What Does "Going Green" Mean?


A few years ago I volunteered to research what was involved in “green certification.” What was I thinking?

“You never were in the army, were you?” asked Darryl Liedel, one of my RTape colleagues. “If you were, you would know that you never volunteer for anything.”

Now he tells me. I must have been hallucinating when I thought that all that would be involved was completing lengthy paperwork for some newly-established “green” government agency and paying some ridiculously exorbitant fee. Life is never that easy.

As I was to discover, tackling the question of what “going green” means is an extremely difficult assignment. Here’s the problem. There is no universal definition of “going green” and no such thing as an all-encompassing “green certification”.

The term “going green” means different things to different companies. To some, green means recyclable. To others, green means free of potentially harmful chemicals. And to a few, green means reducing the impact on the environment during product manufacturing along with reducing waste materials in packaging.

The definition of green expanded once the long arm of the law pointed its fickle finger of fate at your products. All of a sudden, going green meant compliance with governmental regulations – all types of regualtions, such as the Clean Air Act, the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) initiatives, California Proposition 65 and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), just to name a few.

Compliance with regulations has long been part of doing business overseas. If you want to play in their game, you have to play by their rules.

Compliance with an increasing number of environmental regulations and green requirements is in your future, too. More and more, digital printers, screen printers and sign shops are being asked by their customers to supply green products. This month’s article will cover what going green means, how to prepare yourself for the regulatory changes ahead, as well as how to take steps to plan and implement a green policy for your company, regardless of whether it is big or small.

Big Business Gets Into The Act

Governments aren’t the only ones laying down the law. Retail giants, such as Wal-Mart, have their own regulations. Like it or not, if you want to see your product, stocking their store shelves, you have to abide by their rules, too.

On the surface, the motivation for some large retailers to step to the forefront of the environmental movement is seemly transparent, and, undoubtedly as a PR ploy it can be effective. Many suspected that this was Wal-Mart’s motivation. Although admired by many, Wal-Mart inspires hatred in scores of others, many of whom are in the press. Wal-Mart has had its share of bad press.

To deflect some of the slings and arrows, Wal-Mart has found some respite behind the well-publicized shield of environmentalism. No longer the exploiter of the hapless masses of workers, the big, bad corporate goliath has deflected criticism, portraying itself instead as the jolly green environmental giant.

To be fair to Wal-Mart, their environmental programs are more than window dressing. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott is a true believer and his effort to promote corporate environmental responsibility is his legacy. As the champion of the country’s green movement in the business community, Wal-Mart has pursued several green initiatives. At the onset of their ambitious program, which was launched in October of 2005, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott described his company’s three long range green initiatives: "To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment."

Their green policy has become a model plan for other corporations to follow. It could also a good model for your company. After setting their environmental initiatives, Wal-Mart’s second step was to establish several intermediate goals:

  • To reduce solid waste from its stores by 25% in three years.

  • To increase the fuel efficiency of their tractor-trailer fleet by 25% in three years.

  • To cut their company’s energy consumption by 30% in seven years.

  • To reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that they emit by 20% in seven years.

Although Wal-Mart operates 6,000 stores, their management realized that their efforts alone would have little impact on the country’s overall carbon footprint. By enlisting or, better yet, drafting the support of their extensive network of 60,000 suppliers, they substantially multiplied their environmental efforts.

If you want to do business with Wal-Mart, you need to follow their green guidelines. As part of their qualification process, vendors that manufacture a “chemical product” must submit it for evaluation in their Chemical Assessment Review Process otherwise known as CARP. No manufacturer is excluded.

Wal-Mart has authorized the Worldwide Environmental & Regulatory Compliance Systems (WERCS) Professional Services to administer their CARP process. Submitting to the WERCS process is not as ominous and convoluted as you might imagine. It is not, however, without its costs.

If your company has an OSHA-compliant MSDS, the CARP process is a piece of cake. Submission of data is on-line. Payment for the service has also been simplified. WERCS even takes PayPal. After completing the on-line forms, WERCS notifies you and Wal-Mart that you have successfully completed the process. You will then be issued a number, and you will be free to go about your business with Wal-Mart.

Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

The EU has pioneered stringent environmental regulations as part of their REACH PROGRAM, regulating potentially hazardous substances. One of those substances on the list is benzyl butyl phthalate. Phthalates in products that children use have also become the latest environmental bogeyman in the United States.

Phthalates are a type of plasticizer, added to products, such as adhesives, inks and coatings, as well as to plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These phthalates can make a product more flexible and more durable. Governmental agencies, activists and parents are particularly concerned when these chemicals are added to anything that a child is likely to put in his mouth, such as a pacifier or teething ring.

According to many environmentalists, phthalates can also be hazardous to your health. They claim that phthalates mimic hormones that either stimulate or stunt hormonal activity that affects male reproductive growth. Phthalates have also been linked to the rise of testicular cancer, as well as causing a host of other maladies, from autism to infertility. Now I don’t know if these are hard cold facts or weird science, but it sounds really bad.

Any arguments about whether the risks from exposure to phthalates are real or imagined are, for all practical purposes, irrelevant. What is relevant is that the Congress of the United States has enacted legislation that could affect your business.

In November of 2008, George W. Bush signed into law the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which was aimed to make children’s product safer. This is not a voluntary program and it is in effect, right now. If your products are intended for use by children under the age of 12, they must meet these new governmental safety requirements.

Intended to make children's products safer, the CPSIA establishes requirements for all products intended for use by children under the age of 12. These regulations affect textile manufacturers and garment printers.

The CPSIA establishes requirement for levels of certain phthalates and lead. For example, the allowable limit for lead in any product that is accessible to children is 300 ppm. That’s half of the previous allowable limit. For products that are painted or coated with similar material, the allowable limit is 90 ppm. The allowable limit for phthalate ethers in children’s products is also extremely low at one tenth of one percent.

As tough as these limits are, the civil penalties are even tougher. Penalties for a single violation have been increase from $8,000 to $100,000. For a related series of violations, the limits were increased from $1.825 million to $15 million.

Printers, Beware. Printing a fabric for a children’s products could also fall under the CPSC policy umbrella. “Natural and synthetic fibers don’t typically contain phthalates and might not require testing,” says Marci Kitner, SGIA VP for Government and Business Information. “But inks may contain plasticizers, which means that printed materials must be tested.”

SGIA monitors governmental regulations, which apply to printers. Its website, www.sgia.org regularly posts articles on environmental policy, testing requirements and changes in legislation, which could affect screen printers and digital printers. To keep current with changes in green policy, a regular visit to their website is time well spent. SGIA also regularly hosts webinars on environmental issues, which can attended by members.

The CPSIA also “requires the manufacturer to certify that the finished product does not contain any of the prohibited levels of restricted chemicals,” says Tom Pidgeon, VP of Marketing and Sales for the DK Group, “and there is traceability.” Manufacturers are required to attach tracking labels to their product, to aid the recall of products in the event of a problem.”

While suppliers to the primary manufacturer do not have to affix labels to their products, they are not absolved from the requirements of the law. “If your product is used in the manufacture of a children’s product, you have an obligation to provide a lab analysis by a qualified, third-party independent lab,” Pidgeon says.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, www.cpsc.gov, will list accredited test laboratories. After testing the product, the testing lab supplies the results, and the manufacturer must issue a general certificate of conformity that certifies that the product satisfies all applicable CPSC requirements.

For more information on the CPSIA, see my article: CPSIA Update

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