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Building a Green Campaign

Portland Color helps Bloomingdale's show off its sustainable side.

"Going green" is the mantra of many businesses these days. But few print providers have embraced the concept as thoroughly as Portland Color of Portland, Maine. This year, the shop was able to leverage that commitment into producing materials for special environmentally themed “Little Green Boutiques” in every Bloomingdale's location across the country.

Portland Color's road to being a wide-format print shop that’s focused on sustainability has taken the company down various paths in its history. Recalls company founder and president Andrew Graham, "Since we started in 1988, we've gone through many stages. At one time, we created presentation graphics with Lotus Freelance Plus and Harvard Graphics. Unfortunately, the slide-making and overhead business didn't last. Neither did the color-copy business, nor did the film processing and printing business. But we kept evolving to provide new products to our customers.

"We became a wide-format print provider around 1998," Graham continues. "We bought a couple of Encad NovaJets and a PostScript RIP and began RIP’ing files and printing them 36-inches wide. Our first job was signage for a well-known Maine retailer. Now we employ 22 people in a 25,000-square-foot facility."
Since then, the shop has moved far beyond those two early NovaJets: The facility now houses an array of wide-format printers, including an HP XLJet 1500 dye-sublimation printer, a Roland SolJet Pro aqueous dye-sublimation printer, an HP Designjet L65500 Latex-based ink printer, an HP FB6100 UV-curable flatbed printer, a CET Color X-Press HK512 16B UV-curable printer, and an Océ LightJet 430, among others.

Connecting the 'green' dots
Portland Color also has made great strides to set itself apart from its competitors. One aspect of this has been its efforts to offer environmentally preferable options to it clients and to become a leader in environmentally sound practices overall.

"About four or five years ago," Graham relates, "I became interested in becoming a green company. I contacted the SGIA (the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association) to ask about how, and it was just about the time they were starting to ask those questions internally themselves. It became quickly apparent that we were ahead of the curve, because there weren't very many sustainable products or processes yet. So we began pushing manufacturers to come up with solutions that were appropriate and to come up with documentation that proved it."

Not long afterwards, the SGIA and other printing and graphic-arts professional groups formed the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) to create a central clearinghouse for information on green printing.

"The SGP program is built on a foundation of compliance," says Graham, whose shop is now SGP-certified. "We embrace the idea that sustainability starts with following all the rules and documenting our compliance. Our indoor air quality is excellent, primarily because we chose not to invest in solvent processes. Our primary process is UV cured, and our vinyl printing is done with [HP’s] latex ink. We collect and then dispose of all waste products appropriately – they get picked up by a licensed vendor and incinerated. We do vent some indoor air to the outdoors, but we run it through a charcoal filter system to reduce any VOCs. We invite inspections from the state and from our insurance company so that we can learn what we should be doing, rather than waiting for an official inspection."

Meanwhile down the coast in New York City, retail giant Bloomingdale’s had been pursuing its own sustainable efforts in recent years. In addition to taking actions such as reducing its carbon footprint through the addition of solar panels in its stores, the retailer had also begun supporting the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) since 2007 through funding, loyalty programs, and awareness-raising events in stores and on its website. As it made its preparations to celebrate Earth Month in April 2010, Bloomingdale’s was looking at some combination of these same in-store and online elements.

Proposing solutions
Being a green printer may be good for a company's image, but is it good for business? In the case of the recent collaboration between Portland Color and Bloomingdale's, the answer was certainly yes. As with so many jobs, this one began with introducing the client to a new idea.

"We first got into wide-format printing because we saw it as a possible area of expansion. Generally, clients don't know what they need, so it's our business to do the research and suggest solutions that would be appropriate," says Graham.

Steve Kinney, Portland Color's vice president of marketing and sales, picks up the story: "In many ways, that's very much what we did with Bloomingdale's too – realizing how this particular product line [our green printing capabilities] fits a need and then proposing it to them as a solution. That's the kind of thing that's required for a little company in Portland, Maine, to compete successfully in New York City."

"With any client you approach," continues Kinney, "you never know what their campaign strategy already is, or what their rollout strategy is. But what you do see are opportunities within the store to make things better. Typically, what I try to look at is an old or ‘dirty’ technology and then apply our materials, techniques, and efficiency."

