Go green or go home 

Richard Stuart-Turner
Friday, October 22, 2021

Being sustainable is not only good business practice but increasingly a crucial requirement for many customers.

Photo: Natalie Singleton, World Land Trust

Over recent years the climate crisis has intensified, with rising sea levels and regular freak weather events like floods, heatwaves, and wildfires keeping the issue at the top of the news agenda.

Next month will see delegates from 196 countries get together in Glasgow for COP26, the UN climate conference, to agree on how to become a more sustainable society and limit the worst effects of climate change.

COP26 will be attended by heads of state and ministers who can create legislation, business and finance leaders who can commit to making their goods, services, supply chains, and investments more sustainable, and celebrities and influencers who can heighten public awareness and encourage sustainable consumption.

The summit is being seen by many as a watershed moment in the climate crisis, with the potential to steer the future on action to limit global warming.

Print’s own sustainability debate has also never been more animated, with barely a day going by without news of a new sustainable product or businesses investing in green initiatives.

Where a focused eco drive might have once been seen as a key differentiator for a printer, many buyers and brands now require their suppliers to be able to demonstrate their sustainability credentials before they will place work.

As such, many businesses who had not really considered such initiatives before are now getting started on their sustainability journey. But for their efforts to be a success, paying lip service is not enough.

“Becoming a more sustainable business demands consistent effort and an appetite for progression. It is an ever-evolving journey, and the work is never done,” says Julie Tomlinson, marketing communications and sustainability manager at papermaker James Cropper.

“Having said that, sustainable progress is not a nice-to-have, it is essential to the longevity of any business. From the raw materials your business uses and the energy it consumes, the people you employ, the communities you support – sustainability will continue to provide the stable platform for future growth.”

Planet friendly

Earlier this year Beccles and Norwich-based Anglia Print was recognised among the ‘Best for the World’ B Corp certified businesses in terms of environmental impact, placing within the top 5%.

Anglia Print uses 100% renewable energy, runs a circular economy, is climate positive – meaning it gives back more than it takes, and has delivered zero waste to landfill since 2005. No chemistry used in its production is harmful to the environment. It is also FSC and ISO 14001 certified, and was the last EMAS accredited printing company in the UK before Brexit.

Managing director John Popely says the main benefit of making his business as green as possible from the moment he took charge nearly 20 years ago “is that I feel happier doing what I’m doing and I can sleep at night”.

“Everyone we deal with has to have the same principles and accreditations as we have. Minimum is ISO 14001, FSC, at least an environmental policy, and a sustainability policy,” he explains.

“The company ethos is that they are all on board and they do within the business what is necessary – the environment comes first regardless of which job or material or supply, even getting towards machinery parts.”

Some businesses have shied away from investing in sustainability due to the costs involved, both for themselves and also potentially to their customers.

“Cost is king, and it does cost more money to produce this way,” says Popely. “And that is sometimes reflected to the customer although we do try and price competitively.”

Nevertheless, he believes that “anything that an individual business can do is improving things”.

London-based printer Rapidity has been powered by renewable energy sources for around four years and has also had a raft of other green policies and certifications in place for many years, including ISO 14001.

Managing director Paul Manning says there has been an increasing awareness in the environmental message over the last few years and that “post-pandemic it’s gone crazy”.

“Talking to our customers, a lot of who are brands or big corporations, I feel that in one instance a lot of them aren’t much affected by the pandemic – in fact some of them have done very well in the pandemic – but their print spend has gone down,” he says.

“And what we’re finding is that our customers are saying ‘if I’m going to print this, I might as well make sure it is sustainable and on message’. A lot of big companies now are trying to go carbon neutral, and so they want to pass that down the chain.”

He adds: “We’ve got an anti-plastic initiative; we try and ask or advise customers to move away from plastic where possible. For example, we had a lot of customers using plastic business card boxes and plastic containers, and we’ve completely moved all customers over to cardboard now – that was a few years ago.

