Businesses should flaunt their sustainable character if they have it
Story by Lee Marie Reinsch
Green: It’s the color of cash.
And traffic lights (the good kind).
If you think about it, it makes sense.
Beans (the kind you count) + growth + forward movement = cash.
Customers like knowing they’re doing business with companies that are kind to Mother Nature, say those behind programs that encourage such kindness. They say green companies can reap big benefits, and some local companies are finding that true.
Oshkosh-based Service Litho-Print President Dan Clark said it’s been good for business not only socially and in the public eye, but economically: “If we can save energy, that’s a good thing.”
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, not only do customers react positively to green efforts, but so do media, activist groups and quality employees. Green companies experience “improved community relations, enhanced brand image, stronger customer loyalty, and increased appeal to socially responsible investors and portfolio managers,” according to the SBA.
So it makes sense to flaunt it, if you’ve got it: Tout your greenness and watch the beans grow.
“Businesses get access to our logo and they can use it for their marketing purposes to distinguish themselves from competitors in the marketplace,” said Tom Eggert, executive director of the nonprofit, Wisconsin-based Green Masters program. “What we’ve seen over past few years is companies are looking for other companies in the program when they’re looking for suppliers.”
Say a company needs a marketing project printed. “Oftentimes they’re looking for printers that are in the Green Masters program also,” Eggert said. “So there’s this whole separate network that has built up within the business community over time.”
Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council launched Green Masters five years ago. The free, points-based recognition and assessment program revolves around a self-survey of progress in areas ranging from supply-chain management to energy. Each yearly batch of entries is graded on a curve and slotted into three tiers: masters, professionals and apprentices. Companies can see how they rank among others in their sector, rather than against those in other industries and seek help improving.
Many programs offer various “ecolabels” and exist to help businesses get greener: USDA Organic, Energy Star, Design for the Environment, EPEAT and WaterSense are a few. More can be found at sba.gov.
America’s Cleanest, Greenest Pottery
Sunset Hill Stoneware of Neenah uses its self-created tagline, “America’s cleanest, greenest pottery,” wherever it can.
“We put that out there and let people know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” said Sunset Hill President and COO Tom Dunsirn. “A lot of customers are really intrigued by that, ‘Hey, this is a pottery company that really took it to the next level and doesn’t do it like the guy next door.’ It’s been a huge advantage to us over our competitors.”
Sunset Hill’s 40 employees – including 10 potters – hand-make thousands of stoneware mugs every year for national parks, inns, restaurants, gift shops, breweries, average folks and even musicians Toby Keith and John Mayer. They recently made 4,000 mugs for the Grateful Dead’s farewell tour.
Customers want their money to go to a product made in a clean, safe and green facility, Dunsirn said. “They like to know we’re reusing as much of our resources as we can, that we’re running our facility in an eco-friendly environment, that we’re reusing our kiln heat and doing as much as we can to help the environment.”
Which they are: Though not yet accredited by a green program, Sunset Hill reclaims 100 percent of the heat created by its 26 kilns for heating water and drying pottery. Robust 16-inch insulation and LED lighting save energy. A custom HVAC system made by Dunsirn’s engineering-whiz dad, Duane, keeps fine dust particles at bay.
That’s what Dunsirn’s most proud of: the dust-free character of the place, which he compares to a surgical theater. It’s a respiratory reprieve, with no surgical masks needed.
“If you walk in, you wouldn’t know we have a pottery,” Dunsirn said.
Epoxied floors clean easily and reflect light. Custom-made stainless steel tables wash easier than wood ones, and drains throughout the facility enable it to be hosed down.
NorthStar Environmental Testing found Sunset Hill’s level of respirable dust to be 96 percent lower than the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s permissible exposure limits.
“Most potteries around the country are very dirty and expose their teams to dangerous levels of airborne dust particles that can produce health risks in the long term,” Dunsirn said. “We’re confident our team isn’t going to be dead in 20 years of silica of the lungs or other nasty conditions pottery manufacturing can expose them to.”
Helping the customer be green
Green Masters participant Appleton Coated isn’t shy about letting customers know it makes the only 100 percent post-consumer recycled premium coated products in the country. Besides being featured on the Green Masters website, it uses the Forest Stewardship Council logo in its marketing and its website has an extensive environmental section.
“We offer products that have high levels of post-consumer recycled fiber (30 percent or greater), and that are FSC-certified, meaning the virgin fiber is harvested in a sustainable manner at affordable prices relative to products without those attributes,” said Ann Whalen, vice president of marketing and customer services for Combined Locks-based Appleton Coated.
