Episode 102: Eco-friendly Signage with Green Banners with Don Jackson

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Sean Daily, Green Living Ideas' Editor-In-Chief, dicusses a variety of environmentally friendly signage options and materials with Don Jackson, owner of Green Banners.

Transcript

Hi! Welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.

Sean Daily: Hello everybody. This is Sean Daily. Today is another installment of Green Talk radio from greenlivingideas.com and I’m really excited to have a local businessperson on the program with me to discuss the topic of green banners for companies and their marketing efforts. His name is Don Jackson and he is the owner of a company called Green Banners. He’s also a photographer.

Don, welcome to the program.

Don Jackson: Great to be here Sean. Thank you very much.

Sean Daily: So a mutual friend of ours introduced us. A guy named Allan Hardman, I believe, was the first person who made the introduction.

Don Jackson: Yes, that’s correct.

Sean Daily: Allan is an old client of mine, and friend; a good guy all around. He’s also an author for those of you interested in self-improvement or the Toltec ways of wisdom; he’s a famous author.

Allan had mentioned to me about what you were doing. He said, “You’ve got to talk to Don, because he is doing a business based on printing green banners. He’s the first one in the country, I think, who has really made a business out of turning banners--using green materials, green processes and such; and has a photographic background.”

Can you tell us a little about how you got the idea and also how that evolved from your photography background?

Don Jackson: Great. Thanks Sean. Allan is a great guy. I just spent two weeks in Mexico doing photography with him with one of his workshops. He’s just fabulous. If anybody has any interest, I recommend it.

The whole banner biz started more evolutionary than revolutionary as an extension of my photography business. I do fine art and printing. I had a photo client that asked me to do some banners for them. I said, “Well, gosh. I guess I could do that. I do big prints.” So I checked with the largest national wholesaler for banner material, got the right stuff, made one and went, “Well this stuff really stinks!”

It turns out it was made out of vinyl and it was outgassing. I said, boy, something is wrong with this. I was pretty naïve about it at the time. I printed some banners for a local client and one of the other people in the staff said, “Oh! Vinyl!” I said, “Whoa! Wait a minute. I need to look at this.” So with some prompting from them and some other clients encouraging me to find another solution, I was surprised there was nobody in the country focusing on environmentally friendly signage, which seemed exciting and appalling at the same time.

Sean Daily: Yes, opportunity and problem all in one.

Don Jackson: Yes, so then I searched and searched and searched and found a material. When you talk about a green product or a green process, it becomes splitting hairs. Is this more green than that? In trying to differentiate that, an example would be one of my products is a recycled polypropylene which is a food grade plastic unlike vinyl so it doesn’t outgas, doesn’t have the toxic properties of vinyl. And it’s also recyclable which vinyl is not either.

It is a product that is a petroleum-based product but it is already recycled and recyclable and it’s non-toxic in that sense. Or, do I go with cotton that is difficult to use outdoors if there’s weather and the whole process of the pesticides for cotton production and things like that. How do you weigh those and equate those? It becomes really tricky.

Sean Daily: It sure is. It’s all relative, right? Anything is probably better than offgassing vinyl but then you start getting into it and there are degrees of greenness.

Don Jackson: Right. The true enemy is vinyl and clearly, all the other stuff--there are so many other products that earn a whole separate weight compared to that so any one of those is a good product.

Sean Daily: So what did you end up choosing? Did you make more than one choice?

Don Jackson: I give people choices. I try to inform them about all the properties of the different materials. Polypropylene is the most common because it is the most versatile. You can use it indoors. It prints beautifully. It has a beautiful matte finish. It’s very flat unlike vinyl, which has kind of a wavy texture and has that nice garage sale look to it. By the time you hem it and put grommets in, it has that plasticky look. Where, this material doesn’t require any hemming. We use a poly flat grommet so it looks very, very nice and it prints like a fine art matte finish print.

Sean Daily: One of the things that in my opinion is going to change--consumer perception changes with the culture. So I think that just as things that maybe before looked good, I’m hoping in terms of people’s consciousness that they start looking at vinyl and go: That’s not cool. Whereas shiny vinyl, maybe in the past was like: “Ooh! That’s what I want for my corporate look.” But now what you’re advertising is your complete lack of consciousness.

Now I have to forgive people based on the lack of availability. I understand, as you discovered it was a business opportunity but maybe that hasn’t been an opportunity with a lot of marketing materials and I’ve run into this myself. But certainly I think what may happen, and I hope we’ll see happen, is that the perception will change where people will start seeing what may have in the past been considered something that was less desirable becoming more desirable because of its social consciousness.

Don Jackson: I agree. And also it’s an education thing on my part. I try to have a note guilt discussion with people like: Look. I know you have a vinyl banner. But for the most part, that’s the only choice you knew back then and things are different now. So now you have a choice. You have green choices.

