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More is Less: A Look at Sustainability at Modernistic




Going green. We’ve all heard this phrase by now. Everyone uses it these days as society shifts its focus to environmental responsibility. After all, sustainability is an important part of our daily lives, and today’s economy mandates that businesses make it a top priority to be successful. Environmental sustainability has been increasingly important to our customers as they join with many businesses in asking the question: Can we do more with less?

Going green. We’ve all heard this phrase by now. Everyone uses it these days as society shifts its focus to environmental responsibility. After all, sustainability is an important part of our daily lives, and today’s economy mandates that businesses make it a top priority to be successful. Environmental sustainability has been increasingly important to our customers as they join with many businesses in asking the question: Can we do more with less?

Modernistic’s approach
Sustainability initiatives at Modernistic are designed to do more than just keep the company ahead of its competition in the printing and graphics-communications industries. The goal is to position the company as a leader in environmentally conscious practices.

The journey toward environmental sustainability begins with total employee involvement. Goals of this magnitude rely on participation from everyone at all stages of development. Committed associates and a willingness to explore and adopt new technologies fuel Modernistic’s growth and enable the company to adapt to changing markets and customer demands. Our motto—A better way, every day—represents the culture that drives the facility’s sustainability programs.

Modernistic has expanded its dedication to innovation in graphics communications into opportunities for increased environmental responsibility. We’ve looked beyond ways to reduce the environmental footprint within our commercial practices and have moved to integrating environmentally responsible practices into every facet of our day-to-day operations.


Client demand for sustainability has grown in last few years, and while we’ve had recycling programs in place for a long time, we realized we had to strengthen our commitment to environmental sustainability by participating in a certification program. We looked to professional organizations that lead the charge to help members reduce their environmental impact, save money, and improve their competitiveness in a challenging economic world.

We chose the Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership in our search for a certification program because it is nationally recognized and accommodates screen and digital printing. We formed an SGP committee that included of all the departments in our facility and developed a regular meeting schedule. The committee set out to achieve the following:

• Discuss areas of improvement in our facility
• Allow participants to meet, collaborate, and discuss topics unique to their position in
the organization
• Foster socialization and greater teamwork in a collaborative culture in which the
organization achieves its objectives collectively
• Allow for grassroots sharing of ideas, as well as means to disseminate essential
information related to the corporate vision
• Provide on-the-ground alerts to hot topics and cultural trends within the organization.

Modernistic was one of the first two large-format printers in the nation to become certified. As such, the process was somewhat difficult to understand and implement. We were fortunate to have SGP’s partner and supporting associations to lend a hand: Specialty Graphic Imaging Association, Flexographic Technical Association, Printing Industries of America, National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, Envelope Manufacturing Association, and the Foil & Specialty Effects Association.

One of the first steps that we tackled was also the biggest money saver: reducing our energy use. We consulted with our provider, Xcel Energy, and asked them to perform an audit. They were able to give us several suggestions to reduce our energy consumption. Many of the programs we implemented qualified us for significant rebates from Xcel, as well as an overall reduction in our utility bill.

In 2009, Modernistic was able to shut down two return-air-relief fans that were releasing 17,262 cfm of cool, conditioned air outside. Turning this system off saves the company almost $25,000 annually. We also replaced 270 high-intensity-discharge light fixtures with 255 compact, modular, high-intensity-fluorescent fixtures. The area Modernistic retrofitted is approximately 108,000 sq ft. As a result of the lighting change, we expect to cut light-related electricity costs by 64%, from an annual cost of $58,715 to $21,000. In addition to the cost savings come significant environmental benefits, as Modernistic drastically reduces the amount of harmful greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.


The lighting change is projected to reduce related electricity consumption by 60%, from 715,635 kWh to 283,255 kWh annually. With this comes a reduction in the amount of electricity generated to power lights and a decrease in CO2 emissions by 5679 tons during the lifecycle of the high-efficiency fixtures. During that same period, the company will reduce 23 tons of sulfur dioxide and 8 tons of nitrogen oxides, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The reductions are the air-scrubbing equivalent of a 79-acre forest or removing 70 cars from the road. It is also the equivalent of saving 35,693 gallons of gasoline a year.

