8 Ways to Make Sustainability Part of Your Business
BY AMY BAKER
8 Ways to Make Sustainability Part of Your Business
Every business today should make an effort to implement sustainable practices. In the world we are living in, there is a corporate responsibility as well as a consumer demand for goods produced in a way that creates a lighter impact. While no one can deny that our industry is guilty of having a harmful effect on the environment (the fashion industry is, afterall, the second highest polluting industry in the world behind oil) our shop has been working at finding solutions to sustainable T-shirt printing for the last 10 years.
Here are eight ways we’re trying our best to be a sustainably minded print shop.
1. Be transparent with customers about the garments they are buying.
We start by showing our customers brands that are transparent about manufacturing, environmental standards, and labor practices. We explain the benefit of paying a little more for garments manufactured with less water, or with better working conditions. Our showroom is organized with sustainability top of mind, since lots of buyers want T-shirts made from organic cotton or recycled materials. Most garment manufacturers such as Gildan, provide environmental responsibility information on their website. While not all clients want an eco-friendly shirt, we introduce those products, along with sustainable T-shirt printing, as an option. And we have organized this information into a PDF. This helps educate our clients on each supplier’s practices: how they make their products and the materials they use.
2. Offer water-based inks.
Our shop has exclusively used water-based screen-printing inks for 10 years. While these inks still contain chemicals, we believe they’re a better choice for eco-friendly T-shirt printing than plastisol inks. This is in part due to the clean-up process, and in part due to the chemical make-up of the inks. However we do recognize some limitations with water based inks. For example, we use discharge inks to render brighter prints on dark garments. However we are committed to transparency and if a customer’s main concern is environmental impact, we steer them away from the discharge inks.
3. Appoint a shop sustainability director.
Promote one of your staffers who’s passionate about being eco-friendly to look for opportunities in your shop to be more sustainable. This can include everything from the cleaning supplies or inks you use, to the packaging materials you choose. My sustainability director recommended a bike-share program: We signed up so our employees can use the service for free. In addition, she attends local chamber of commerce and other business events to learn from others and share our sustainability efforts and be more visible.
4. Review your shop practices to make them more sustainable.
For example, we have a toilet paper subscription for 100% recycled paper that arrives every six weeks. We also use reusable soap dispensers and paper towels. A local company makes personalized cloth paper towels that our employees use and then launder at home. Instead of paper plates and plastic utensils, we use real dishes and forks that we wash and reuse. We also purchase recycled office paper, and environmentally friendly cleaners.
5. Take a look at your packaging.
We reuse the boxes and mailers our shirts come in. In addition, we order some boxes and screen print our logo on them for branding to emphasize our shop’s focus on eco-friendly T-shirt printing. We’ve never used any plastic polybagging; instead we use thick brown craft paper for lining boxes.
6. Invest in computer-to-screen (CTS) technology.
Right now, we see films as one of the most wasteful things in our shop. While we haven’t been able to invest in CTS yet, it’s on our list. This technology helps screen printers save time preparing screens, while also eliminating your need for expensive film positives (not to mention the pre-press time and equipment to generate them). With CTS imaging devices, you’ll also free up valuable space in your shop and stop taking up shelf space for film storage. This future investment will move our shop further along toward our goals of sustainably minded T-shirt printing.
7. Invest in a filtration system.
A filtration system on your washout booth is a no brainer! There is a wide range of filtration systems out there from DIY to manufactured ones. When you flush out the sink, you send down sticky emulsions such as photo polymers, inks and oils straight into your sewer. Besides the environmental concerns, you could also be destroying your pipes with chemicals that can be costly to flush.
Instead, add a water-filtration system to your sinks to run your water through tubing under the sink and funnel it through different filters. This will remove most of your solids and “sticky” chemicals that might clog your pipers and pollute your water.
Another way to cut down on excess pollutants is to manage your inks better. We scrape all the water based inks off our screens and reuse them for other jobs as much as possible. We keep a list of “stock” inks that help consumers choose something off the shelf when a new Pantone color is not necessary. For discharge inks that we do have to throw away, due to their shelf life, we add them to a bucket and take them to our County Waste Management Center.
8. Talk about your sustainability efforts.
Don’t be afraid to list on your website and your social media accounts what your shop does to be more eco-friendly. We also show photos of garments made with organic fibers and printed with water-based inks. If you appoint a sustainability director for your shop, that person could do videos on social media talking about your efforts and offering tips. Those efforts attract more clients who care about sustainable T-shirt printing. In the coming years, as more Millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce and positions to purchase apparel, being an environmentally conscious shop with an eco-friendly T-shirt printing process will be even more important to earning their business.
Going green and being sustainable needs to be more than just a buzzword and instead put into practice at all levels big and small throughout your shop. This is now a vital part of ethical business practices, since our impact on the environment is becoming more serious and potentially dangerous. By taking action on these eight steps, you can show customers your commitment to sustainable T-shirt printing practices and promote your commitment to sustainability.