Sean Daily: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. It’s nice; I applaud you for your vision in this area. Again I’ve said that we’ve run into this. When I heard about the idea from Allan, what you were doing, I was intrigued because as a company we have to market, promote ourselves and go to trade shows and things like that, produce business cards. You know, all the things that are obligatory. We stay as electronic as possible because that’s certainly very green but sometimes you’re forced into the old media world as it were, right?

And we found it really challenging to find a lot of choices with certain types of materials: postcards and business cards. They exist and they are out there. But I guess one would think that there would be a larger array of choices than there really are in some cases.

Don Jackson: Yeah and the more that we even take a step in the right direction, even though we may not have an ultimate solution now, the larger the industry goes green in say, the banners or any other industry, the more dollars that are at stake for the manufacturers, the more they are going to get sucked in by vacuum. If they aren’t in the leadership already, they’re going to want a piece of that action.

Sean Daily: Yeah, definitely. You have first mover advantage. And that’s a good thing. I don’t know if you’ve already run into or if it’s on the horizon but at some point it’s clearly a sound idea that has a market behind it. Invitations are the sincerest form of flattery even though when it comes in the form of competition from a business standpoint, it doesn’t always feel good. I imagine that probably a lot of companies are going to jump into this.

Don Jackson: Oh yeah. And another thing that we bring that is really unique too is, we don’t come from a sign printing background, we come from a fine art background. So we not only bring a green aspect, we bring a fine art aspect.

For some people, the person wants the one color vinyl banner saying, “SALE!” That’s not our market, although we’d like to green everybody. But the people who want full on photo-quality graphics in a green manner, they really appreciate what we’re doing and that’s really our clientele.

Sean Daily: I’m curious about the specifics. Can you tell me about the kinds of inks you’re using?

Don Jackson: Yes, we’re using a water-based pigment ink. Unlike typical sign company banners, the big guys are all using--well not all of them-- the majority of them are using solvent based inks which is a really nasty ink that they have to have big hoods and ventilation and big high power consumption machines. It’s a really big business.

But they can use really inexpensive material that doesn’t have any special coatings or anything. And they’re used to, say, slap them through. So their cost to producing things is way less than mine but environmentally it’s way higher. We’re actually a zero carbon footprint production facility here. So we use very little power and very, very little waste.

Sean Daily: How have you have achieved that? Not to change the topic but I’m curious about how you achieved the zero carbon footprint.

Don Jackson: For one, our processes are very low power consumption. The printers, instead of drawing thousands and thousands of watts like the big ones might, our printers actually draw 165 watts in full production. So they’re just very efficient printers in that light.

Plus we’ve gone to extensively use compact fluorescent and LED lighting. We have an efficient design. I’m in the production facility right now. It’s nice and bright and we have zero lights on in the whole building.

Sean Daily: That’s great. I’m the light nazi around here too. I flick the switches off as I walk down the hallway. I need to get one of those automated systems, it would be a lot easier but it works for now.

Just jumping back to the inks in traditional banner printing. You mentioned the process that a traditional facility uses. Is the danger, or the environmental danger and impact related to the actual product in the ink itself or the off gassing or the byproducts of that process or is it both?

Don Jackson: I’m not an expert on that but I know that the solvent inks are--I’ve been told that they’re toxic and also there is offgassing in that process. So the whole ventilation systems and all that stuff--well great. You’ve got ventilation but where is that stuff going? It’s going out into the ozone.

Sean Daily: Right.

Don Jackson: We don’t have any of those issues, which is really nice.

Sean Daily: That’s great. Very cool.

So also, you talked about the artistic side of this, which is great. I think it’s just an extra bonus that most people wouldn’t expect in working with a company that was more centered around the sustainability factor. What would you say makes your banners fine art quality?

Don Jackson: The equipment we use is state of the art fine art quality printing equipment. Rather than made for ultimate speed, we are made for ultimate quality. Most sign or banner shops would use a four-color or six-color printer. Most are four color, four different colors of ink. We use a 12-color ink process so we have a wider range of colors we can print. These are the same printers I do museum quality fine art prints for, for myself and other photographers and painters.

Sean Daily: So if it’s good enough for those guys, it’s good enough for business and your standard banner for a trade show or something.

Don Jackson: Absolutely. As I said earlier, it’s a little overkill for some of the less critical graphics in the banner industry but for the people that really appreciate it, that really want great color--I get calls from clients that get their banners, they go, “Wow! I can’t believe how great this looks!”

Sean Daily: That’s great and so I’m just curious on the cost side. What would be a typical, if there is a typical premium that one would pay or a business would pay to have a green banner versus a standard banner from Fast Signs or whoever it is.