The website at appletoncoated.com offers environmental calculators, tips for consumers on printing green, explanations of fiber certification, and information on green behind-the-scenes.
“One of the easiest ways for our customers to meet their goals and be sustainable is to use paper that is made with recycled fiber,” Whalen said. “So, our marketing message … is that customers can be comfortable we are employing sustainable practices internally, but we also make it easy and affordable for them to meet their sustainability goals, particularly around the use of recycled content and sustainably harvested fiber in the papers they choose.”
She said many competitors use more virgin fiber, while Appleton Coated’s recycled-fiber offers an advantage.
“The way we market it is that it helps our customers be more sustainable in a very visible way – with the paper they use to promote their brand,” she said.
Whalen said the Appleton Coated mill has replaced some of its coal use with paper pellets and wood waste biomass. It purchases much of its fiber from nearby Fox River Fiber in De Pere, minimizing transport.
Paper or plastic?
Many product manufacturers demand green credentials for their packaging, as well as evidence of sustainability measures from their vendor, said Dan Clark, president and chief operating officer of Service Litho-Print Inc. in Oshkosh.
“In our industry, it’s more negative if you don’t have (some environmental credential) in place than it is a positive to have one in place,” he said.
The 40-employee Oshkosh company prints specialty plastic packaging for brands like Bath & Body Works and Air Wick. It was admitted into the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Green Tier program last year.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around ‘How can these guys be green or qualify for a green-type program?’” Clark said. “Frankly, the reusability of a lot of our products is a lot better than businesses you might think were greener than a plastics printer.”
The Green Tier program customizes its direction to each company, said Katie Monson, environmental, health and safety and quality manager for Service Litho-Print. A brewery might focus on water consumption, for example, whereas a company such as Service Litho-Print is concerned with reducing raw material use.
Unlike LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), which focuses mainly on buildings, Green Tier helps companies improve systems.
“We’ve been around for 80 years, and a lot of things have built upon themselves,” Monson said. “It’s good to take a step back and ask ‘How can we do this same process but use less electricity? How can we do this same process but create less waste?’ Taking a step back and evaluating those processes is really the nuts and bolts of this program.”
Clark said Green Tier helps his company track volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon footprint and waste recycling.
It helped them find preventive maintenance measures to reduce air leaks and make equipment more efficient. The company replaced its air compressors with energy-saving variable-speed compressors that control airflow. It also reduced the number of color corrections made on the press.
The communication with the DNR gives Service Litho the booster shot it needs to continue becoming more efficient: “This allows us to partner with them and their people to find ways to improve our business,” Clark said.
As with Green Masters, Green Tier participants are encouraged to use the logo in marketing.
“We use it on the materials we send to customers,” Clark said. “The Green Tier program is well-recognized in the state, and Wisconsin customers know and appreciate it. It speaks volumes for the things we’re doing.”
But it’s an ancillary benefit to the reasons why Service-Litho is making these green improvements in the first place, Clark said.
The state DNR’s website for Green Tier contains a good amount of information about the advantages of its participants’ practices.
“I do believe buyers more and more are looking for certifications or partnerships for evidence of sustainability programs like this,” Clark said. “It’s going to be a feather in our cap as we move forward.”
Clark said his company put a lot of thought into which program to pursue.
“(Green Tier) is a good fit for us. It allows us to get some public recognition for what we’re doing, create a strong partnership with the DNR, bring some resources to the table to help us continue,” he said. “It’s good for us economically as we continue to reduce waste and energy usage. It’s a win-win-win across the board for Service-Litho.”
Green image paying off
Mercury Marine of Fond du Lac takes a somewhat stealth approach to marketing green. The boat-engine company doesn’t blatantly promote its green efforts or its participation in programs such as Green Masters. But it’s paying off.
“The word sustainable might not be on any of our advertising. You have to see through our advertising to see the fact that our products are lighter, more fuel efficient, emit fewer emissions, produce less waste and byproducts in manufacturing as things that are sustainable,” said Steve Fleming, Mercury’s director of communications and a member of its sustainability team.
Those and other features, like gauges showing optimum fuel efficiency, are important to boaters, he said. “So the results of being a green-level manufacturer produce more sales.”
He credits Green Masters with showing companies how to be more environmentally conscious and how to measure their efforts. Because of it, Mercury has undertaken more sustainability efforts than it might otherwise have, Fleming said.
“Do we scream we’re Green Masters? No. But we don’t hide it. If you read our literature, it’s there,” he said. “We use Green Masters not as a marketing tool but as a way to make ourselves more sustainable, which in the long run helps us sell more products.”
Lee Reinsch of Green Bay worked 18 years at daily newspapers before launching her freelance business, edgewise, in 2007.