A Sustainable Future for Print Buyers
Creating value with environmental performance

Written by Don Carli

Exponential growth is all too often misunderstood and all too seldom taken advantage of. Consider a pond lily that grows at an exponential rate. If it takes the lily a year to cover a pond, it takes 364 days to cover half the pond’s surface in green. The other half of the pond is covered in only one day. You may wonder: what does this have to do with print buying?

Printing publishing and packaging related business activities directly and indirectly employ in excess of 5 Million people, including you and me. They constitute as much as 25% of corporate supply chain and operational costs. In addition, they are among the largest industrial uses of fossil fuels and water, and generate significant amounts of landfill waste, greenhouse gases, volatile organic chemicals and other negative environmental impacts.

While the printing industry in general has not been growing at an exponential rate, digital printing has been growing a rate of 35% per year or better. One of the reasons the growth rates of digital printing, variable data printing, and print on demand are likely to continue is that these technologies make far more efficient use of materials, energy and knowledge assets than traditional offset technology. You should take advantage of this growth and align your career with the opportunities it will create.

Publishing and printing are in the midst of a radical transformation being driven by gaining business to package knowledge and goods faster, better, less expensively -- and with fewer negative environmental impacts. Expanding world populations, declining old growth forest, and the need to reduce landfill waste are all problems that are critical in today’s society. Print buyers who understand the technology and market forces related to sustainability can have a profound impact on the environmental performance of the companies they work for, make significant contributions to the long term creation of shareholder value, and make their job function a valuable asset rather than a commodity.

Even before the Enron meltdown, investors were becoming increasingly skeptical of the reliability of quarterly earnings reports and consolidated financial data as indicators of shareholder value and effective corporate governance. In recent months, there has been growing investor demand for major corporations to address the need for social responsibility and there has been a corresponding increase in the number of companies that are now voluntarily reporting information about environmental performance.

According to the Social Investment Forum Foundation, today, nearly one out of every eight dollars under professional management in the United States is involved in socially and environmentally responsible investing. Nearly 12 percent of all investment assets under professional management in the U.S. -- $2.34 trillion out of $19.9 trillion -- reside in a professionally managed portfolio utilizing one or more of the three socially responsible investment strategies. The growth rate of assets found in socially and environmentally screened portfolios was over one-and-a-half times that of all professionally managed investment assets in the United States.

In the months ahead, public and investor awareness and concern related to these topic is expected to grow wider and faster. The World Summit for Sustainable Development (www.johannesburgsummit.org) to be held in Johannesburg South Africa during August and September 2002 is expected to make the concepts of sustainability, triple bottom line reporting, and corporate social responsibility household words. For two weeks the WSSD, also dubbed EarthSummit 2, is expected to attract over 60,000 delegates from over 300 countries, over 100 heads of state, and hundreds of corporate leaders. They will discuss the efforts that business, government and non-governmental organizations must undertake to ensure that the needs of 6 billion people on the earth can be met without compromising the ability of future generations to provide for their needs.

While the WSSD summit will address many issues related to sustainability, and it will address the forestry and advertising sectors, it is not expected to address printing specifically. However, the EarthPledge Foundation and Nima Hunter Inc. are planning a series of executive summits and training programs over the next 12 months in conjunction with major industry publications, associations and universities that will build on the momentum created by the WSSD summit and explore the specific implications of print’s sustainability to corporations and publishers in North America. If you are interested in learning more about these and other Greening of Print programs, tell us what kind of information you need. Send your inquiries to: programs@greeningofprint.com.

The key to success for print buyers will be based on the ability of print service providers to manage and account for environmental impacts quantitatively. It will not be enough for printers to say they are in compliance with the law, nor will it be enough for them to describe the environmental benefits of their offerings in broad general terms. Sustainability is based on the concepts of continuous improvement and "beyond compliance" behavior. An important first step for buyers to take is to require that print service providers have a formal environmental policy and an environmental management system (EMS) that is compliant with standards such ISO14000 (http://www.iso14000.org/).

Two tools that you should expect vendors and suppliers to employ are:

Print buyers that want to play a role in improving the sustainable development and environmental performance of their organization should ask print service providers, paper companies, ink companies and equipment manufacturers what investments they are making in clean production technologies, eco-efficient equipment, green materials, environmental information management systems and the related services.

Ask your paper vendors about their policies with regard to post-consumer waste recycled content, tree-free fiber content, chlorine free, and Forest Stewardship Council certified paper products (http://fscus.org/). In particular, ask your vendors and suppliers if they publish a sustainability report and/or an environmental health and safety report. Over 500 multinational companies publish such reports, and more than 50 companies now issue sustainability reports based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines issued by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (http://www.ceres.org/) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (http://www.wbcsd.org).

Print Buyers who understand the magnitude of the change under way and the power of exponential growth will avoid vendors who "greenwash" themselves and who pay only nominal lip service to sustainability. Corporate Watch is just one of the watchdog groups that hold companies accountable for greenwash efforts: (http://www.corpwatch.org/campaigns/PCC.jsp?topicid=102/). Growing awareness and concern for "Sustainability", "Triple Bottom Line Reporting", "Corporate Social Responsibility", and the "Greening of Print" could make all the difference as to whether your career opportunities will experience extinction or exponential growth.

Send your questions, comments and suggestions for future column topics to carli@nimahunter.com and visit www.greeningofprint.com for more information.

Don Carli is CEO of Nima Hunter Inc, and the Research Director of "The Greening of Print", a multi-client market study investigating the impact of corporate social responsibility and sustainability on the "beyond compliance" supply chain and procurement behaviors of major corporations and publishers in North America.
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