Sustainability in The Print Industry

The latest growth of paper wrapping has been remarkable and has led to some great investments, with many companies wanting to get involved. On the other side, many businesses that already claim to be involved, cannot back up those claims. With an evolving need for sustainability in the print industry, how is the transition handled by different companies?

The environment and the impact we as human beings have on it, is a subject that concerns many different fields of expertise, from construction and manufacturing to travel and the service industries.

There is increasing pressure from government and customers for every cog of the manufacturing supply chain to progress its environmental capabilities and print will play a key role in the eco transformation. Sustainability is a keyword. From industrial goliaths talking about reducing carbon emissions, to supply chains working on setting targets, everybody is involved. But what does it actually mean to be sustainable in the printing industry? Are companies who claim to be sustainable doing the work to fulfill those claims? In fact, can the print industry, which essentially uses materials and creates something, become fully sustainable soon, or in the long run?

Examples: Nothern Flags and Anglia Print

A lot of print businesses speak about sustainability and showcase their credentials. For example, Northern Flags in Leeds as it highlights its “flag material EnviroFlag”, which is created wholly from recycled plastic bottles. Daniel Clark, marketing manager at Leeds-based Northern Flags, thinks that sustainability is more than it being about green products. As part of their Action Now initiative, Northern Flags has a minimum of one eco-friendly alternative for every single product they offer. The company says it is about providing what the client needs and wants, and slowly but surely trying to change to a point where eco-products are the standard.

Clark says:

“It’s not been a process without challenges, such as carrying out due diligence on products and then the supply chain also. You have to cut through the marketing bluster and understand whether or not the claims are backed up.”

Clark elaborates on why Northern Flags is not currently changing their whole product range in one swoop. Cost is an issue. However, for Clark, being a sustainable company is not just about products.

“The next step is to have sustainable products as standard,” says Clark. “But, you can’t alienate the customers, many of whom are smaller businesses who cannot afford the green premium.”

Northern Flags is looking at all pieces of the business, from better hand dryers, to installing LED sensor lights, and talking with staff about any minor changes they can make. 

Clark adds: “The whole team has to be fully invested in the green ethos, and we include suppliers too. The momentum in the industry is huge at the moment and we should all be helping to keep that pressure on.” When it comes to the costs and economical factors that such a switch has, Clark concludes: “There may be eternal factors, such as the current uncertainty around the economy and a wariness about investment. However, print, by its very nature, is not a historically eco-friendly sector, but if this industry is thinking and talking about sustainability, then there is hope for everyone.”

Another example, when you visit the Anglia Print website, you can immediately see signs that say “Reduce”, “Reuse”, “Recycle”, along with a statement that reads:

“Anglia Print strongly believes that all companies have environmental and ethical responsibilities and this ethos underpins everything we do.”  

John Popely is managing director at Anglia Print, which has offices in both Norwich, Norfolk and Beccles, Suffolk. His company has been described by Greenpeace as “the UK’s most decorated printing company in recognition of our array of external certifications and engagement with schemes that promote and facilitate best environmental and practice”.

That’s a proud statement on the Anglia Print website. Furthermore, Popely is eager to show that the company talks the talk and also walks the walk. He’s unyielding that many so-called ‘green’ businesses merely claim to be sustainable, and that it is in fact up to individuals to transition.

“Unless individuals take a stand, nothing will change,” he stresses. “We do get a lot of business because of our eco credentials but we also lose some because, after all, cheap will often win out.”

Cost is, once again, a factor, and it is possibly a great step for a company to change, particularly a smaller business, knowing that it could cost them some income and profit.

Making the Change

Popely says: “If people want to change, it is up to them. There might be some cost restraints but there are things you can do. Change the electricity supplier to a renewable one. Monitor outputs, whether its electricity, mileage, or gas. If you are looking at suppliers, check if they have the right ISO accreditations, and check the carbon footprint of products or equipment. Source things like paper from Europe in order to cut down on transportation miles.”

Back in March of this year, the Kettering site of Go Inspire Eclipse, a division of Go Inspire Group, announced it had become the largest commercial printer in the country to provide its customers Carbon Balanced Print. That means it had been newly certified to have its carbon emissions offset by World Land Trust (WLT). The carbon offsetting programme at Go Inspire was started by innovations director Simon Hartlett, who knew that he wanted to bring change in regard to sustainability.

He says:

“It’s the right thing to do for our business. There has been a lot of negative press about the print industry and sustainability, but if you look at it, people are oblivious about how much carbon is used when sending an email for example.”

Go Inspire already uses certified paper, sourcing only FSC or PEFC stock, but Hartlett says that this is only the beginning of the sustainability journey. He adds:  “We work closely with companies such as Heidelberg, and with ink manufacturers to look at how we can improve all that we do, and we’re setting up an internal group to look at where we need to focus.”

Many companies associated with the sector are doing something to reduce impact on the environment. Some are obviously further along than others. With the two examples mentioned here, one can see companies that have done it right, and that other businesses should follow, especially the ones that claim to be sustainable but are not. 

Do you have any ideas that could move companies in the printing industry to become more sustainable? Tell us your ideas in the comments!

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