Ask an Expert: Making Your Shop Sustainable and Profitable

How can I make my shop more green and sustainable while still ensuring that I stay profitable? Is there anything I can do that doesn’t require construction?

To answer this question, I decided to ask the person I consider to be the absolute guru of sustainable garment decorating: Marshall Atkinson, COO at Visual Impressions Inc. Both as a COO and as an industry consultant and educator, he has successfully championed sustainability and implemented countless, no-nonsense ‘greening’ projects. Atkinson dispels the fallacy most decorators have about sustainability initiatives. With no reservations, he said that becoming more sustainable increases profitability; by its very nature, sustainability starts with becoming more efficient and with that efficiency comes a savings in overhead and an increase in throughput – all of which amounts to higher profit margins. He added that profit only increases with the correct implementation of any of these measures.

1. Energy costs are key. “Everybody’s in a building,” Atkinson says, meaning every single shop, regardless of size or business model, is housed in a facility. No matter what types of decoration you’re doing, power costs, heating and cooling costs and lighting are going to be fairly universal, so the low-hanging fruit for ecology and economy is to reduce energy usage. The initial stages may be as simple as making a compromise with the thermostat or as complicated as replacing outdated lighting fixtures. The trick is to track your usage in a way that makes sense for evaluating your business. Atkinson suggested creating a spreadsheet with your shop’s total energy costs for a month and dividing that number by the number of impressions to get a useful number to track. Knowing how much energy is used per impression can give you an easily visualized metric to help you see month-to-month if your efforts to reduce power usage are paying off.

“With help from your dedicated and conscientious employees, you’ll be sure to see more green both in your finances and in your ecology.”

Efficiency is the watchword. You must consistently ask yourself what your shop can do to get more impressions out of the same number of hours spent in that climate-controlled and well-lit building in which you operate. Even though you may have higher energy costs when you run your machines constantly in busy seasons, the power used for other reasons will be constant – this means keeping the machines running more consistently is going to make you more efficient.

2. Use government programs. At our own shop, we participated in a program supported by both our local government and our utility company that offered a free assessment of our power usage; in doing so, they discovered that our lighting was old and inefficient. We qualified for a subsidy that allowed us to replace all of our fixtures for a reduced cost – the savings in power usage will pay off the remaining cost, meaning we’ll see an overall drop in usage and costs year-over-year thereafter. Atkinson says there are opportunities decorators don’t think to apply for; grants and subsidies to buy equipment or train employees are frequently available to manufacturers. Programs offered by your local government and utilities may help you pay for changes to your equipment.

3. Recycling can be a profitable. Atkinson says that though there can be difficulty in the initial setup, shops with significant throughput may see recycling as a place to reclaim money. He said many of the plastic bags used to package apparel are of high quality and thus demand higher prices from recyclers than your average soda bottle. As long as you separate your recyclables, you may find selling them saves you disposal costs and returns some revenue.

4. You need buy-in from the ground up. Atkinson suggests setting up a “sustainability committee” for your shop, composed of people from the production floor up to the offices. He stresses that having a top-down corporate approach won’t have the same impact as having passionate people along the production stream who watch for sustainable practices and enforce them. By forming a committee, you can create increased engagement in your business.

Looking Forward

In the next issue, you’ll learn how to use metallic threads to create stunning fashion designs for clients. See you next issue!

ERICH CAMPBELL, an industry veteran, is an award-winning embroidery digitizer with experience in designing, implementing and maintaining e-commerce websites. A longtime technology fan, ad-hoc IT staffer and constantly-connected Internet dweller, Campbell is adding social media to the marketing arsenal of Albuquerque, NM-based Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing (asi/700415). Contact:

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