For all of its work on improving energy efficiency, Modernistic received the Efficiency Partner Award from Xcel Energy for the last two consecutive years. This award recognizes a small group of businesses for their outstanding efforts each year. In addition, the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association honored Modernistic with the first ever SGIA Sustainability Recognition Award. The company was nationally certified as a Sustainable Green Printer by the SGP Partnership toward the end of 2009.

Other projects
Environmental sustainability goes far beyond certification. We’ve implemented wholesale changes. During production, waste from the material stream is removed, ground up, and recycled for other uses. We coordinate bulk shipments to cut down fuel costs and select suppliers that use wind energy to reduce total energy costs throughout their supply chain.

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) is also a huge initiative at Modernistic. We pledge to be compliant with all applicable EHS and labor regulations. To acknowledge our role in continuous improvement, we still implement programs and procedures that are consistent with these regulations and abide by the principles of healthy lives and eco-friendly environments. The health and safety of our employees is a top priority.

Now Modernistic is focusing on larger annual projects for 2010. The company plans to reduce its kilowatt-hour use by 10% as part of the annual SGP continuous-improvement project. The goal is to install motion sensors on lights and develop programs that automatically turn off office equipment to save energy. We used the SMART Objective Development Process when we chose our 2010 objective:

Specific (reduce kilowatt hours by 10%)
Measurable (kilowatt hours as compared to last year)
Achievable (team support will help achieve the goal)
Relevant (our goal will have a positive effect on our business)
Time-sensitive (end of year 2010)


After formulating this objective, we identified elements required to achieve it and produced an action plan, assigning elements to the team. Breaking the project into manageable pieces makes it more manageable for everyone on the team to work toward the goal. We’re now six months into the initiative and are on target to achieve this energy reduction, save money for the company, and reduce our environmental impact. This makes our associates feel good about where they work and our customers happy to partner with a company that’s doing its part to be sustainable and give back to the environment. Can we do more with less? The answer at Modernistic is a resounding yes.

Ways to save
Opportunities for change exist everywhere you look. For example, recycling can take materials out of your dumpster and become a source of revenue for your business. Modernistic now recycles almost every type of material we print. While we aren’t compensated for recycling certain materials, we also aren’t paying to have them recycled. We’re able to recycle some substrates with our plastic-sheeting extruder. Clean trim waste and off cuts are reground and extruded into new material.

Stay focused on initiatives that you find interesting and implement them. Look at it as exercise: To stay in shape, you have to constantly train. Big changes are on the horizon, but if you aren’t in the habit of adapting, you simply won’t have the organizational muscles to actually execute those changes when called upon to use them. Create new habits. The following actions will help get you started.

• Understand your company’s unique challenges, and find the best strategy to address them.
• Get up to speed on how trends in society, technology, and resources affect your organization. Identify the gaps in your organization.
• Gain a better understanding of your personal sustainability.
• Turn off equipment when it’s not being used. This can reduce the energy used by 25%. Turning off the computers at the end of the day can save an additional 50%.
• Encourage communication by e-mail, and read e-mail messages on screen to determine whether it’s necessary to print them. If it’s not, don’t!
• Reduce fax-related paper waste by using a fax-modem and by using a fax cover sheet only when necessary. Fax-modems allow documents to be sent directly from a computer.
• Produce double-sided documents whenever possible.
• Do not leave faucet taps dripping. One drop per second wastes 10,000 liters per year.
• Find a supply of paper with maximum available recycled content.
• Choose suppliers that take back packaging for reuse.
• Investigate lean-manufacturing practices.
• Conduct energy and efficiency audits.
• Reuse shipping pallets and packaging materials.
• Start a recycling program.
• Coordinate inbound and outbound shipments to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

DeAnn Strenke is the marketing manager and sustainability co-chair at Modernistic, a large-format screen and digital printer based in Stillwater, MN.



Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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