Kinney began with a cold call to Margaret Romanowski, Bloomingdale's design director of graphics and signage. "I get a lot of phone calls from different vendors asking if they can come in and show me their work," recalls Romanowski. "Steve called at a good time, during one of our calmer periods. He came in and met with me, when we were in the process of planning our spring/summer campaign and had decided that part of our campaign would be about being green. So when he was explaining what their company was about, it just seemed like a very good fit at the time."

"It was a great meeting," recalls Kinney. "I went down to New York and told her about the SGP and about Portland Color’s history and how we like to work. And I identified places within the stores where they could use our materials. That's really where we solidify our relationship, because it shows the client you're not just there to present the same capabilities that everybody else has."

"When I met with them the first time, we didn't really have a lot of background for our campaign," says Romanowski. "We only knew we'd be dealing with the NRDC and that the campaign was going to be about how to make our lives greener. We're a philanthropic company, and we have pop-up boutiques in the stores for every campaign we do, so I did know something like that was going to happen. "

"In a subsequent meeting," recalls Kinney, "we presented them with materials that were from manufacturers who have developed recycled materials geared for our machines. But while I was presenting those materials, we realized that the actual packaging I had used for the materials – brown paper and cardboard boxes – had a more literally green character. In that same meeting, we decided that if we really wanted to do this in a way that didn't fool the consumer, why don't we just use cardboard and kraft paper?"

The art and the ‘kraft’ of sustainability
"Our campaigns don't always tie into a charity," says Romanowski, "but when they do, we always put what we call our 'good-deeds' wall in the boutiques. The walls let the customers know what they're doing to help the charity. In the case of our green campaign, the good-deed wall was based on a deck of cards from the NRDC promoting 'Simple Steps' to being green. I think we chose 16 or 18 of the steps that would make sense in a department store. We have nearly 40 locations and Portland Color did two large-scale walls for us in each store."

One of the two walls (70 x 96 inches) featured the Simple Steps to Being Green printed in the shape of hang tags – one tag for each step. The other wall (also 70 x 96 inches) presented information about the NRDC and how the items for sale in the boutique – which ranged from exclusive merchandise such as a green water bottle and a reusable tote bag to sustainable umbrellas – would benefit that organization. Both wall graphics (as well as box graphics) were printed with Portland’s HP Designjet L65500 Latex-based printer onto 80-pound kraft paper.

In addition to the two walls, Portland Color also printed a vast array of smaller graphic components that appeared in other parts of the stores. "For our visual moments--the platforms throughout the store where the mannequins are – we had a sign with a visual tie-in to the campaign, with the green-on-cardboard look," Romanowski explains. "There were probably 10 or 12 of those throughout each store." Other components included small hang tags for each item (printed on Earthboard with its HP FB6100 UV printer), mission statements, and much more.

"We must have printed several thousand pieces all told," says Graham. "It was a lot for us. Also we had never printed on kraft paper before. That was a challenge, because it's a material that's not intended for inkjet printers. It's not manufactured in a way that can guarantee no wrinkles in the roll. So we faced a little bit of a learning curve in getting the ink and the material right."

From Romanowski's viewpoint, on the other hand, the job didn't require much special effort: "We just gave them Adobe InDesign or Illustrator files, as we usually do," she says. "It’s true that we probably spent more time in the prototype phase than we would have normally, because printing on kraft paper and things like that was all very different for us than printing on a heavy board stock. Portland Color made several samples for us, and we spent a lot of time going back and forth about what the color looked like once you put it on kraft paper as opposed to white. When you put the green on top of the brown, some of it got a little muddy, so we did have to tweak the color a little bit."

Portland Color's early embrace of green printing helped during this process, too, says Graham. Because it had been an early adopter of latex printing, for example, “As part of our original learning process, we learned a lot about how to adjust temperature and roll tension, change dwell time, and so on. So we're used to pushing the envelope in terms of how to work with unusual materials.”
Also of note: This campaign was the first use of the SGP logo in the retail arena.

Building a relationship
Romanowski was pleased with the results of the campaign. "I think it was well received as an environmental push. It's not a sales event, so there's nothing very tangible about it –this is more about an awareness campaign. Portland Color was, and is, a great company to work with. It's a nice feeling to use them and to know you're using an environmental company. It makes me think twice about how much I'm ordering – puts my whole print life in perspective."
For his part, Kinney is happy with the outcome as well. "We've continued to have a relationship with them, including for projects not necessarily with a green theme. We've continued to do these campaigns for them successfully."
 

Portland Color
(portlandcolor.com)

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