Leading Sustainable Design Is Often About Going the Extra Mile

Posted: September 22, 2009 by
Kim Price

When asked the question, what first began your interest in the environment, what would your answer be? Would it be that your interest was of a personal nature? Would it be job related, fulfilling the requests of a superior? Could it have been an opportunity to differentiate yourself within a company by taking an environmental lead?
Possibly, could it have been market-driven, attempting to keeping up with the eco-friendly stand your competition has taken or to satisfy the demand of Wal-Mart? No matter what your answer, taking an interest in the environment is—simply put—the right thing to do.

The environmental issue is all around us. We hear and read about it everyday. The Supreme Court talks about it, politicians talk about it, wine growers in France talk about it, and the ski areas of Colorado all talk about it. But, it is more than just "the environment" per se. Today, it is more focused than that. It is about climate change (greenhouse gases, global warming) and all the inputs and impact that surround it.

Putting it down on paper

Being part of the paper industry for 29 years, it has been fascinating to watch paper mills evolve with respect to the environment. Among the major text and cover mills in existence today, the need to address environmental issues began years ago. Compliance with city, state, and federal regulations has required huge capital investments by the mills to treat air, solid waste and waterborne emissions.

During the 1980s, mills like Mohawk, Monadnock, and Neenah began to enhance their product lines by including recycled grades. Today, it is easy to find the manufacturing of papers produced by energy alternatives (wind power), papers that are Carbon Neutral, grades made using FSC- or SFI-certified processes, as well as tree-free fibers. But what drove this interest? Was it a "build it and they will come" mentality? The answer is no. The creation of these grades, recycled included, was clearly based upon customer demand—by both designers and corporations alike. Eco-friendly papers created by Mohawk Paper, for instance, were clearly intended to meet those needs. According to Mohawk Paper's George Milner, "The current phenomenon began with Corporate Sustainability Reports. Every company's report began to express their strategy for addressing Climate Change."

Comments from printers and packaging converters are no different. Similar to the paper mills, following environmental regulations is mandatory and has been in practice for years. Yet, there are some packaging manufacturers that have chosen to exceed the regulations and become environmental leaders in their field.

Why exceed regulations?

Once again, the answer is customer demand. According to Stuart Weitzman of Johnson Printing & Packaging, "We have long worked with customers who have environmental concerns. This caused us to continually evaluate our manufacturing practices and explore options. These steps lead to utilization of environmentally friendly inks, coatings, press washes, etc., and then a natural progression to wind power and FSC certification. " Curtis Packaging's Don Droppo Jr., calls their eco-friendly efforts both customer driven and "sound business practice." Don speaks often about the role sustainable packaging plays in Curtis' market strategy, referring to it as "The Eco-Advantage."

So, what is the answer to our original question: What first began your interest in the environment? There is no one answer. Yet, there is certainly is a call for change. Today's sustainability pioneers and leaders don't just look upon their eco-friendly efforts as the right thing to do but clearly as a business opportunity to fulfill the current and future environmentally sensitive demands of their customers. The best answer to our question could be what the scouts say, "be prepared." Better put in business terms, stay ahead of the curve and be environmentally proactive!

Kim Price is manager of environmental business development for Lindenmeyr, a Forest Stewardship Council chain of custody provider, and he can be reached at