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The FSC-Certified Printer Producing Face Shields For COVID-19 Frontliners

By Manna Zel

At Calitho, sustainability is bigger than a buzzword. They know they’re in an industry that has a responsibility to be kind to the environment, so they print with soy-based ink and a water-based coating that doesn’t negatively impact air quality. In an industry where printing presses use ultraviolet light to dry ink, Calitho’s H-UV printing technology produces high-quality work without wasting or generating unnecessary heat, energy, or carbon dioxide. Calitho has been FSC-certified for over 15 years. And, just like us, they’re proud to be from California. 

Between transitioning team members to a work-from-home basis and protecting their in-office essential workers, Calitho is also working to protect COVID-19 frontline workers; when emergency responders and medical teams in Contra Costa County were going without personal protective equipment, Calitho stepped in to create and donate thousands of face shields.

“We started out producing a few samples and taking them to local front-line workers at fire departments, police stations, hospitals, and more,” said Dhara Taheripour, who works in marketing for Calitho. “The feedback was so positive and the need was clearly so large that we immediately ramped up production.” 

How has the pandemic changed how your team is working?

Calitho has been able to operate continuously through the pandemic. While we were grateful to be recognized as an essential business in critical manufacturing, our number one priority was the health and safety of our employees, vendors, and clients. We transitioned a number of our teams to work-from-home status, while making sure that employees who are still coming into the office have access to protective gear, sanitizers, and a clean working environment. 

What inspired Calitho’s commitment to sustainability?

We don’t see a commitment to sustainability as a choice. Any company that manufactures as much packaging and physical product as we do simply has an obligation to their community to make the process as sustainable as possible. Calitho has been committed to sustainable practices since our founding in 1985. Stewardship of our local community and planet has always been a part of our DNA.

Walk us through some of the green practices in the Calitho pressroom. 

We could talk about a lot here–our use of cutting-edge H-UV technology in our offset presses, our soy-based inks and aqueous coatings that emit near-zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds), or our FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification that we have held for over 15 years. Instead, we want to celebrate our beautiful home of the Bay Area in California and highlight the states’ efforts in promoting positive environmental impact. 

California has led the United States, if not the world, in environmental standards and practices—and we did the research to prove it. According to Dr. Gerry Bonetto of the Printing Industries Association, California has the “strictest material requirements” regarding air emissions. Specifically, California enforces the lowest VOC limit of any state for fountain solution and cleanup solvent used in the offset process.

What challenges do you face as a printing company committed to sustainability?

Our biggest sustainability challenge is perception. Over the last 20 years, our society has become more aware of climate change and environmental impact and these issues continue to be at the forefront of public discourse. In our opinion, that is undoubtedly a positive development. With that increased awareness, our industries of commercial printing and packaging have been branded with a negative reputation for overconsumption of paper, harmful emissions, and wasteful practices. This isn’t a complaint so much as it is a challenge for us to educate existing and prospective buyers that Calitho breaks from those stereotypes. 

Talk to us about the process of producing and distributing face shields to front liners in the Contra Costa County fire, EMT, and police departments.

This project came together quite quickly when one of our employees found an open-source design for a protective face shield that we could produce. We started out producing a few samples and taking them to local frontline workers at fire departments, police stations, hospitals, and more. The feedback was so positive and the need was clearly so large that we immediately ramped up production and have donated thousands of protective shields at this point. While the shields are not exactly a lucrative product, our desire is to step in and leverage our productive capabilities to help our community stay healthy and fight this pandemic.

Does being family- and WOC-owned drive the culture of your team?

We are extremely proud to be led by Mardjan Taheripour, an Iranian immigrant and majority owner of Calitho. It sets us apart from our peer firms. That being said, our executive team does not drive our culture— it is a result of collaboration and trust throughout the organization. Obviously, the relationship between management and employees and investing in recruiting great candidates for all open positions play a big role in this too, but ultimately, luck may be the biggest factor. 

As a fledgling “garage” printing company with less than ten employees, Calitho was lucky to hit on the right group of dedicated people who would grow the company into what it is today. The attitude set by that group was, and is, contagious, for lack of a better word. Today, you have people who have been here over 25 years and some who joined just before Covid-19 hit. In both cases, you have individuals who are truly willing to go the extra mile to make a customer happy or to make the next person’s job easier. Just like you cannot bottle lightning, you cannot force culture—for us, it has been the result of organic, sustained growth since our founding. 

What led to the Calitho cookbook collaboration? How can our readers be involved?

The Calitho cookbook is an idea that came from Taheripour as a way to connect the experiences of everyone in the Calitho community and show our appreciation to our clients. As people are spending more time at home now than before, we thought a cookbook filled with recipes submitted by Calitho clients and employees would be a great way to bring everyone together. 

What is your favorite part of collaborating with like-minded brands?

Working with brands like Youth To The People who have a similar dedication to clean, sustainable production is really a treat for us. We relish the opportunity to work with partners who are as demanding, as focused on execution, and as unsatisfied with mediocrity as we are. We find that we come away from these projects having learned so much. We cannot speak highly enough of the like-minded brands who push us to innovate and deepen our commitment to providing the highest level of service possible.