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How to Cultivate a Sustainable Mindset

Changing the way you operate can increase productivity, save energy and help the environment.

Decorators approach sustainability for a variety of reasons: government mandates, a desire to save money, customer demand and environmental protection. As a business owner, you must be clear on your “why” and enthusiastically articulate your reasons to employees, customers and vendors – because you can’t transform your company alone.

Industry consultant Marshall Atkinson believes that true sustainability is much deeper than sourcing hemp garments and switching to water-based inks. It’s a mindset – a change in the way you operate in order to use less and save more.

Here are five steps for apparel decorators interested in implementing lasting changes on their journey toward a more sustainable operation.

1. Develop a sustainability committee. Because sustainability is based on performance, it’s helpful to designate a group responsible for implementing changes and gathering data. “It’s important that these tasks become part of an employee’s regular role, monitoring progress and introducing innovative ways to save,” Atkinson says. “You want someone always looking for ways to make processes more efficient – saving time, materials, money and energy."

2. Audit your energy. Schedule an energy audit on your natural gas, electricity and water usage, and request suggestions for how to save in these categories. Common ideas include installing motion-sensor LED lightbulbs, keeping your flash units off until you’re ready to run an order, switching to an auto-lock thermostat to maintain temperature and dressing accordingly, and fixing the air compressors that run your presses. Hint: If you have air compressor leaks, you could be throwing away thousands of dollars on wasted energy each year.

3. Reuse and recycle. Sustainability means using what you already have in every way you can. “Instead of tossing the bags that your Gildan order ships in, use them as trash bags in the shop; eliminate paper by switching to online orders and a digital production process; recycle cardboard, lightbulbs, hydraulic fluid, office paper, batteries and other items that comply with your area’s recycling policies,” Atkinson says. “If you hire new reps, buy their desks at a resale store.”

4. Streamline processes and upgrade equipment. Newer equipment is more energy efficient and produces better-quality products. If you’re always spending money to fix an old machine and find yourself running processes two or three times to reach a sellable product, consider upgrading. “Screen printing is a mechanical process that requires efficient machines and a lot of technique – high-tension screens, correct pressure, proper squeegee angles,” Atkinson says. “If the details aren’t just right, the process is wasting resources.”

5. Seek out educational resources. At the end of the day, becoming sustainable requires education and training. Use resources like the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) for courses and certifications to help transform your shop. Attend conferences, join Facebook groups and get involved with other business owners who are making the switch as you continue to learn about the latest in industry innovation.

Sustainability doesn’t happen overnight, but with steady improvements to your processes, you’ll continue to move toward a more efficient business model. It’s a win-win — for the planet and your bottom line.

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