2023 Wide-format Innovators: SunDance Marketing Solutions
SunDance Marketing Solutions has always put planet before profits. Guided by President JohnHenry Ruggieri’s background in wildlife conservation, the company has become an industry leader in sustainability, making substantial investments to reduce waste and recycle materials. His comprehensive efforts — from recycling ink to upcycling pallets — reflect a deeply ingrained commitment to doing business the right way.
Ruggieri didn’t have a clue about the printing industry when he first started, but in his eyes, it was an advantage, not a weakness.
It was Ruggieri’s father John, who was print savvy, and had purchased SunDance in 2004 when it was just a fine-art publishing company.
“Basically, my father and stepmother had and still have our publishing company. When they first started it, it was producing offset prints which ended up in frames that would go into Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart, and Target,” Ruggieri explains.
With the offset press that they had, Ruggieri says that machine inspired his father, who he describes as a “serial entrepreneur,” to start a commercial print company. And in 2007, SunDance Marketing Solutions was born.
Today, the Orlando, Florida-based company offers an array of services, from wide-format to labels, to direct mail and is considered a multi-channel print and marketing solutions company.
From Ranching to Printing
Ruggieri, who today is the president of SunDance Marketing Solutions, couldn’t have had a more opposite day job before going into business with his dad. Before SunDance, he was a ranch manager at Segera Ranch in Kenya. And later — this love of wildlife and the earth would come back in a big way for SunDance.
“It was basically a functioning cattle ranch that was set up as a game conservation area. Over in Kenya, if you didn’t have cattle, the locals consider the land wasted. So, we had about 1,500 head of cattle and then it was active preservation for wildlife,” Ruggieri says.
And Ruggieri admits that the transition from wildlife conservation was certainly different. He says that he and his wife didn’t have a clue about printing, but he didn’t see it as a downfall. Instead, it allowed them to fully embrace the “digital transformation” that Ruggieri says was happening at the time.
“We went right to digital proofs, and then eventually we were doing everything digitally. We adopted a digital press early on. We didn’t have the old ways of printing in our blood like so many of our competitors, but that allowed us to pivot quickly,” Ruggieri says.
Embarking on the Sustainability Path
Around the same time Ruggieri was getting involved with the business, the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) was first starting up.
SGP is a non-profit organization that certifies printing and packaging facilities’ and their suppliers’ sustainability best practices, including and beyond regulatory compliance.
“Right out of the gate, we were looking for something like SGP when we started up, and as soon as SGP started, we got involved and we were running parallel with them for about a year, trying to be ready for the audit and that type of thing,” Ruggieri says.
SunDance became one of the first 50 companies to become SGP certified, and it was the first commercial offset printer in the state of Florida to become SGP certified.
“For us, the biggest thing was finding a way to hold ourselves accountable given our background in conservation efforts,” Ruggieri says.
Small Steps Towards a Bigger Future
Ruggieri recognizes that it’s hard to make waves in the sustainability pool given other outside circumstances.
“The recycling programs that we have here in the U.S., in my opinion are very much lacking and I can only speak for the Central Florida region. But even the recycling here goes into the regular garbage to be sorted and often times it can feel like a complete waste of time, effort and energy. So, it’s hard,” Ruggieri says.
However, that hasn’t stopped SunDance from finding innovative and creative ways to work more sustainably, and the company has never shied away from the challenge.
For example, Ruggieri says that the company has built its own ink can crusher and recycles its extra ink into newspaper ink or black ink. SunDance has barrels it keeps, at its own expense, where excess ink can be stored, then hauled away to be recycled properly and efficiently.
SunDance also invested in a solvent recycler that recycles most of the solvent it uses — with 1,027 gallons recycled in 2020.
“The press manufacturers didn’t like it. It was a tremendous amount of effort and energy to get that set up. It’s just not the norm, but it’s all a part of holding ourselves accountable,” Ruggieri says.
Even SunDance’s pallets get put to good use. Ruggieri says he was tired of throwing them away just for them to get thrown in a landfill, so after some trial and error (like buying a woodchipper and trying to make the pallets into woodchips) he found a company that takes the pallets and turns them into a sustainable alternative.
Even down to the paper SunDance uses, Ruggieri notes he and his team try to push FSC-certified papers whenever possible.
“We just try and make small changes,” Ruggieri says. “We know they won’t change the way recycling is done across the country, but here at Sundance we just try and do what we can.”
Hopeful For the Future
If you ask Ruggieri, 10 years ago, being sustainable was almost unheard of. But today, he’s hopeful that things are shifting.
“Up until recently, people weren’t willing to pay more to be sustainable, and a decade ago, it was difficult to convince people to be sustainable as opposed to taking the cheaper route,” Ruggieri says. “I guess I’ll call it outside pressure, but it seems sustainability is more of an issue and now people are willing to pay a little bit more and also I think the costs have come down some for sustainable options, because there’s a higher demand for it.”
It’s About Doing the Right Thing
What it truly boils down to is that Ruggieri and his team are doing what’s best, not what’s cheapest. He feels a devotion to making this world more sustainable, one step at a time.
And this devotion didn’t come out of nowhere, it runs in the family. Ruggieri’s father’s concern for the environment led him to work on a PhD in wildlife ecology from the University of Florida and he passed that same concern and passion down to his son.
“For us, it has always been the right thing to do. We had come from a cattle ranch to commercial printing, and it’s always been in our core. My dad had been involved with conservation for years, ever since I was young. And for as long as I can remember, it’s just been the right thing to do. That’s how I was brought up,” Ruggieri says.