Why Sustainability Matters

Let’s talk about sustainability. As you may have heard, Earth Day just happened.

Did you notice?

Maybe you got outside and picked up some trash, or did something to make your community better. If so, good for you. Thanks!

But if you are like most people, Earth Day was a mere blip on the radar. “Oh yeah. That again.”

Is Recycling Worth It Anymore?

Here’s an interesting point of view that I think everyone should stop and consider. We tend to think of Earth Day as a day to pick up trash and sort things into the recycling bin.

However, there’s another viewpoint at play here that doesn’t get air time usually. Actually making stuff is the cause of the dilemma, not how to recycle it.

It indeed may seem a tad disingenuous for someone like me to rail about the dangers of consumerism. After all, I help companies not only make stuff…but make stuff more efficiently.

But I can tell you as a long-time champion of sustainability that the choices we make do matter in the long run.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Try This On For Size

I’d like you to try something this week.

Take about ten or fifteen minutes and quietly observe what you are doing and producing in your business.

Take notes. Look at the packaging waste. The amount of paper you are printing. The chaotic detritus that is left over from our work.

How much are you generating a week?

Even if you are recycling it (and good for you if you are), how confident are you that something positive is happening with that material stream?

Are you doing anything to reduce that amount of material, either coming in or going out? Can you purposefully make better choices?

Have a discussion with your supply chain, employees, and customers regarding how you can operate and reduce what it takes to run your business (cardboard, plastic, metal, textiles, and even energy).

You may be surprised at the answers.

Sustainability: Can We Do Better?

I don’t know if you know this or not, but the apparel industry is second to only the oil industry as the biggest polluters on earth. Yep. You are part of that.

One person certainly can’t move the needle much. Even though it makes you feel good to try, we aren’t going to get anywhere by ourselves and only with our single effort.

To make big changes, what we need is as an industry to band together and look for ways to make an impact.

Here are some that I like:

Sustainable Green Printing Partnership

Full disclosure, I was on the board of directors for SGP for this non-profit for a number of years, and have championed two apparel decorators to earn the certification. To me, this organization is doing a wonderful job getting print businesses (that’s you) third-party sustainability certified.

Why should you get this? If you market yourself as a “green” printer, or offer eco-anything and are not certified, you are simply green-washing your business.

Do it right, and put in the work.

Do You Ship Single Shirts?

If you are shipping t-shirts or other garments as part of a print on demand service or online store program, you probably realize that the mailer you are using is just going to landfill.

Why not package that order in something better? I just discovered noissue, which is a company that makes biodegradable mailers, and other sorts of packaging.

This material doesn’t have to be recycled. It can be composted at home or through a typical waste stream.

Digital Printing With Print on Demand

Yes, I certainly have been writing and speaking about this a lot lately. For starters, it is the hottest garment decorating trend currently as the online store marketplace has seen exponential growth in the last 18 months.

Not too long ago, it was common to print large runs and send them to a warehouse or distribution center. From there, the garments would be sorted, warehoused, and reshipped to retail stores everywhere.

Now, that entire process has been eliminated. Shirts are being ordered online, and printed immediately, and shipped to the end consumer.

This is a more sustainable process because while an online store may have hundreds of designs, only the ones that are sold are actually produced.

By the way, I can hear you Mr, or Mrs. Screenprinter, “But I don’t like the way digitally printed shirts look or feel!”

Yes, I agree. It’s different. However, as digitally printed-on-demand shirts are selling by the millions per day on Shopify or Etsy, the end consumer doesn’t mind.

The business-person mindset needs to take over here and you need to look into this more in-depth.

Sustainability Matters Because:

  • it connects today’s way of life with the future ahead of us
  • it drives deeper profits
  • it opens up new markets
  • it stays ahead of governmental regulations
  • it introduces efficiency
  • it helps mitigate environmental risks
  • it resonates deeply with some customers
  • it opens up new revenue streams
  • it is the right thing to do

Screen Saver Podcast

Recently Adrienne Palmer, the editor-in-chief of Screen Printing magazine interviewed me about Sustainability for the Decorated Apparel Industry.

Check out the podcast here.


“The most important environmental issue is one that is rarely mentioned, and that is the lack of a conservation ethic in our culture.” – Gaylord Nelson

“If we continue to address the issue of environment where we live as though we’re the only species that lives here, we’ll create a disaster for ourselves.” – Gaylord Nelson

“We must recognize that we’re all part of the web of life around the world.” – Gaylord Nelson