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GPO Touts the Good Business of Green Efforts

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Public Printer Robert Tapella (left) talks to material handler Arthur Buchanan in front of a bale of paper ready for recycling, one of a number of “green” initiatives Tapella began.

Public Printer Robert Tapella is no tree-hugger. He doesn’t implement Government Printing Office policies based on fervent save-the-planet convictions, and he’s not even striving to curb carbon emissions or landfill growth.

But as Tapella wraps up his third and final year as CEO of the legislative branch agency, he’ll be leaving a rather “green” legacy. The George W. Bush appointee and former Republican Congressional staffer spearheaded monumental environmentally friendly initiatives, leading the GPO to the forefront of government agency sustainability efforts.

Last year, more than 87 percent of GPO waste — 5,000 tons of everything from paper and cardboard boxes to outdated machinery and plastic water bottles from the employee cafeteria — was diverted from the landfill.

Most noted among the agency’s customers, including departments and agencies in all three branches of government, was the way Tapella jump-started the creation of numerous sustainable paper options.

During his tenure, the GPO began offering 100 percent recyclable paper, which cuts greenhouse gas emissions by millions of pounds. Recyclable paper is being used to print the Federal Register, Congressional Record and all Members’ letterheads.

The number of sustainable paper options is still growing under Tapella’s instruction. The GPO is testing paper made from sugar-cane extract and bamboo, and agencies can choose sheets with low carbon footprints, low waste generation or long life cycles. They can print using soy- or vegetable-based inks or choose unbleached paper.

This fall, the GPO signed 19 contracts with paper plants that rely entirely on wind energy, so customers can request paper that’s manufactured sustainably, too.

But the greening spree didn’t stop with recycling and creating sustainable paper options. The agency recently replaced its leaky rooftops with an Energy-Star-certified coating instead of the traditional gravel and tar top that decomposes quickly. In addition, half of the GPO’s delivery cars are alternative flex-fuel and hybrid models.

The printing office also installed a solvent recovery system that allows it to reduce hazardous solvent waste by 90 percent while distilling the chemicals and reusing them again on other factory operations.

That’s one of the reasons the GPO is now labeled a “small” rather than a “large” quantity hazardous waste generator.

Tapella’s changes haven’t gone unnoticed. On Monday, the GPO received an award for its recycling program from the D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, and the Apartment and Office Building Association. Tapella was also asked to speak at the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s first GreenGov Symposium this fall.

“That’s the White House saying, ‘We like what you’re doing. Will you share with other agencies?’” Tapella said proudly. “That’s a significant recognition.”

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