Institute for Sustainable Communication’s Don Carli on Sustainable Printing
Increasing numbers of investors, regulators and customers want the so-called triple bottom line (environmental, social and financial) that factors in corporate responsibility, natural resource conservation and climate change.
“Call it the New Green,” says Don Carli, senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC), a nonprofit group that promotes environmentally responsible practices for the printing, publishing and packaging industries. Here’s a small part of my recent eye-opening chat with Carli, a former strategic planner within these industries.
EB: What got you interested in the topic of sustainable printing?
DC: It grew out of a consulting engagement I had about 10 years ago with the CEO of GretagMacbeth, the company known for its color measurement instruments. He told me about a new kind of investment fund called the sustainable investment fund. What he was talking about was engaging in business practices that were environmentally and socially preferable to prevailing business processes, and that had a correlative economic impact that is positive. So you’re telling me it improves the share price performance of the company, or it improves in some way the value to shareholders. To me, that’s the Holy Grail.
EB: Then how did the ISC get started?
DC: It was founded based on research that I had conducted several years prior. I led a study on attitudes, opinions and predispositions related to sustainability and corporate responsibility in the graphic arts. It didn’t get a lot of support from the industry, but … I’m engaged by publishers and major corporations to forecast major market technology trends five years, 10 years out. So it’s part of an occupational hazard for me to be, at times, ahead of the curve. I was astounded to find out that when I Googled the term “sustainable printing,” I got zero hits. The institute was founded with a mission to raise awareness and build capacity for the sustainable use of print and other communications media. We saw there was going to be a rising level of awareness, but a corresponding capacity crunch—and the printing industry would find itself flat-footed in response, which is happening right now.
EB: What kinds of programs has the ISC created?
DC: We developed a program called the Responsible Enterprise Print program. It proved that there was an appetite for business practices related to printing that would value saving money while, at the same time, reducing environmental impacts and improving performance against key measures like customer satisfaction, employee motivation and investor relations.
[The other is] a mentoring and fellowship program in which we will be recruiting graduates from advanced degree programs in business, environmental studies and graphic communications. Those graduates will be given training … and then deployed within a Fortune 500 company that’s already said that sustainability is among their priorities. Those teams will be expected to do what we call a triple-bottom-line assessment.
EB: What do you say when you meet with such companies?
DC: Consider that if you don’t change the way you do business, [Americans] will be as dependent on imported paper and imported printing in 10 years as we are today on imported oil and imported automobiles. If you don’t think that that’s a problem to avoid, try to do business for three days—or even one day—without printing, without paper.
The primary problem is that print is an ubiquitous activity in every sphere of business and government, but if you look [closely], everyone and no one in particular is in charge of it. There are very few people within major corporations or within companies in the printing and graphic communications industry who have the knowledge, skills and experience to implement sustainable business practices. [We hope] to work with educational institutions, business and government to help train, educate, inform and bring together those human resources with the competencies to help transform the industry.
EB: Such as with direct mail programs?
DC: Absolutely. Look at the number of envelopes used every year, like BREs. How can we use less energy and material and accomplish the same result by changing the way we think about a BRE? A designer and inventor in Minneapolis developed a product called ecoenvelopes, such a simple idea but one that began with people helping people save money.
EB: Do you feel that we’re only at the beginning of an industry-wide transformation?
DC: American ingenuity can move the needle like nothing else on the planet. We hope, finally, that the sleeping giant awakens. You don’t have to give something up to get sustainable and profitable at the same time. When they figure it out, they will blow people’s minds and change the world.
[This interview originally was published in the June 2007 issue of Inside Direct Mail, a sister publication to Target Marketing magazine. To learn more about Inside Direct Mail, visit http://www.insidedirectmail.com ]