A COMPANY COMMITTED TO ITS BUSINESS AND TO THE PLANET AS WELL
Sustainability has been a constant theme for many companies since the 1980s, when the effects of global warming became painfully clear. This is something that should be applauded, of course. However, sceptics point primarily to the obvious image-related benefits to be achieved from pursuing a sustainability objective. The claim is that companies that position themselves as ‘green’ and ‘environmentally aware’ are mainly motivated by the positive press this will give them with the outside world. I don't agree with this claim and would like to take a stand for all those companies that are genuinely sustainable.
Organisations create goodwill by striving to achieve sustainability in their business operations. But, there are other advantages. Sustainability is accompanied by a large number of measurable business advantages and can easily be combined with an improvement in service provision. Most importantly of all: every sustainable company is run by people who are committed: to the business and to the planet as well.
Sustainability measures were introduced here at Van Straaten several years ago, in response to the soft signage trend. An increasing number of retailers and stand builders were asking for ‘soft’ polyester print products instead of prints produced on traditional stiff materials like PVC, vinyl or wood. Textile-like materials create a warm, luxurious feel and soft signage (using polyester, for example) has the added advantage of being more sustainable than PVC too. Many clients are interested in them as a result and PVC is mainly used for outdoor applications now. This was a clear sign and one that Van Straaten responded to immediately in the product range it offers. Sustainability initiative number one.
As is so often the case, one thing leads to another: we then decided to take a good look at ourselves as well. We joined forces with the Energy Knowledge Centre (Energie Kenniscentrum) to achieve an environmental barometer of energy costs at the head office and in the workshop. We found that the amount we were spending on gas was a little on the high side and also that we were losing a lot of heat via the roof of the 6,500-m2 workshop. We knew that we had to do something. The roof has now been insulated and the gas-guzzling central heating boiler has been replaced with a wood-fired one. We also use electricity generated by solar panels on the roof and energy-saving LED lighting has been fitted throughout the building. All of the above are good for the environment, as we no longer need fossil fuels to heat the workshop and offices. Our heating is CO2 neutral too. This benefits the company as well, because of the drastic reduction achieved in heating costs. So, nothing to do with image, just real financial savings. This puts us in a position to invest the money we save in new products and printing techniques.
TECHNIQUES AND MATERIALS
'Green' is one of the main aims for these new investments too. Each print order will have a minimum impact on the environment. We will ensure that the very latest sustainable techniques and materials available are added to our product range with the minimum of delay. To take an example from the past, Van Straaten was the first company to use water-based inks, because solvent-based inks have been out of favour for years now. We are also currently looking for alternatives to materials with a big environmental footprint. For example: polyethylene instead of Bysonil (the traditional ‘truck tarpaulin’). Clients are always able to opt for environmentally friendly alternatives in any project. We are pleased to say that service is improving because we have chosen to go 'green'. The result? A commercial advantage with a favourable social side-effect.
CHAIN OF WINNERS
Another good example of the real value of sustainability: all of our print products are transported on wooden pallets. Because we don't like throwing the old pallets away, we arrange to have them collected by ‘Veel in hout’, a workshop that is part of the Heliomare rehabilitation centre. Here, people with a disability transform our old, worn-out pallets into beautiful, affordable products. This is recycling with a social basis. However, we benefit too: in the form of savings on disposal and destruction costs. To my mind, real sustainable entrepreneurship must result in a win-win situation for all concerned. A causal chain of winners, consisting of the sustainable company that saves costs (and, yes, its image does benefit too), a client base with a wider range of options and, last but not last, our planet, which is safeguarded for future generations.