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Environment and politics go hand in hand Thomas Ackerman | Sat, Nov 20 2010 12:00 PM

If the elections are any sign of Californians' values, then it's clear voters believe in pursuing a sustainable future that helps boost our state's economy.

My personal values - the values I learned from my grandfather and my mother at eight years old, while planting organic fruits and vegetables - helped save my business 30 years later. What I learned in that garden years ago has seeded a great company - promoting values that reduce harmful chemicals, conserve natural resources and produce quality products. My family's environmental values have helped me build a successful, thriving local business.

In 1986, three years after my mother Barbara Ackerman opened Spirit Graphics, we began a practice of environmental stewardship that has translated into profits for our company. We started printing on the first recycled papers available, conserved fuel by stacking deliveries, and consolidated print jobs by color to minimize wash-ups.

Converting to profit-building, environmentally friendly solutions will be easier for California's small businesses with our state's continued commitment to clean energy policies. I'm looking forward to Governor-elect Jerry Brown's support of policies that help small businesses, like mine, grow profits.

We're still finding new ways to produce a better product that leaves less impact on the earth. Six years ago while my wife was pregnant with our son, I noticed she was having reactions to the chemicals in our pressroom. That was the wake-up call I needed to investigate how the entire printing process affects my employees, suppliers and the community around me. That's when I really put the principle of "do no harm" to work.

I researched everything we were using in our operations - from paper stock, to the cleaning solvents for the printing presses. My research led Spirit Graphics to stop using harmful chemical compounds, which can evaporate and react to sunlight, contributing to bad air. Now we use non-petroleum based inks, which are safer and cost about the same.

And to help reduce our annual operating costs, we've invested in state-of-the-art, energy-efficient equipment. These new technologies are helping to reduce our energy and waste management costs. For example, I invested in a new Computer-to-Plate (CTP) technology, which speeds up the printing process by transferring electronic files directly from computers to press plates. This new process eliminates film, plate and proof processors and the associated chemicals. We now save thousands of gallons of water each month.

But there's still more we can do. My future plans involve putting solar panels on the roof of our space in Chula Vista. We're engaging our workers to take more ownership of the business as "environmental ambassadors" for our company. I make sure recycling is as important as answering the phone. And to do my part, I moved closer to my business, so that I wouldn't have to commute long distances to and from work.

I am constantly addressing the balance between the bottom line and my environmental footprint. I buy just the right amount of equipment to run the jobs, and I am extremely conscientious about which purchases I make, and how I want to grow. Not everyone will put as much effort into their environmental efforts as I do, but energy-efficiency changes have translated into profits for my company. My environmental policies have brought in orders and helped me stand apart from my competitors.

The same thinking that went into my business applies to California. We can build a healthy economy while protecting the environment at the same time. Tuesday's election results indicate Californians' overwhelming support for our visionary policies, like AB 32, the state's landmark clean energy law.

Ackerman is the vice president and CSO (chief sustainable officer) of Spirit Graphics, a Chula Vista printing company that specializes in green printing and design. He runs the company with his mother Barbara Ackerman, president. Spirit Graphics is one of a handful of printing companies that are tripled certified by: the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Spirit Graphics was a recipient of the 2009 CoolCalifornia Small Business of the Year award by the California Air Resources Board. For more information visit www.sgink.net.

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