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Case Study: Grand Rapids Label creates a vision for the next generation of family owners

John Crosby Photo“We believe that sustainability is good business (for growth and profitability), good for the planet and good for our stakeholders,
specifically our employees. “

John Crosby
VP, Operations

 

Channeled Resources Group helps GRL find solution to matrix waste 

Overview

Grand Rapids Label (GRL), a custom label printer based in Grand Rapids Michigan, has been in business since 1884 – an astounding amount of time for any business, and particularly for a label printer!  Today it is owned and actively managed by three members of the fourth generation of the Muir family – Bill Muir, President, John Crosby, VP, Operations and Steve Allen, VP, Service.

During the late 19th century, the Muir family ventured into the printing business with a simple promise of “make it right, guaranteed.” As the decades passed, and with this promise guiding the way, they have produced everything from books of Scottish poetry and Pennsylvania Railroad schedules to posters promoting Harry Houdini. They take great pride in this heritage, and in a reputation reflecting more than 130 years of satisfied customers.

Grand Rapids Label believes that the most advanced labeling is founded upon a deliberate approach to accomplishing the goals and ideas of their customers’ organizations. They’ve learned that collaborating with purchasing, engineering, brand owners, and quality will provide the full view of opportunities to use the right amount of science to maximize performance and the right amount of technology to maximize efficiencies and client connections. 

Today they are active in most markets including high-performance labels, automotive, industrial and durable, consumer packaging, food and beverage, medical, laboratory, and electronics.  Their business is 90% flexographic and 10% digital.  They’ve owned HP Indigo digital presses since 1995 and in 2020, purchased their fourth HP Press – a carbon neutral manufactured HP Indigo 6900.


Challenge

“Leave it Better than you Found it.” 

This mantra, inspired by Muir family values, guides all of GRL’s business practices.  According to John Crosby, VP, Operations, “Green is embedded in our DNA.  Protecting and preserving the environment is an integral part of our company and culture. We are committed to providing our customers with safe, eco-friendly, competitive products and services, while embracing a broader view of impact on the environment of our employees, clients, and communities.”

At a family meeting in 2012, attendees were asked to describe the legacy that each of them wanted the business to leave for the 5th generation.  Crosby recalls that, “We thought that the answers would center on growth, or profitability,…..or, usual ‘business’ answers.  However, the responses we got were overwhelmingly focused on sustainability – environmentalism first and foremost.” 

He continues, “It was very telling, when the question is one of legacy for the next generation, the greatest response had to do with being responsible citizens of our community and mother earth, not how large the business becomes.  This feedback changed our perspective about how to run the business. Sustainability became a top priority.”

With this focus on sustainability firmly embedded and supported by personal commitments of the family owners, a vision for the future took shape.  

The first goal of the vision was/is to become landfill free.  When they reenergized this journey in 2012, Grand Rapids Label was only 10% landfill free. In addition to things like lowering energy use in the plant and life cycle assessments – they wanted to focus on the thing that would be most tangible to their 85 employees  – keeping their non-recyclable waste out of landfills.

 

Solution 

For help with this task they turned to Channeled Resources Group (CRG). Crosby and Bill Muir had known Calvin Frost and Channeled Resources since 2008 when GRL renewed their activity with TLMI.  Although their first steps toward becoming landfill-free (setting up a straightforward recycling process) did not involve Channeled Resources directly, CRG advised them all along the way. They utilized this process for 5 years and got to the first milestone of being 40% landfill-free.

In 2017, GRL engaged with Channeled Resources to set up a relationship with Convergen Energy to take their matrix waste.  Convergen Energy converts non-recyclable industrial by-products into an alternative fuel that can be used to replace fossil fuel sources and produce renewable energy.  Since 2009, Convergen has diverted over 600,000 tons (1.2 billion pounds) from landfills into energy alternatives.  This is enough waste material to more than fill three entire Empire State Buildings.  The Convergen Energy solution provides a very low carbon footprint and reduces greenhouse gas emissions significantly compared to any other method of power generation that uses fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas.

Crosby has been very satisfied with the Convergen Energy relationship and notes that “their product and service is excellent, and their analyses about their product, specifically their LCA analysis, differentiates them from their competitors.”  It took GRL a little over a year to get all the logistical pieces in place (e.g. testing of waste streams at Convergen, storage space for bales and gaylords at GRL).  In the 3rd quarter of 2018, they began shipping waste matrix to Convergen.  They finished 2018 at 60% landfill-free, 2019 at 80% landfill-free and finally, 2021 at 83% landfill-free.  Crosby affirms that, “We’re not finished – our goal is to be greater than 98% landfill free by the end of 2024.”

 

Outcome

Grand Rapids Label has been in the forefront of environmentally sensitive handling of production waste. Since the kickoff with Convergen Energy in 2018, 2.5 million pounds of their waste not only have been kept out of landfills, but that waste has been used to produce energy. Crosby acknowledges that although “we did have to change how we handle waste in our facility – the beauty of landfill avoidance is that the employees are immediately on board. Implementing and training were not difficult; there was immediate buy-in.”

This has become so tangible to their employees, in fact, that they began improving their recycling results at home.  As a result of this impact on their employees, Grand Rapids received the “Calvin Frost Sustainability Leadership Award” in 2020.

GRL has extended their approach to sustainability to their suppliers and customers. In fact, they make this approach quite visible on their website (www.grlabel.com) as they note that they are “actively seeking like-minded partnerships across our supply chain and client-base so conversations and goals can lead to actions and tangible results. If you want to drive solvents out of your adhesives, use materials with recycled content, or talk waste to energy, we’re all in. GRLabel has the resources and industry connections to help. Let’s talk and see how we can merge our efforts and your environmental goals into success.”

According to Crosby, this renewable energy solution provides three key benefits:

  • Drastic reduction of how much material they are putting in the local landfill.
  • The renewable energy pellets created at Convergen have a drastically lower carbon footprint than the fossil fuel(s) they replace.
  • Goodwill created for shareholders, employees and customers.

Finally, Crosby adds that “We believe that sustainability is good business (for growth and profitability), good for the planet and good for our stakeholders, specifically our employees.  What we do at Grand Rapids Label serves as great role-modeling for our 85 employees.  We’re confident that sustainability does not stop at our walls but rather it spreads to 85 households and beyond.”