I sit here contemplating the title of this article: what would constitute a reality check on sustainability? There are many stakeholders to consider for this exercise. Do we consider the printing facility? Suppliers? Customers? For a true reality check, the answer is simple. All need to be considered as all have a part to play.

Adopting a sustainable business ethic goes beyond a simple checklist. Facilities that are engaging in adopting this pathway agree that it is a journey, not a simple destination. Creating a sustainable organization requires commitment. It’s easy to differentiate “green” businesses from “sustainable” businesses. Those that tout that they are green push the relative merits of their products. Those incorporating sustainable business practices talk about how their processes have become more streamlined and the monies that have been saved. Companies tout the amount of waste that has been diverted from landfills and into the recycling stream. The emphasis, rather than on the attributes of the product going out the door, is on what they are doing to create a better world.

For instance, Image Options, a screen and digital printing facility located in Foothill Ranch, Calif., has partnered with Trash 4 Teaching. Trash 4 Teaching is an organization that recycles manufacturing materials that would otherwise go to a landfill. Companies can send their recyclable material to Trash 4 Teaching’s California office, where it is then repurposed and sent to teachers, students, and artists to use for projects. Image Options sends material such as cardboard and vinyl from their facility. We also can take a look at PhotoCraft, a retail graphics printer located in Beaverton, Ore., who participates in Nike’s Re-use a Shoe Program, which strips shoes of rubber and uses the material to build playgrounds throughout the United States. By having employees bring in old their old shoes, the company has been able to donate 110 pounds of tennis shoes to the program.FLEXcon, a manufacturer of pressure sensitive films and adhesives, has long run a School Stock program that provides local non-profit groups with free material every year. Through the donation of outer wraps, end rolls, and aged sample stock of self-adhesive material to teachers and other individuals from not-for-profit organizations, large amounts of material are kept from being needlessly incinerated each year.

When taking a reality check, suppliers of chemicals, substrates, and even equipment, should take stock of their sustainability positioning. FLEXcon is one such company that comes to mind. Located in Spencer, Mass., FLEXcon has implemented its own Environmental Management System that continues to reap benefits. They work with their customers and suppliers to minimize packaging waste and remain active in raw material recycling programs. However, similar to print facilities’ programs, FLEXcon also looks at internal operations. Working with employees to encourage healthier lifestyles and participate in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program demonstrates FLEXcon’s continued efforts to incorporate sustainable business practices into their operation.

Finally, the customer base. On the part of the customer, there is a strong track record of implementing an environmental strategy, both for internal as well as for external supply chain operations. However, when it comes to sustainability certifications, most that buy print do not differentiate Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP)certification from either FSC or SFI certification. Time for a reality check. Both FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) certification programs set international standards for responsible forest/timber management. Although a very strong certification program, there is no mention of compliance obligations, continuous improvement, and carbon footprint or energy reductions for those that use certified paper. While a highly recognized certification program for forest management, it does not represent a holistic approach to corporate sustainability for a printing facility.

Through an informal stakeholder study conducted by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Program, the buyers contacted indicated a strong awareness of the SGP certification program. However, they also indicated a reluctance to require their print channels to move towards adoption, indicating that a facility that has adopted a recycling program is good enough. Again a reality check. If the customer seeks to establish itself as a sustainable company, shouldn’t it require the same of its supply chain? For most customers, simply stating that a print facility is in compliance with its regulatory requirements is not enough. Facilities are asked for documentation that backs up their statements. This should hold true for statements regarding sustainability. Documentation is requested for FSC/SFI certifications. Why not for sustainable print operations? Again a reality check. As a sustainable company expecting to maintain its profile, would one work with a supply chain partner who understands your goals and objectives, still providing a great product at a fair price, with validated programs, or a partner who indicates that they are doing the right thing but cannot really prove? By working with those that have undergone the certification process of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Program, one can be assured of working with like-minded partners.

It is all about taking steps forward. Many companies, including printers, suppliers and those that buy print, are working to tackle sustainability issues in their operations. No matter the stakeholder group, working to engage with others in discussions surrounding sustainable business operations can be hard. Often the point person has many other responsibilities, one of which is to focus on sustainability. Huge opportunities do exist for companies from managing risk to finding cost reductions when moving to integrate sustainable practices. Reality check again. If it was simple to do, then everyone would be moving in this direction and there would be no need for discussion on the topic. It is time to pull the conversation forward to look beyond a single attribute certification to one that is more encompassing. And this is for all—printers, suppliers, and buyers!