Don Jackson: Yeah that’s a common question. People somewhat assume in a lot of other areas that are green you have to pay a little extra. We wanted to bring greenness to the banner biz and also fine art at the same time; and we’re price competitive.

Sean Daily: That’s great. So in terms of a percentage on a typical--again if such a thing exists--on a typical job or quote, what would you expect: a fifty percent premium? A hundred percent? Twenty percent? Five?

Don Jackson: I would say, depending upon the material, if we’re head to head with the same material, we can be straight up, we might even be less than some competitors.

Sean Daily: Really?

Don Jackson: Max maybe 20 percent depending upon the configuration.

Sean Daily: That’s great. That’s very reasonable considering the premiums associated with a lot of eco-friendly options out there.

Don Jackson: Oh yes. Where we can’t compete is when somebody needs 50,000 banners and they’re comparing it to a solvent-based process where they can print on material that costs us a tenth of what ours costs. There is no way I can compete with that. We’re not looking for that market.

Sean Daily: Sure, that makes sense.

Don Jackson: I’d love that market to go green.

Sean Daily: Right, in whatever way but that’s another sort of strata, I suppose, in terms of production.

Don Jackson: That’s one of the things I’m considering, like what’s next for Green Banners? Do I go around and “green” all the other banner printers? Is that a project I want to take on and make that available to other people? What’s my legacy in this? What’s the bigger picture?

Sean Daily: Right. Where do you make the most positive impact?

Don Jackson: Yeah.

Sean Daily: Not that I’m any kind of a career counselor but one of the things that occurred to me as you were saying that was providing eco-consulting. In fact, I was just talking to an eco-coach who coaches businesses on going green with their processes and employees and such. We were talking to her and I was thinking something like that but in the print industry or even just the banner industry if somebody who has walked that road and maybe can provide insight as to how they can improve the processes.

Don Jackson: Yeah, absolutely.

Sean Daily: Well let me know if anything happens with that. In the meantime we will definitely continue to watch what you’re doing with Green Banners.

Just switching gears a little bit, can you tell us about bio-degradability as it relates to these banners?

Don Jackson: Yeah, and that’s an interesting subject because tie that with competition. There are a couple of companies that are using biodegradable materials and calling it a green process and yet it’s vinyl. So it’s still toxic to manufacture and to use and it takes, I think they stated, five years in ideal conditions in a landfill before it degrades if there are particular enzymes present. I’m not clear on what it degrades to, if all that toxicity magically goes away because there are some enzymes present.

So our products aren’t biodegradable. Some are, some aren’t. The polypropylene is not but it is recyclable. The polypropylene is curbside five. The cotton of course is biodegradable and so is the canvas. We’re actually looking at sampling some hemp here real quick. I’d love to be printing on hemp and I just got some information on bamboo.

Sean Daily: Interesting, bamboo. I hadn’t heard about that. Hemp definitely makes a lot of sense. We were just talking to Manitoba Harvest who is actually a hemp food manufacturer about that product and obviously it’s very, very sustainable and has many different uses--very, very interesting.

We’re actually going to take a quick commercial break right here and then we will be right back with Don Jackson from Green Banners.

[radio break]

OK and we are back with Don Jackson from Green Banners at greenbanners.com; Don is the owner. We’re talking today about, well really the market that you’ve invented or come up with which is printing sustainable printing of banners for marketing materials and other uses in businesses. I think we were just talking about the materials and biodegradability. I didn’t know if you had anything else you wanted to say about that before we switch on to the next question. Was there anything you didn’t get to cover?

Don Jackson: I like the fact that the polypropylene is actually recyclable. I think it’s a more direct process than waiting for three to five years for a toxic vinyl banner--only the special ones with the built in enzymes--that will actually degrade in a landfill. It just seems like a better reusability path. And whether or not that vinyl banner actually gets recycled or not, decomposes or biodegrades is hard to say.

Sean Daily: It kind of requires studies behind all these things to really know. So I’m curious, what about outdoor use of the banners?

Don Jackson: It’s great. I do it all the time. The polypropylene is--I wouldn’t call it waterproof just from the legal standpoint--but it’s virtually waterproof. I don’t think I’d put it underwater for months; I don’t think it would hold up. But using it outdoors in the rain, the inks, even though they’re water based, they are water resistant. We’ve had banners up for months and months, outdoors and through the winter and not had any problem.

Sean Daily: So any Atlantians that are maybe considering any underwater tradeshows should not apply to this but everybody else can, probably. [laughs]

Don Jackson: Actually, for them we might do an eco-clear coating over both sides of the banner and the edges.

Sean Daily: There you go!

Don Jackson: Of course it would be for short-term use. Our other materials such as the cotton and the canvas are less water proof or water resistant. If they’re in fog or a little drizzle, that might be OK. But if you’re in a downpour, the cotton would eventually absorb the water unless we substantially coat it with a water based eco-friendly coating, which is certainly possible as well.

