at PrintingForLess to speak with me about your environmental initiatives.  I hope this discussion inspires our readers as they think about their own Green status.  Can you start by talking to us about PrintingForLess and your FSC certification?

WW:  Sure.  We are at about $30 million in revenues this year, and we are a 100% web-to-print company.  We co-source about 20% of our print to a tightly integrated network of qualified printers.  Most of them were already FSC certified.

Our paper supplier, Unisource, became FSC certified, so we had access to a range of FSC certified papers, many of which were current house stock.  It was a nice, natural expansion for us to get certified ourselves.  An auditor visited us, and we were certified on the first pass, which is something that only two out of ten companies are able to do.  What it all comes down to is implementing and maintaining certain systems and controls in your organization.  The FSC chain of custody certification is really about guaranteeing that the inventory used on each individual print project is up to the standards set forth by the FSC.  Since I am not able to supervise the entire path that a paper product takes from beginning to end, the FSC certification provides a reliable chain-of-custody standard, allowing us to provide a promise to our customers that they are doing their part to ensure the sustainability of forests. In additional to having the certification, it is also important to manage the materials and inventories correctly. For example, it is part of my practice to make sure that certain products are handled in certain ways and to ensure that we don’t mix FSC certified products with non certified products. 

WTT:  Can you give us some insight into how you do that?

WW:  To help manage the inventory in the warehouse, we switched all of our standard stocks to FSC certified papers. We have been using Topkote as our primary house stock for coated paper.  It is a quality paper from a customer standpoint, and it comes from FSC certified sources, so it fits in well with the chain of custody certification. By modifying our current processes to incorporate the new FSC standards, we were able to maintain control over our inventory with little change to standard practices.

WTT:  Are you using recycled papers?

WW:  The paper we buy does not have recycled content in it, but it does comply with very stringent standards relative to chlorine levels and chain of custody. You want chlorine-free papers because chlorine and the various bleaching chemicals that can be used in manufacturing paper are worse for the environment than cutting trees down.  If you want to make an environmentally conscious decision on paper, you have to consider a couple of different factors.  You have to make sure it is chlorine-free. That should be a given at this point, since most of our standard papers are today. The next step is to ensure that the paper is 100% FSC certification.  That is a little harder because only 10% of world’s forests are FSC certified. Another option is an FSC certified mixed source.  Whether you are using papers from a 100% or a mixed source, it is still the right way to go. Recycled content has a place, but ultimately we are printing high-end marketing materials and we need to make sure the final product turns out well. Recycled pulp does not always produce the best print and the supply of high-quality recycled paper is rare and expensive.  FSC certified papers primarily come from tree farms as a renewable resource; for us, these represent a perfect balance of quality and cost effectiveness. The FSC certification ensures not just the fact that the pulp source is a tree farm, but that the timber company maintains a clean environment and is doing business in a way that is good for the local economy.  I appreciate the fact that local communities are still able to utilize their forests, and that the timber industry is operating in a way that maintains the environment.  Whether you are buying FSC certified cabinets at Home depot or paper from Unisource, it is really about changing the way the timber industry does business. 

WTT:  What else do you think about as you consider the environmental sustainability of your business beyond paper?

WW:  Papers are only one small piece of the environmental picture, although an important piece.  You need to reduce your waste to be more environmentally friendly, consuming less overall paper.  Then you need to make sure you are recycling all of your waste. That is just a sound business practice for a printer.  You should be getting good money for that waste, because there is a high demand for it.  And, of course, recycling aluminum, etc.  The mantra is reduce, reuse, recycle.

Beyond that, there is a great deal more to consider.  Are you regularly testing for your VOC (volatile organic compound) emission levels?  How much are you putting into the air? You should understand what are the most stringent levels being enforced by agencies and whether you can meet those.  It is important for the environment, but it is also important for employee health, and that is our primary concern. 

WTT:  How do you find out about your VOC emission levels?

WW:  We called the local university, and they were able to refer us to an independent engineering firm that does environmental testing.  Most cities will have similar resources available.  They will do an 8–12 hour study across your factory for a few thousand bucks.  You get a detailed report back, which tells you about your higher risk VOCs and provides suggestions for reduction, including what you could change in your chemical use to help continue to reduce VOC levels.  Conducting this study annually is sufficient, as there is really not a need to do it more often.

WTT:  This is probably a good lead-in to a discussion about your new building.

WW:  Yes, you need to also think about the environment within and around your building.  Does it consume power efficiently? Are you using the right voltage in your lighting?  That was a big deal for us; 233 volts is the most efficient level for fluorescent lighting.  We run an electrical system just for that.  We also do radiant floor heating because it is more efficient than forced air heating and it is also more comfortable and better for employees.  The two most important factors we consider are the impact on the environment and maintaining the health of our employees.  These considerations are related in so many ways. We also put a humidification system in the building to ensure that we have adequate humidity in our building. Because we have a company-run daycare center here and there are a lot of studies that show that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome can be reduced by comfortable humidity levels; we are really conscious about that.  Being environmentally conscious is about being employee conscious and providing a healthy environment.  We also have lots of green plants in our building because they consume carbon dioxide.  It makes the air feel fresher and they look great.

WTT:  What are some of the other special features of your building?

WW:  We have a 46,000 square foot building that is built into a hill, which helps the environment in a number of ways. First, the hill helps to prevent wind from stripping the heat from the building. It also reduced our elevation so that we don’t block the natural views of our neighbors.  In addition, we put a massive light well in the center of the building, so even if you are at the back of the building where it is built into the hill, you have natural light and it reduces our overall lighting needs. There is less energy consumption and it is better for our employees.  We also put in a lot of landscaping native to the area—low water consumption, high growth evergreen trees that propagate a natural forest environment.

WTT:  Is PrintingForLess doing anything outside the business from an environmental perspective?

WW:  We certainly are.  One example is that on Earth Day, we are giving each of our 200 or so employees a tree to plant anywhere they would like to plant it.  We are also doing a full cleanup in our wetlands area, where PFL employees will remove trash from our own properties and other surrounding properties. We do this every year, because not only does it help the environment, it also motivates our employees to contribute to the community.

WTT:  I have been told by some smaller printers that it is too expensive for a small business to become FSC certified.  Can you comment about that?

WW:  The cost depends on the state of your internal systems.  You may have to redo some of your systems, so you may have costs there.  The certification process only costs $3,000 to $5,000, depending on your location, and there is an annual fee of $2,500 to have them come in for an audit once a year for five years; that fee also depends on location.  With good processes in place it is not that expensive, and it can be a great marketing tool.  Our customers are continually striving for ways to be more environmentally-friendly.  If your customers are, you must consider doing this, or they will end up leaving you for someone who will.  We have a broad base of customers that really appreciate our efforts.

WTT:  Wyeth, this has been extremely informative.  Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?

WW:  One thing that is important to keep in mind is that I don’t think we will ever be that perfect ‘green’ business. No company is. We just try to do the best job we can.  There are so many different ways to be environmentally conscious, and I think it is important to do what is right for you, your employees, your company and your community.  For example, PFL employees recently started up a self-formed, self-directed recycling committee who is dedicated to recycling non-manufacturing waste, including aluminum, plastic, paper and newspaper. Although they get to keep whatever revenue is generated by this project, they don’t do it for the money.  They do it because they want to demonstrate an environmentally conscious attitude.  In Montana, we have a lot of people who really appreciate the beautiful surroundings. In fact, it is one of the biggest reasons why most of us live here.  As a result, we strive to practice sensible alternatives to help preserve the clean environment and natural beauty in which we work and play everyday.