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Printer impresses clients with eco-changes

A printing press at Thistle Printing, a 79-year-old business in Toronto.

Eco-friendly isn't a term that jumps to mind when thinking about the printing industry. Paper consumption, energy-hungry presses and hazardous waste get in the way.

But Toronto-based Thistle Printing Ltd. is leading a green revolution. The 79-year-old company, which prints posters, newsletters, business cards, brochures, catalogues and books, recently introduced a series of changes at its 42,000-square-foot plant that will lighten Thistle's environmental impact and boost the company's bottom line.

"We've always approached the environmental side as a win-win-win. It's a win for the environment ... It's a win for our customers and it's a win for the company," Thistle's general manager Bryan Hockaday says.

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When it comes to considering eco-changes, "you have to look at the cost," Mr. Hockaday says. Thistle's green initiatives came with price tags, but the savings they'll generate are worth it, he adds.

In the pre-press area, aluminum plates are developed with chemicals. In the past, used developer was drained and disposed of offsite. Two months ago, Thistle installed a $4,000 system that captures used developer, cleans it and then reuses it.

The new system means Thistle's pre-press will produce 3.5 tonnes less chemical waste every year. By reusing developer, Thistle will slash its purchase of developer chemicals by 50 per cent, which will save $17,000 a year.

Changes also occurred in the pressroom. In addition to vegetable-based ink, the presses rely on fountain solution, which prevents the ink from building up on the plates. Previously, fresh fountain solution was added on Mondays and drained to be disposed of on Fridays.

With Thistle's new $9,000 closed-loop fountain recirculation system, spent fountain solution is gathered, treated and reused. This will save Thistle $5,400 a year. It will also cut Thistle's fountain solution waste by 11,000 litres a year. And 1.6 tonnes fewer of volatile organic compounds - the chemicals that can produce smog - will be emitted each year.

In addition to reusing fountain solution, Thistle installed a system for recycling blanket wash - the liquid that cleans the presses of ink and paper dust. In the past, used blanket wash, which contains a volatile solvent, was captured in a waste reservoir and then disposed of offsite.

Thistle's new $25,000 solvent recycler turns spent blanket wash into pure cleaning solvent that can be reused, which will save Thistle $8,000 a year. The pressroom will generate 6.43 tonnes less hazardous waste each year and 5.36 tonnes less volatile organic compounds a year.

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Together, these sustainable initiatives will save Thistle $30,400 a year. But the company, which has 72 employees, isn't stopping there. "The whole idea is continuing to work towards improving and reducing your toxins and VOCs," Mr. Hockaday says.

That's why Thistle hired green consulting firm EcoSafe. The Whitby, Ont., consulting firm conducted a three-month pollution prevention assessment of Thistle. Valued at $10,000, the assessment cost Thistle just $5,000 thanks to subsidies arranged through the non-profit Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement.

So far Thistle has implemented more than half of EcoSafe's recommendations. "We're still evaluating some of the other ones. It's an ongoing environment management process," Mr. Hockaday says.

Plans for the future include installing a system to capture, clean and reuse water from the pre-press area. The system could save Thistle 450 tonnes of water each year, which would slash the company's water bills by $8,500 a year.

In the pressroom, Thistle is investigating equipment to clean rags that wash its presses. Because the rags contain blanket wash, which is volatile, Thistle pays an environmental surcharge to the company that cleans the rags. Under the proposed system, new equipment in the plant would wring out blanket wash from the rags. Recovering the blanket wash, which would then be purified and reused, would reduce 1.8 tonnes per year of hazardous waste and 1.6 tonnes per year of volatile organic compounds. Plus, it would save Thistle $3,400 a year.

Aside from cost savings, there are marketing benefits to going green. "It can help differentiate us from the competition that isn't making these kind of investments," Mr. Hockaday says. Thistle has won eco-awards from the Toronto Region Sustainability Program and industry magazine PrintAction.

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As a certified Forest Stewardship Council printer, Thistle encourages customers to use post-consumer recycled paper. Thistle's green operations and FSC certification helped the printer land environmentally aware clients including Greenpeace Canada.

Viewing sustainability as a process rather than an endpoint is key, Mr. Hockaday says. "We keep challenging ourselves on what can we do better."

And that benefits business.

"Anything we can do to reduce our usage is, as a rule, cost savings," Mr. Hockaday says. "None of the changes have been detrimental to our company in any way. There is usually a payback all the way through."

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