The West Coast of America has long had the reputation for leading in terms of societal change. In the 1960s San Francisco led as the counter culture swept across the globe. In more recent years from Silicon Valley to Portland, tech companies have chosen the west coast as home. The combination of cutting edge technology and a challenge to the status quo has fed the environmental movement and push for legalisation of cannabis.
The ideas have spilled north into Canada where British Columbia has embraced many of the same progressive attitudes. Companies, printers included, need to be green. Mitchell Press in Vancouver is one of them.
It is the largest printer west of the Rockies in Canada, running two 16pp heatset web presses, one each from Komori and Heidelberg, and specialising in short run publication printing, dipping as low as 3,000 copies on the web presses. The company has been around for more than 90 years and is now in the hands of the family’s third generation. For many years it operated from a former biscuit factory in the centre of Vancouver.
Ten years ago it moved to a purpose built 6,000m2 factory when it installed the Komori web press. The building was specified to achieve the highest environmental standards, kicking off the company on a journey that has continued since. “The family might have retired with the money from selling the factory, but decided instead to pass it on to the third generation,” says Scott Gray, who joined the business to set up its digital arm and as marketing director in 2017. “The new factory has an amazing environmental footprint and it turned out to be very good timing, as the environment began to kick off at that point.”
Where the business had been a strictly publication printer with the two web presses, the direction in magazines and catalogues was clear: runs and products were becoming smaller and while the entirely digital workflow and operators were slick enough to make ready in 20 minutes – thanks to the implementation of standard operating procedures – something new was needed.
That turned out to be digital printing as a way to reach the design community in British Columbia and into Oregon across the border in the US. A Kodak Nexpress ZX3300 was specified as the most appropriate machine for the task. Gray continues: “I came out of a local sheetfed, design based printing company and at the time I was looking for a challenge and opportunity.
“These guys had a great footprint, but had never marketed themselves. With online and social media the typical print customer is changing and the business had lost track of where design led print was. They decided they needed to try to reintroduce themselves to that. They are on a par colour wise with the likes of Williamson Printing and Hemlock Printers and some of the great names in America.”
But unlike the profile that these companies have achieved, nobody knew about Mitchell Press. Gray's role has been to restore the company’s position alongside these leading businesses in terms of colour and print quality and as a leader in terms of the environment.
The building was a first step. If legalisation dictated some of the set up, no emission of VOCs for example, others were taken by the company “because it is the right thing to do”. Gray adds: “There was no aspiration to be the greenest printer on earth, rather we wanted to make green part of the company DNA." It appointed a sustainability coordinator around a year ago, from a background in environmental science to build on existing activities. There is a zero to landfill policy and data is being collected on all aspects of internal energy usage, transport and the production processes used by its suppliers.
The aim is to become carbon neutral, using a project along the coast in Whistler to offset carbon generated. It has worked with Climate Smart on understanding the generation of carbon and to find ways to recycle or reuse materials processed. The journey is not ended yet. “It’s been about putting a stake in the ground and measuring it,” he says. “Then we can leverage the information and produce a sustainability report.”
Its publishing customers are less concerned about this than the price charged, though they are being guided to use FSC paper first and then to use uncoated grades “because uncoated is a less refined product than a coated paper. For us ‘uncoated is the new coated’. Our customers are looking for a competitive edge and this is a great story for them.
“Customers are started to ask about the environmental stuff and we can start compiling the data to publish in the next few months. Not many printers are doing this – especially not web offset printers. And a growing number of US clients want to find something like this in the western half of the US.”
Trade policy, already affecting distribution of Canadian newsprint, may make taking on US work trickier than it might have been under a previous administration. Tender forms are asking about being carbon neutral, Gray adds, in response to pressure from their customers.
Part of the drive to reduce the use of unnecessary consumables has been a switch to Kodak’s Sonora plate for the resilience it offers. This marked a real change when introduced three years ago, two years after the company first decided to go processless to eliminate the use of processing chemistry. It tested plates from three key suppliers, ending up with Sonora.
“Before then we struggled with run lengths,” he says. Runs up to 200,000 might need several sets of plates. With Sonora a run of 300,000 might need only two sets of plates, regardless of the paper stock. The company runs to 210 lpi as a matter of course and the plate has excelled. “Quality and colour stability was really solid, balance was easier to achieve and because of that register was better. It was a bit of an Aha! moment.”
Mitchell's focus on reducing the impact on the environment has started to be noticed with awards for sustainability in Canada and earning the company the Kodak Sonora Plate Green Leaf Award this year. This recognition is more than significant to the creative agencies and marketing departments that Gray was brought on board to develop. After 30 years in print, having early on realised his limitations as a designer, he knows that segment of the industry along the Pacific coast. And the environment is becoming a major issue to these companies along with the value added creative impact of extended colours, metallics and substrates, all of which the Nexpress is capable of coping with.
The investment and the opportunity it represented was the draw for Gray he admits, that and being instrumental in putting a 90-year-old sleeping giant firmly on the map. Its marketing was so low key that three years ago the business did not even have a website. It does now, along with an increasing presence among the buyers that the company wants to reach.
“The additional colours the Nexpress is capable off, the extra heavyweight substrates kit are all aspects to offer agencies and especially in-house designers. It’s about selling the value of consistency and quality.” And the environment is crucial. “We know that if clients are not green today, they will be tomorrow.”
The Kodak Nexpress provides Mitchell Press with the ability to go to designers, agencies and marketing people and explain the benefits of adding different effects to print at lower runs than are possible on its web presses.