A conversation with BrandMuscle’s SVP of Strategic Sourcing, Brian Thomas about sustainable printing
We at BrandMuscle believe that print marketing can be sustainable.
From the glossy catalogs consumers flip through to the paper posters that grab consumers’ attention, print marketing is everywhere we look, because it’s effective. Companies around the world are setting stringent sustainability goals for themselves to reduce waste, conserve resources, and mitigate their carbon footprint. Thankfully many companies in the print industry are finding ways to help companies reach those sustainability goals by reducing paper marketing assets’ environmental impact. We talked with BrandMuscle’s SVP of Strategic Sourcing, Brian Thomas, about some of the surprising ways BrandMuscle reduces our footprint in our print and fulfillment centers and in employees’ daily lives.
Conscientious consumers think about how consumer packaging gets recycled. We see the chasing arrow symbol on the milk container. We rinse the glass spaghetti sauce jar so we can toss it in the bin for curbside recycling. Few of us see how companies work behind the scenes to reduce their own carbon footprint by reducing, reusing, and recycling in printing, fulfillment, and manufacturing. Brian Thomas does.
Why is it important that companies have sustainability goals and that we help companies achieve them?
Brian: Wow, that’s a big question. Well, in addition to protecting the natural environment for wildlife and the urban environments where most of us live, making print and fulfillment more sustainable is important because it’s important to be at the forefront of that international push for improved standards. Our world is always changing, and business must change with it, including leading the way forward. Our clients are the ones leading the charge on this. It’s impressive. A lot of our clients — notably our alcoholic beverage suppliers — have sustainability vice presidents and whole sustainability departments whose employees are peeling back the layers of their business to figure out what measures they can take to truly be the catalyst for change.
In addition to reducing waste and pollution, what this increasing focus on sustainably has done is make it more difficult to get paper! It’s funny that doing the right thing ecologically has made responsible sourcing more challenging. Sourcing is my job. I see it every day. Right now I’m trying to provide recycled quotes, and they change by the week because demand is so high. Companies aren’t producing recycled paper fast enough to keep up with increasing demand. At a high level, that demand is a good thing. It signals a global shift in how people do business. We at BrandMuscle work extra hard to get the best, most aesthetically appealing recycled paper we can get for our clients. We strive to find a balance between quality, price, and the percentage of post-consumer recycled material the paper contains, in order to give our customers what they deserve. Because sustainability matters to our clients, it matters to us, though we’ve taken many steps for years without talking much about it.
Besides sourcing recycled paper, what are other specific ways that BrandMuscle helps its clients reach their sustainability goals?
Brian: As it relates to local marketing, microsites are single- or multi-page websites that establish or support a business’ web presence, while maintaining a connection with the overarching brand or company, and are often part of a larger brand website or ecosystem. The goal of a local microsite program is to establish a business’ visibility and encourage organic search traffic to ensure that customers can find the local business that is right for their needs. BrandMuscle’s microsites offer the ability for both local business owners and the overarching corporate brand to publish content, which creates a balance between the brand voice and the local business.
Brian: We didn’t invent the wheel here, but people at BrandMuscle have been using eco-solvent inks for the better part of a decade, and those inks have become almost an industry standard. In our print and fulfillment centers, at least some percentage of all our materials are made from post-consumer waste. The percentages can fluctuate depending on suppliers and market availability. We could go with all virgin paper, but we don’t. Instead, there is some level of recycled materials in all of our paper products. We also recycle on a daily basis here at our facilities because it’s the right thing to do. Our facility has received G7 Master Facility Qualification, which is a stringent, impressive compliance program, and we’ve applied to get our facility a certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, called the FSC.
How does eco-solvent ink work?
Brian: Eco-solvent ink is much, much friendlier on the environment and on the people who work with inks in print facilities, and we discovered we liked those inks better than the standard ones. Printing used to be a difficult job because of the chemicals involved. Older inks contained chemical solvents or VOCs, meaning volatile organic compounds. They did something called ‘off-gassing,’ which is where something emits a chemical as gas. So printers tried to avoid breathing those vapors in. Some people wore masks. You need a special ventilator to even run some printers in the print industry, so people developed this eco-solvent ink to create a safer work environment and to make sure it didn’t pollute the soil or groundwater if it escaped print facilities.
I mean, if a bit went down the drain, we’d be okay. That’s a huge improvement. Everyone wins: animals, workers, customers, the sites where printing takes place. Eco-solvent inks are suspended in a biodegradable base, like water, which means they rarely have odors, whereas most traditional inks were oil-based, which can involve petroleum products, which many environmentally minded businesses and communities are trying to lessen their dependence on lately. These eco-solvent inks we use are just a friendlier product. They don’t off-gas. They don’t contain harmful solvents. They’re easier on the ozone later and on our employees. They’re great.
What about what about our recyclable shipping materials? How does that work?
Brian: We have always use recycled or recyclable packaging. We don’t use the Styrofoam peanuts you see stuffed inside so many packages. There’s no need to use those. We prefer sustainable alternatives. We use paper from a roll. We just ball it up to fill airspace. It’s all recyclable. The only thing that’s not recyclable in our shipping containers are probably the adhesive tape. We’d love to find a suitable way to get around that one day. As a receiver, you can pull that tape off before recycling the box. We’re always looking for ways to improve our process and establish new sustainability benchmarks internally.
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