“It’s alright us saying ‘we’re ISO 14001 and we’re FSC, etc’, but actually we’re taking it to the next level where we’re trying to talk to customers and when they give us spec and maybe say they want it laminated, we ask them whether they really do need it laminated, and [show them] the alternatives.”

The business also uses paper from sustainable sources and carbon offsets the paper it uses via a Premier Paper scheme.

Carbon offsetting and carbon reduction schemes are rising in popularity quickly in print. Carbon Balanced Paper, which is delivered on behalf of World Land Trust by CarbonCO, currently has 40 Carbon Balanced Printers signed up and is on target to reach 50 by the end of this year and 100 by the end of 2022 according to sales and marketing director Greg Selfe.

He believes the programme has been such a success partly due to the credibility and recognisability of World Land Trust. 

“Printers and, more importantly, their customers, are proud to be able to support a charity with patrons including Sir David Attenborough, Steve Backshall, and other leading UK environmentalists.

“Carbon Balanced Paper has a clear message, with one highly visible logo, supporting one charity through well-established forest and biodiversity preservation activities. This clear message, along with the ability to carbon balance any European paper product, makes it simple for printers to communicate the benefits to their customers and, in turn, the customer to their own consumers.”

Selfe stresses that the demand for sustainable business practices is not going to go away.

“Customers are increasingly requesting suppliers to submit carbon disclosures in tenders. If suppliers in the print industry aren’t ahead of the curve, they can spend a considerable amount of time reacting to such requests and risk losing contracts.”

The detail’s in the data

CarbonQuota helps its customers to achieve their carbon reduction objectives by using as much scientific data as possible to provide the most accurate carbon emission calculations available.

Co-founder Dominic Harris says: “The world has changed; saying something is green, or it’s recycled, or even that it’s FSC, doesn’t cut the mustard now.”

His business advises companies to reduce their carbon footprint in the first instance.

“Carbon reduction is a complex subject and certainly isn’t about throwing money at the problem and offsetting. Baseline and reduce is the answer. If a business can afford to offset, that cash is better spent on renewable energy, electric vehicles, LED lighting or solar.”

“The rhetoric surrounding COP26 is driving so much change,” adds Harris, who is expecting to see legislation changes following the conference where all businesses will need to declare their carbon footprint.

“Demand for sustainable products is being driven from the simple fact that the planet is warming up and we have a climate crisis,” he says.

“The world is coming together at COP26 and every large business that wants to decarbonise needs to sit up and listen or they will not survive.”

Carbon Balanced Paper’s Selfe says that for businesses that are not already on a journey to becoming sustainable, “it’s not so much a question of what the benefits are, but what are the risks of not becoming a sustainable business”.

Those looking for advice and support, then, could consult The Environmental Forum, a BPIF community that looks to provide an industry-wide network and platform to work to support, sustain, and develop the industry. Other tips can be found in our boxout (left).

There is no quick route to becoming a sustainable printer, and businesses need to be in it for the long haul, but Selfe concludes the industry “is in a fantastic starting position”.

“We use paper from sustainable sources that is highly recycled and also helps to mitigate climate change through responsible forestry. Although the print industry is a high energy user, switching to renewable energy can drop a printer’s primary emission by up to 90%.

“Due to the tangible nature of print, it is relatively straightforward to measure, reduce and offset wider impacts, such as distribution and material use.” 


The industry can achieve a great deal collectively

Clare Taylor, owner, Clare Taylor Consulting

I believe sustainable businesses look forward and consider all three elements: people, finances, and environment. These all contribute to business longevity. 

Our industry is just at the beginning of the climate change journey. A number of global brands are leading the way, not because they are altruistic, but because they know their long-term survival depends on it. We can learn from them.

Although most individual print companies are small, the industry is large and can achieve a great deal collectively, as can individuals. But we need to look outside at what other industries are doing for energy, and resource, efficiency. Doing more with less makes good business, as well as environmental, sense, helping mitigate the impact of price increases.

