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Green company

Oct 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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For many printers, the idea of altering operations to become environmentally friendly inspires fear as well as excitement. Some jump right into making improvements, while others hesitate to tackle the challenge. LAgraphico (, a $39 million, 210-employee graphic solutions provider in Southern California, not only took on the task and investment, but has made it a point to constantly improve its environmental footprint. “A lot of it is trial and error,” says Dan Stillwell, CEO of LAgraphico, “[but] it really isn't as bad as people might think. If you make it a priority, you'll find the time to do it.” LAgraphico held a “Thinking Green” event on June 7, 2007. Principal of new business development Brandon Gabriel and CEO Dan Stillwell led tours.

‘New generation, new blood’

The family-run business was founded as printing brokerage A&L Graphico in 1978 by Al and Liz Shapiro. The couple started another company, LA Filmco, in 1986 to produce prepress materials in-house. Thirteen years later, the two merged and LAgraphico was born. Three years ago, Tom Stillwell, his brother, Dan, and Brandon Gabriel — whom Stillwell calls “an adopted brother” — took control of the company. Over the years, the company has worked to become a “one-stop shop” specializing in multi-tier marketing and branding campaigns, providing a little bit of everything — including creative, R&D, premedia, grand format, digital printing, sheetfed offset printing, in-store graphic installation, fulfillment and more. “We can do anything from a building wrap to punching bags to banners to one-sheets and standard marketing materials,” says Stillwell.

Since assuming control of the company, the three partners have worked to narrow the gap between the creative and manufacturing aspects. “We [want to be able to take a project] from start to finish,” says Stillwell. To that end, Midnight Oil Creative was founded to do conceptual design and other creative work. It occupies space in the 74,000-sq.-ft. LAgraphico facility. Many of Midnight Oil's clients feed into LAgraphico when production is required, which has helped the company be part of those clients' projects from very early in the process.

The pressroom is home to two Heidelberg presses: a CD 102 40-inch, six-color press and a CD 74 29-inch, five color press, both with coating capabilities. The company also has two large-format digital presses, a 16-meter VUTEk 5530 and a 10-ft. UV Durst Rho 350.

Green machine

The decision to become more environmentally responsible began several years ago. California was talking about lowering the amount of allowable volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, and LAgraphico was handling a lot of projects from studio clients who were very environmentally conscious. Stillwell notes, “The printing industry is not the most environmentally friendly industry in the world, so we wanted to do our part to make a difference.”

It started with blanket washes. LAgraphico partnered with its vendor, Amerikal (, to produce a blanket wash that is almost completely VOC-free. VOC emissions on its blanket wash are 34 grams per liter (650 grams per liter is the norm), a fact that Stillwell says is hard for some people to even believe. Amerikal also helped LAgraphico reduce VOCs in its fountain solution.

That sparked partnerships on VOC-reduction projects with LAgraphico's ink and coating vendors, as well. Working with Nicoat, LAgraphico now uses a zero-VOC coating. Gans Ink & Supply helped develop a vegetable-based ink. To receive the “Printed with Soy Ink” seal, the ASA requires 20 percent soy oil content; the ink used by LAgraphico contains 71 percent, Stillwell proudly claims. Today, the company uses that single ink for all of its applications — on plastics, standard work, and coated or uncoated pieces. Stillwell says, “We couldn't do it without [our partnerships with Amerikal, Gans and Nicoat]. It's [about] setting the expectations with our vendors that, ‘This is way things are going, and we need to start working on it now.’”

In addition to its pressroom chemistry, LAgraphico became Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified in March 2007.

Since LAgraphic began the process of becoming a green operation, it has reduced overall VOC emissions by 89 percent. Stillwell notes, “We are confident in our leadership position in the environmental movement. We have several years of a head start on companies that haven't addressed these issues yet, and we know they have a lot of work ahead of them.”

Practice makes perfect

Even though changes have been positive for LAgraphico, Stillwell warns that there is no instant fix. “It's not an overnight thing. In the beginning, we had all kinds of problems with quality. It took us four tries on the blanket wash before we got it right. It's just a matter of being open-minded and wanting to give it a shot.”

And, Earth isn't the only beneficiary of this change. Lowering VOCs doesn't mean increasing cost. Stillwell says the pricing is comparable — even a little less. The new pressroom chemistry also is easier on the equipment: Rollers last longer because the solutions are less abrasive. Employees have a safer work environment without the harmful fumes associated with many solvents, and even employees' spouses have benefited from the change. Stillwell says press operators constantly hear, “Gosh, you don't smell like a pressroom anymore!”

Editor's note: Products and news related to sustainability can be found on page 36.

Carrie Cleaveland is assistant editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at