sus•tain•abil•i•ty \-ˌstā-nə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ noun


A standard definition of sustainability, when it comes to manufacturing, is debatable. The identification and application of best practices, when it comes to sustainable manufacturing, can be downright contentious. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.

Everyone who is anyone, in the great economic eco-system, has put forth their own point of view on defining sustainability. The interests of government, academia and business are not aligned, so naturally they all have different viewpoints on the subject. To one degree or another, everyone is right.

I do not have the pretense nor the know-how to resolve the lexicographical (eat your heart out Noah Webster) dispute over the definition of sustainability. But, lack of a standard definition is not an exemption, for any company, to sit idly by and watch and conduct business as usual — the old devil-may-care, smoke stack way. There is an ever-increasing convergence of societal, environmental and governance factors that affect financial performance.

The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) knows this. They recently announced the launch of the Eco Index. The OIA and the Eco Index have created an industry-wide tool for sustainability designed to give companies a deeper understanding of the environmental impact of their products. The Eco Index is broad enough to help outdoor apparel and gear companies incorporate environmental sensitivities into new products as well as manage supplier relationships in way that supports environmental goals. It may be a longer-term outcome of the index, but there is intent to propagate a common sustainability language in the industry. (

The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) knows it as well. Similar to the Eco Index, the SGP was created by trade associations. In this case, The Printing Industries Association (PIA), Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) and National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) all banded together to create a certification label for sustainability in the graphic communications industry. SGP is the printing industry standard for the certification and continuous improvement of sustainability and best practices within print manufacturing operations. (

Until there is a standard definition around sustainability, individual industry, company and personal actions will speak louder than words.

About Author

Mark Schmit

Mark Schmit has served multiple roles while with MEP and is currently the National Accounts Manager. In this role he is responsible for developing partnerships with both the public and private sector entities. Mark identifies new business opportunities that leverage state and federal funding with the goal to improve the competitiveness of US-based manufacturers. His major area of focus is supply chain improvement.


  1. Interesting discussion Mark. We might be appalled if we were to quantify the amount of time we spend on lexicographical discussions. The definition of sustainability is a great example that affects our routine internal communications. (Do we mean environmentally or financially sustainable? Both?) What is meant by “green” has become just as discordant. Thanks for the summary, the links, and the hope for “lexiconical” solutions. (Or am I being lexiconically kleptomaniacal?) – SH

  2. Mark Bueltmann on

    So who should these “standards developers” be? Trade associations, partnerships (formal or informal), interested parties, user groups, research laboratories? I have a feeling that standard sustainability practices will soon be as varied as standard production practices. Considering that some view it as acceptable to have local standards where sector standards appear unachievable, I fear that (for example) a common water sustainability standard may unachievable, at least in the near term. I hope I’m wrong. – MB

  3. In the line at the store the cashier told me that I should bring my own grocery bags because plastic bags aren’t good for the environment.
    I apologized to him and explained, “we didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”
    The clerk responded, “that’s our problem today, your generation did not care enough to save our environment.”
    He was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.
    Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.
    But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
    We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
    But I am right, we didn’t have the green thing in our day.
    Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind.
    We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers and sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But I am right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
    Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screed the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Wyoming.
    In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.
    When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not syrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
    Back then, we didn’t fire up and engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
    And I’m right we didn’t have the green thing back then.
    We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whol razor just because the blade to dull.
    But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
    Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.
    We had one electrical outlet per room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to recieve a signal beamed from satellites 2000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joing.
    But isn ‘t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?
    And we appear to have sustainability, I am here and I am not green by any definition.
    Stick that in your lexicon.

  4. Somewhere I read that the best thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for planets to live on….

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