GPO Touts the Good Business of Green Efforts

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Last year, more than 87 percent of GPO waste — 5,000 tons of everything from paper and cardboard boxes to outdated machinery and plastic water bottles from the employee cafeteria — was diverted from the landfill.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

Behind all the new environmentally friendly initiatives is a not-so-obvious motivation: money.

“The reason I am so focused on [greening] is because I do believe it’s good business and we can reduce our costs. ... I’m not doing this because I’m a rabid environmentalist taking it on as a cause. I’m doing it because it makes good sense.”

With each new initiative comes a benefit. Diverting waste from the landfill, for example, saved the GPO $950,000 so far this year.

“We have to pay for garbage service, and on the other hand we have people who want our recyclables,” Tapella explained. “Even if it’s a penny or half-penny a pound, just in the aggregate, we’re starting to talk real money.”

In addition, the solvent recovery system allows the agency to save $20,000 annually by reusing expensive solvents in paper production. The new bio-based roof, which costs no more than the previous roof, will extend the roof’s life expectancy to “twice that of the previous roof,” saving money in the long run.

“Sustainable and environmental stewardship is good business,” Tapella said. “As the head of a federal agency, I am a steward of taxpayer resources and I believe it is important to be a good steward of those resources. ... That’s why we’re doing this. It’s not about going ‘green.’”

The work for the GPO isn’t finished, however, especially when it comes to convincing customers to order sustainable paper for printing jobs.

Last year, the president’s 2,450-page annual budget wasn’t printed on a new “green” paper option, and most agencies thus far have also failed to transition.

“Paper choices are driven by our customers, not by the printing industry,” Tapella explained. He can’t require agencies to use sustainable paper.

Tapella has his eye on another project, too. Although he’ll retire from his post as soon as newly appointed Public Printer William Boarman is confirmed by the Senate, Tapella is leaving his predecessor what he hopes will be the GPO’s next sustainability project.

“The single most important thing we could do in ‘going green’ would be to get a modern factory built for [the] GPO,” he said. “The one we’re in is too large, too wasteful for our needs.”

He believes a new, smaller facility would save the company $40 million to $50 million annually at a fraction of the current energy used to power the 1.5-million-square-foot, early 20th-century building.

And, of course, the money “goes right to our bottom line,” he said.