Skip to main content

Kickstart Your Sustainability Program

In recognition of Earth Day (April 22) we’re bringing you a guest post by Marshall Atkinson about sustainability in your shop.

These days you see a lot of pressure to move toward an eco-friendly way of doing business.  But what exactly does that mean for garment decorators? Will just using a recycled t-shirt be enough?

Below are ten tips to get you started on this path.  And no, just using a recycled t-shirt blank isn’t enough.  Let’s take a look:

Sustainability Tips for Garment Decorators:

  1. Start with forming a committee in your shop.  Talk about why this idea is needed and what are some low hanging fruit you can pick to get started.  Programs work best if you have representation of different parts of your company, so don’t simply have your owner and production manager be the committee.  You want to lay the groundwork for the program by outlining your intent for the next year and set some goals.
  2. Energy cost reduction is usually the easiest and biggest payoff.  Call your local utility company and get and schedule and energy audit.  This usually is either free or has a small fee. They will send an experienced auditor out to your shop to poke around.  In a few weeks you’ll get a report that shows your energy consumption and challenges. The great thing about this report is that it will have a grocery list of the changes you should make.
  3. Start a recycling program.  This is more than plastic water bottles.  You can recycle a lot of the material in your shop.  Plastic, cardboard, metal, electronics, hydraulic fluid, batteries, light bulbs, phones, electronics, furniture, paper, and phones can get you started.  Check with your local recycler and see what they can take. Many times if you segregate the material you can get someone to pick it up for you.
  4. Start a waste reduction program.  In your process what steps can you reduce or eliminate?  Can you use less product and get the same result? For example, by using a better ink, or changing your screen EOM can you eliminate double stroking ink on press?  Look at your processes in your shop with an open mind. What can you change to use less of something and get the same performance result?
  5. Think about what you can reuse.  Those plastic bags that wrap shirts in the t-shirt box make great trash can liners.  Are you carding 100% of the ink off the screens? If you have customers that reorder designs frequently are you reclaiming the screens or saving them for the next run?  Ban plastic water bottles from your shop, and use reusable ones instead.
  6. Look to see how your shop uses energy.  For example, do your press operators start their day by turning on their press flash units when they fire up the press?  Why not wait until they use them? Get a programmable or lockable thermostat for the office and keep it set to one temperature.  You can also set your air compressor to cycle on during off-peak hours so your energy rate doesn’t spike.
  7. If you can, source locally.  Think about the energy it takes to ship items to you.  Is there a local provider that you can use for something?  Actions like this help reduce your carbon footprint.
  8. Instead of petroleum naphtha based squeegee and floodbar cleaning stations look into getting one that uses bioremediation.  This is a better platform as it doesn’t use chemicals to clean your plastisol ink coated items.  Bioremediation uses the same microbes that clean up oil spills in the ocean. The microbes live in the base of the unit and eat the ink.
  9. Train your staff to make better decisions.  Be transparent. Talk to them about your goals and what you are trying to achieve.  You can’t be the sustainability police, running around telling people to turn off the lights.  A better way is to get everyone to come together as a team. Many hands make light work.
  10. Sign up for the Peer to Peer Network training offered by SGIA for sustainability.  This is an excellent class that is taught every other week in a webinar form.  There are usually about six to twelve other shops in the class and everyone works on the same changes and compares notes.  By the end of the program, you will be ready to get your third party sustainability audit by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.  This organization helps printers promote sustainability and offers a robust certification program that prevents greenwashing.

If you need help building your sustainability program, contact Marshall Atkinson at

Gilbert, AZ-based Marshall Atkinson is one of the leading production and efficiency experts for the decorated apparel industry.  He is the owner of Atkinson Consulting, LLC.
As a coach for shops in the industry, Atkinson focuses on operational efficiency, continuous improvement and workflow strategy, business planning, employee motivation, management and sustainability.
He is a frequent trade show speaker, article, blog author, and is the host of InkSoft’s The Big Idea podcast.
For more information go to .



Leave a comment