SGP and Sustainability Movement Remain Strong During Challenging Year

By Doreen Monteleone, director of sustainability and EHS initiatives, RadTech International North America

The year 2020 will go down as one of the most turbulent and unpredictable in recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the global economy and challenged businesses – from business continuity to employee protection. The various printing processes have many commonalities, but their products were impacted very differently. Textiles and signage for tradeshows saw a sharp decrease while food packaging saw a significant increase. Also, depending on where a facility was located and the infection rate of the pandemic, a facility could have been shut down completely at any given time. However, even during some of the darkest days of the pandemic, companies continued to move forward with sustainability goals and certification by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). SGP adapted to the situation and continued its mission to promote sustainable printing.

Accommodating Impact of COVID-19

In spring 2020, SGP needed to modify the on-site audit portion of its certification process to accommodate travel restrictions and social distancing measures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Auditors could no longer visit facilities, yet some needed on-site audits to become certified or recertified. In response, SGP moved to a more enhanced remote audit, in lieu of an on-site visit, so facilities could move forward with certification and recertification. This new process involved more communication with the assigned auditor and detailed information to be uploaded to the SGP Impact Tracker, SGP’s cloud-based system of reporting metrics. Unfortunately, some facilities were hit particularly hard and had to temporarily suspend operations. SGP stands ready to help those companies resume the certification program when they are able to do so.

Support from Print Buyers Expands

During the spring, InnerWorkings (INWK) joined the SGP community as its newest SGP Brand Leader. SGP Brand Leaders are print buyers that promote their print suppliers to become certified, and they also work with existing SGP Printers. INWK is advancing toward the sustainability goals of its clients and partnered with SGP to move forward its mission of delivering measurable, sustainable value. The data from the SGP Impact Tracker have shown that certified SGP Printers are making great, measurable strides in sustainability. Long-term, sustainable solutions will continue to be on the minds of brand managers. By partnering with SGP, brands can improve the sustainability of their supply chain and help print supplier partners emerge stronger and more differentiated in their capabilities. As one of its main sustainability initiatives, INWK is advocating for its suppliers to become certified SGP Printers and prioritize business relationships with those that are certified.

Printers Continue to Make Great Strides

Data collected early in 2020 from SGP Printers through the SGP Impact Tracker demonstrate continuous improvements to sustainability indicators. Aggregate data show that the print community significantly reduced water and energy consumption, carbon footprint and waste produced. Currently, there are more than 50 SGP Printers, accounting for more than nine million sq. ft. of facility space. With the SGP certification program’s emphasis on continuous improvement, on average, SGP Printers reduced:

  • Electricity consumption by 60%
  • Water use by 52%
  • Carbon footprint by 63%
  • Solid waste from 76% to 83%

These accomplishments equate to monetary savings for SGP Printers as well as substantial reductions in environmental impacts. For example, a 90,000-sq.-ft. operation saves $26,000 per year for energy and water when compared to a 2010 baseline. The average annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions for SGP Printers is equivalent to about 2,700 trees and letting them grow for 10 years.

SGP Continues Its Evolution

SGP’s Executive Committee monitors advancements in the printing industry to consider inclusion in future iterations of the criteria. The current criteria document has gone through two revisions since its inception in 2008. The current version was issued in 2016 and will be revised in 2021. Members of the SGP community, its SGP Printers, SGP Patrons, SGP Resource Partners and SGP Brand Leaders will be asked to join a committee to make revisions. By engaging the entire community involved, SGP ensures that all aspects of sustainability are included, keeping it the most comprehensive program specific to the printing industry.

Part of the SGP criteria involves printers seeking out more sustainable methods to print from their supply chain. In the rapidly advancing industry, there could be more sustainable ink formulations, along with better and safer ways to handle chemicals, on the horizon. That is why the entire print supply chain of the SGP Community is involved in criteria development.

SGP Supplier Certification Being Developed

SGP has drafted criteria for an SGP Supplier certification that will be open to companies such as ink manufacturers, film producers and others that are part of the print supply chain. The supplier certification program will parallel the criteria for the printers in that it will define a sustainable operation, not the product. It will include many of the same aspects, such as a sustainability management system, best practices, reporting metrics, setting goals and compliance with regulations. A draft of the certification criteria is available on SGP’s website and is open for comment through Oct. 15, 2020. A September webinar will explain the draft criteria. Certification for suppliers to the printing industry should begin by 2021.

SGP Patron Support Increases

The support from the print supply chain has continued to be steady through 2020. Recently, Sun Chemical increased its support of SGP from a silver to a gold level. Companies such as INX International also have been supporting SGP for many years. It is the financial and intellectual support of SGP Patrons that keeps costs low for printers and provides input into the program about state-of-the-art technology and techniques that are available to printers. It is the involvement of SGP Patrons that keeps the program relevant on the sustainability journey.

Don’t Stand on the Sideline: Get Involved in 2020

A commonly heard phrase during the COVID-19 pandemic is that we are “In this Together!” It is the way we gather and share ideas, skill sets and efforts to reach our common goal. This has also been true for the SGP Community and its goal to improve sustainability in the printing industry. The SGP Community includes SGP Printers, SGP Patrons (suppliers), SGP Brand Leaders (buyers) and SGP Resource Partners (associations and academia). We work together to try to ensure that products and packaging are printed in the most sustainable manner possible. That requires a holistic approach that includes making smart choices for inks and solvents. The opportunities to work toward our goal continue to evolve and need to be promoted. SGP is the only sustainability certification program for printers, and it has the full support of RadTech, along with all major print and ink organizations in North America. 

Learn more about SGP, those already certified and how to become a member of the SGP Community at or contact Doreen Monteleone at

Each certified SGP printer must commit to:

  • Reduce waste and hazardous materials
  • Conserve energy
  • Source sustainable materials
  • Lower its carbon footprint
  • Create a safer workplace
  • Conform to all relevant environmental, health, safety & labor laws
  • Adopt a comprehensive annual continuous improvement project
  • Undergo a third-party recertification audit every two years