With continuing investments in its environmental commitments, Southeastern Printing “walks the walk” when it comes to sustainable printing.February 2011 By Sue Busch
Customers of Southeastern Printing have a unique opportunity to experience today what could be the future of eco-friendly label manufacturing across the board. The Stuart, Fla.-headquartered producer of film-based roll-fed, in-mold, and cut-and-stack beverage labels has so completely integrated "green" practices into its manufacturing processes, its customers can't help but come away with a finished product that has a reduced impact on the environment.
Indeed, some of these green practices, such as paperless quoting and proofing, and digital platemaking, are also the standard at many other label printing operations. However, Southeastern Printing—a 155-employee, 11-press (flexo and offset) printing operation with three U.S. production locations—takes these practices to the next level of eco-friendly thinking by implementing and packaging them as part of a comprehensive, concept-to-completion sustainable manufacturing program called Green ink®.
Established in 2007, the federally registered program addresses the more obvious targets within the label manufacturing process for environmentally responsible measures, such as the implementation of low-VOC inks—but it also incorporates the more obscure steps in production, such as the sending out of pressroom rags for removal of hazardous chemicals, and the limiting of deliveries to off-peak hours in order to reduce driving times and, subsequently, carbon emissions. "It is our responsibility to educate our customers about the green efforts and practices we employ from start to finish, so they have a greater appreciation of the 'green' product we have produced for them," says Don Mader, Southeastern's president and CEO.
In short, the Green ink program ensures customers are automatically steered toward production choices—including a roster of steadily more eco-friendly substrates—that conserve energy, water, and other natural resources; reduce waste; and prevent pollution. What's more, these choices have the potential to set customers themselves on a path to steadily stronger sustainability. At the completion of every job, customers are able to gauge their green performance through Southeastern's environmental benefits statement. According to COO Jack Mackert, the statement "gives Southeastern clients a quantifiable report, substantiating a stronger impact in their clients' eyes over mere environmentally slanted claims."
The Green ink program also includes a provision to plant a tree on behalf of any customer that opts to include the program's logo on its labels. "Southeastern has had dozens of clients actually use our Green ink logo on their printed brochures or labels," notes Mackert. "Even though the actual product that the label is applied to may not be as eco-conscious as green consumers would prefer, the process of how the label was produced is as environmentally friendly as possible."
For Southeastern Printing, the institution of the Green ink program marked the continuation of a long-standing commitment to environmental stewardship. "We have long been associated with the green movement," states Mader. Southeastern received its first formal recognition for this association with the 2007 attainment of certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a private non-profit organization established to further responsible management of the world's forests. "FSC certification has brought us new business from various regions of the country that we had not expected," Mader adds. "Eco-conscious clients want their suppliers to be accountable for their environmental claims and this certification helped to jump-start our Green ink processes."
Further, it's clear that the Green ink program and other eco-friendly initiatives will be an 'evergreen' element of Southeastern's operating philosophy, because environmental stewardship is now a fundamental print job specification. "Sustainability is here to stay," acknowledges Mader. "Consumers have steadily demanded that their packaged goods are less and less harmful to the environment." Moreover, working with an environmentally-conscious converter gives package end users yet another means for differentiation on the shelf. "[End users] demonstrate keen interest when we offer potential marketing ideas on how to utilize what we offer in their own interest for consumers," Mader relates.
The Green ink program is by no means a finish line for Southeastern's eco-conscious practices. "The program has spearheaded our environmental evolution," Mackert clarifies, adding that Green ink not only regularly inspires additional suggestions from employees for ways to save, reduce, and reuse environmental resources, but also reinforces a corporate culture of environmental stewardship. "We think green and operate green, day in and day out," Mackert declares.
In the past three years, Southeastern has logged an impressive track record of sustainability-driven operational improvements. Since 2008, the converter has reduced its carbon footprint by 86 percent (from 0.0504 to 0.0070 per sq. ft.); reduced reliance on natural gas by 97 percent (8,391 therms to 234 therms); and reduced VOC emissions significantly enough to transition from a large volume generator to a small volume generator in keeping with regulatory reporting requirements. Additionally, in 2010, Southeastern was honored with an Energy Conservation Leadership Award from Florida Power & Light Company for its newly installed energy-efficient lighting system.
Green means go forward
So what does all of Southeastern's green-ness mean for its label printing capabilities? For starters, its heightened environmental stewardship has coincided with significant expansion of the company's flexo printing operations, which were initialized in 1992 to produce labels for the narrow-web, roll-fed beverage label market and to keep manufacturing capacity humming during the summer months when Southeastern's commercial print volume (the company's other key market focus) would typically decline.
In 2008 (just a year after Southeastern's Forest Stewardship Council certification and Green ink program launch), the company relocated its flexo operations to a new facility in Palm City, Fla. (Offset printing operations remain at its Stuart, Fla. headquarters.) In 2009, continued growth of its flexographic label business prompted yet another expansion to a new facility in Naperville, Ill. That same year, Southeastern outfitted the Naperville facility with a new, 52˝, 8-color N8G wide-web flexo press from Flexotecnica—a purchase designed to increase production capacity and round out its current cadre of four narrow-/mid-web Mark Andy/Comco flexo presses to meet the full range of label print width specifications. "The Flexotecnica press provides a CI platform to allow greater and tighter registration, thus enabling the company to achieve success in printing extended gamut colors," Mader explains. Other key features of the press include high speeds and quick changeovers.
Southeastern's green mentality extends to several other aspects of the flexo production workflow. First, the company makes exclusive use of UV and water-based inks in its operations. On the UV side, Mader reports Southeastern spent more than $1 million to remove its presses for conversion to energy-efficient UV curing technology from GEW. He estimates this investment saves an average of 347,268 KWh annually. In addition, customers can currently share in the conservation benefits of silica-cleaned anilox rollers, a process that Mackert says eliminates the need for approximately 120 to 150 gallons of cleaning chemicals per week. Finally, supplier discussions are underway to ensure flexo plates are consistently recycled.
For Southeastern, the next phase of green operations may very likely pertain to growth. "We look for big things to happen over the next several years," observes Mackert. "Basically, we'll continue to focus on our core competencies in roll-fed labels, ROSO [roll-on, shrink-on], in-mold, and film cut and stack." Mackert expects business-building opportunities to spring from the company's installation of new rotary diecutting equipment to enhance its decorating technologies offering, as well as its "due diligence regarding 7-color extended gamut printing" and the newer wide-web printing capabilities for roll-fed labels. On several levels, Southeastern has seen the future of sustainability—one in which it is poised to continue leading label printers' commitment to environmental stewardship. pP