How Do You Measure Up?

An ongoing “hot topic” these days is this: just how sustainable does a business practice or an organization need to be in order to be considered “green?”

If you’re a printer (in-plant or commercial), is it simply enough to use recycled paper? Is it enough to use recycled paper and vegetable-based inks? Maybe we shouldn’t use paper at all; let’s just e-format all the content. After all, isn’t that the ultimate “greenness,” no printing on paper?

Of course I’m not serious. We need paper. We need to print.

It seems that these days there’s some confusion between claiming to use a sustainable practice and proving that practice really is sustainable. On the surface, a sustainable initiative may seem like a good idea, but is there any substantial benefit in actually initiating that practice?

Some folks think that by not using paper you are being environmentally sustainable. I think that’s a false belief, because there are other factors that should be considered when trying to develop sustainable practices. The real question should be, is it enough to just be environmentally sustainable?

Well just what is “sustainability?” This is the question I am asked over and over, and it’s a question that has more than one answer. Trying to define what is sustainable is hard to do; I have collected more than 101 different definitions of sustainability, and although they are all varied and diverse, they all have a common thread, or I should say common threads.

True or total sustainability is obtained when a certain set of factors all come together in balance. These factors are often referred to as the “triad” or the “three-legged stool” of sustainability. They are: Environment, Social and Economic. So how do you know if something is really a sustainable practice? Are there measurements? Let’s break them down.

Tom Tozier has more than 30 years of experience in the printing industry, having managed and directed both commercial and in-plant printing operations. Most recently, he served as director of Imaging Services for the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Tom recently ventured out on his own and is now president of TNT Sustainable Business Solutions, a consulting firm that promotes and provides services for creating sustainable business practices, measuring and improving print shop effectiveness, and sustainability marketing. He is currently enrolled in the University of Colorado's Professional Studies program and is working towards earning certification in Sustainability Management.
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