But what we are currently facing is wider than just ‘an environmental problem’, people are suffering and even dying from the impacts of climate change already; businesses are losing income from storms, heatwaves and flash floods. We need to understand our future climate and prepare for it. There is much to do to protect property, staff and business continuity, and businesses need to start now.

Consumers are more environmentally aware nowadays, they can see what’s happening. Poor air quality is killing people, especially in our towns; habitat destruction is bringing new zoonotic diseases, of which Covid is just one example.

Big brands, in touch with consumer opinion, respond to it. As consumers increase pressure for action, that pressure moves down the supply chain and eventually to printers. Addressing these issues is good for business as well as helping us all.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent blueprint for a sustainable future that businesses and individuals can use to guide them. They’ve been adopted by all UN member states, but although we need government [to] lead us, it’s not something we can rely on. Climate change and other concerns don’t wait for those who dither, as we’re already seeing.


What are the benefits of being a sustainable business?

Michael Green, managing director, MacroArt
“Today our clients expect – and, increasingly, demand – true, measurable sustainability credentials. There is little doubt that this drive for calculable, authentic, and objective sustainability will soon also become a legal responsibility, as well as simply a moral one. MacroArt stands committed to remaining at the forefront of this drive, from both a strongly held moral standpoint and commercial expediency. Our progress to date is testament to our determination to deliver transparent, objective, externally verified and robust sustainability that fulfils both our moral duty and meets any future legal requirements.”

Beth Mayman, operations manager, St Austell Printing Company
“When we built our new sustainable factory in 2013, we made a conscious decision to embrace all elements of sustainability and reduce our impact on the environment. We have heavily invested in a range of projects, from energy efficient presses, installing a 150kWp solar panel system through to improving our ISO environmental processes and carbon balancing our entire operation. We continue to take steps towards achieving our net zero goal. All of this is starting to benefit the business in terms of both energy efficiencies and savings, as well as attracting customers with the same core values.”

Tom Maskill, sales and marketing director, Webmart
“Before long, being an environmentally sustainable business will no longer be an option or a nice-to-have, but a necessity. Customer demands are continuing to shift further towards sustainable practices, and businesses who aren’t able to provide responsible solutions will suffer. Not only that, but being sustainable helps to attract and retain talent, improves stakeholder engagement, and is the right thing to do. Getting involved with social media sustainable business groups, joining webinars, and reviewing accreditation requirements are great starting points.”


We asked printers with various green initiatives already in place, suppliers, and other specialists across the industry for tips that could help businesses just getting started on their sustainability journey. Here are some of the nuggets of advice that cropped up:

  1. Look at the various sustainability certifications available. These provide you with a solid framework to guide your thinking and provide pointers for making environmental improvements.
  2. Consider what competitors as well as other types of businesses are doing; it’s easy to find information on programmes that a lot of organisations sign up to. 
  3. Engage with expert, independent third parties to develop an honest and comprehensive sustainability audit, so you know your true starting point.
  4. Be transparent, honest, willing, and open to advice and criticism.
  5. A wider footprint assessment will help you identify parts of your supply chain that are responsible for a high amount of carbon and enable you to set credible targets. These could include upgrading your vehicles to electric models, and setting targets for your supply chain impacts, such as choosing paper grades with a lower carbon footprint.
  6. Consider switching to a green energy tariff, where the energy supplier will match some or all of the electricity you use with renewable energy.
  7. Appoint a sustainability champion within your organisation. This should be somebody who will keep a close eye on what can be done, who will always push for further improvements, and will really champion the green agenda within your business. If your staff don’t know what’s happening, then customers aren’t going to find out.
  8. Including environmental requirements in your procurement practices is an easy way of driving the right behaviours internally.
  9. Focus on the things you can control and that will make a difference.
  10. Realise that true sustainability is not a marketing tactic, but an essential element of future trading.

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