A look at Hemlock, Canada's most eco-friendly printer

Mary Frances Hill

Just a block from the bustle of Kingsway's thoroughfare sits a square building that doesn't stand out from any other in this industrial area. Except for what goes on inside.

It's a place where executives dive into garbage bins, and a "white" roof helps cool and heat its interiors while maintaining the quality of the product.

It's a place where industrial toxins are cleaned automatically, and chemicals are used at their lowest level, without sacrificing quality and design.

In the end, Hemlock Printers, showered with awards as Canada's most environmentally sensitive printer, performs on a large scale the innovations that every business owner can take as a model in this eco-conscious – and tight – economy.

A printing company the size of Hemlock could be in a difficult position, in the eyes of the public. What could be tougher than to survive and thrive in an industry that relies indirectly on the felling of trees?

A printer has two choices: make a profit in a business-as-usual manner, and risk the ever-critical eye of eco-conscious clients; or go the creative route, and explore every imaginable way to conserve energy, reduce waste, re-use materials, and protect the bottom line.

"Because we use so much paper, it's easy to look at it as an industry that has a long ways to go," says Richard Kouwenhoven, Hemlock Printers vice president of digital and fulfillment services. "It can easily be stigmatized, when in reality, there's a lot of good things happening."

What’s with the white roof?

Hemlock Printers' innovations started at the top, literally.

In 2005, the company installed a new covering on its roof. The covering, a Firestone Ultraply, is both light reflective and insulating; it reduced the summer heat buildup in Hemlock’s plant by three to four degrees Celsius, and eliminated the need for air-conditioning.

While the plant itself is computer-controlled for heat and air-cooling, the roof covering is integral to the operation, says Kouwenhoven. Temperature control not only makes it easier for staff to be productive, it also helps them maintain printing quality.

Water is essential in the printing process, and since paper is so absorptive, unstable temperature or humidity could lead to the ruin of vital projects. And when you're printing art books for the Vancouver Art Gallery, you definitely don't want to botch up your colours.

Lighting retrofit cuts costs

At 40,000 square feet, the main plant floor, where workers print out anything from books on fine art to banking brochures and UBC stationery, is, in Hemingway's words, a clean, well-lighted place. A lighting retrofit under the guidance of BC Hydro Power Smart and the Power Smart Partner Program will likely save the company more than $30,000 in two years.

Recycling and the 'dumpster dive'

Ever-present on the floor are the big dark, wheeled bins, each full of metal scraps, aluminum, plastic, cardboard and, of course, paper.

Key to these recycling efforts is the annual "dumpster dive," a yearly event that compels executives to sort through every garbage bin, sorting out any unnecessary items, and using the experience to help create new recycling policies.

The dumpster dive helped the company reduce waste by 80% in the last two years. A few hundred feet away, a recycling composter and baler does the work that the company's contracted recyclers once did, saving labour, space and costly, numerous truck trips to the plant.

Reducing water discharge

Hemlock's new water system, which cleans contaminants caused from the blend of ink and water, brought about one of the most dramatic changes.

The used water lies well within the Greater Vancouver Regional District's hygienic standards to be discharged into the sewers. But before the system was introduced, Hemlock was discharging 9,700 gallons every year into the GVRD water system.

Today, 558 gallons end up in our waters, thanks to green technology.

While complex technology proves powerful in reducing an environmental footprint, smaller changes can make a big difference.

Hybrids, biodiesel and forest-friendly paper

Hemlock's sales team gets credit for driving hybrid company cars; the company has set a goal of offering nothing but Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper (from forest-friendly sources). It offers the "Offcuts for Charity program" providing printing for charities at a rebate, and a delivery truck that runs on biodiesel fuel.

Hemlock has come a long way from the Kingsway storefront space that founder Dick Kouwenhoven – Richard's father – bought in the 1960s.

"There wasn't a big effort to be an environmental leader," Kouwenhoven says of his father's early motivations. "It was more of a business approach. He was always a conscientious business person."

Today, Hemlock's team is well placed to promote eco-friendly business practices to their huge community of clients and readers.

"We're right in the middle, between a large group of people and a bunch of buyers," says Kouwenhoven. "That's at the heart of where we see opportunity to promote sustainable business practices."

Source: BC Hydro News