Sean Daily: OK good. Another question I have for you was about your market right now. I know that you’re here in Sonoma County with us. We’re in Santa Rosa and you’re in Forestville, which is not too far away. Is that your market? Is it just regional or statewide? Or have you gone national.

Don Jackson: Sonoma County is a very small market for me in terms of my overall market. More than half of my materials get sent to the east coast--my banners.

Sean Daily: Wow.

Don Jackson: Yeah, throughout the United States. It’s a very small percentage that I actually do here in Sonoma County.

Sean Daily: Interesting. So I’m wondering if you don’t mind me asking about your marketing for those people who are eco-preneurs out there, eco entrepreneurs that are looking to start businesses like this. Have you achieved most of the recognition through traditional media or has it been through Google searching and search engine optimization and getting on the radar screen that way?

Don Jackson: It’s been an offshoot of my photography business. I wanted to offer it and I knew it was a big market but I wasn’t sure how aggressively I wanted to pursue it. So after seeing that greenbanners.com wasn’t registered as a website, I snagged that and two days later had a website up thanks to Stacy at Graphics & Green.

Ever since then it has been really grassroots. I joined Coop America Business Network and became a certified green business through Coop America. That has been primarily my main focus for advertising, which has been really minimal, and really grassroots and word of mouth and spread nationally.

Then Google has me as number one on their non-paid search engine. So if you google green banners or environmentally friendly banners, I often come up first.

Sean Daily: That’s great. Congratulations on that.

Don Jackson: Yeah thanks. Through no search engine optimization or anything else, it’s working out pretty well.

Sean Daily: That’s great. Well we’re going to take one more quick break and then I have another question for Don Jackson, Green Banners and then we’ll be right back. Thanks everybody.

[radio break]

All right. And we’re back talking about green banners for businesses and for whomever else might be interested in printing banners. I’m talking to Don Jackson who is the owner of Green Banners, greenbanners.com.

Don, just one other question I had for you today before we conclude is about your production of the banners. Can you tell us about where you are actually doing that? Are you outsourcing that? Are you doing it in-house?

Don Jackson: The beauty is, we do it all here from start to finish. The only thing we don’t do, is produce the substrates--the actual material it gets printed on. That comes from a big mill. Everything is done here, shipped out of Forestville. We do a lot of FedEx and ship them all over the country. We do local delivery. It seems like our Sonoma clientele is building but again we’ll see what happens.

Sean Daily: Well I just think this is a great story and it’s a great example. We’re in a time where there is a lot of fearfulness around jobs going overseas and the need for manufacturing to occur in places like China to compete on costs and everything. What I’m hearing from you is that you started a business in green; you leveraged the existing knowledge. You started without even going crazy with SEO and all these things that people dump tons of money into.

You were able to effectively market your business, get a nationwide audience, profitable product that you’re price competitive on; a green certified business. You’re producing it locally, keeping jobs in Sonoma County and all of that. It’s a great story both in terms of the national economy as well as in terms of sustainability.

Don Jackson: It has worked well. It has been a real natural evolution and without all the big corporate structure and surroundings and all those kinds of things which I’ve been there and done that. I really love it and also, if people call up, I’m probably the one they’re going to talk to on the phone. I can spend time with them and give them guidance.

I just had somebody call for a tradeshow that needed a banner and they were going to get a small one and put it in the front. I talked to them about their tradeshow booth and how they’re designing it and the flow of people coming in. Partly, I want to be part of their success.

Sean Daily: Yeah.

Don Jackson: I want to help them be successful. That’s where the fun is for me. Rather than just: Great. Here’s the order. Got it off the web. Print it. Send it out--and I have no relationship with people.

Sean Daily: You’re enjoying the business, which is the only way to go in my opinion. You’re enjoying your work.

Don Jackson: Oh yeah. I want to be part of the solution that people are doing. I want to help them in what they’re up to and where they’re going. Most of the people that I work with are somehow connected to some form of a green business and they are just wonderful people.

Sean Daily: That’s great. Again, it’s a very inspiring story. We wish you much continued success with Green Banners and anything else you might do. Maybe that consulting gig we talked about if you decide to do that.

Don Jackson: Yeah.

Sean Daily: Great. My guest today has been Don Jackson. He’s the owner of Green Banners. You can find them online at greenbanners.com. They produce, as you might guess, sustainable and green banners. It has been a pleasure having you on the show with us Don. Thanks for being with us.

Don Jackson: It’s been great Sean. Thank you so much and thanks for Green Living Ideas.

Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today. Remember, for more free on demand podcasts, articles, videos and other information related to living a greener lifestyle, visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com. We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback and questions. Send us an email at [email protected]