Print’s supply chain is greening up

The wider world and its leaders are finally waking up to the idea, thanks to numerous respected, heavyweight reports, undeniable evidence, and tireless campaigning, that what we use of the earth’s resources, what we do with them and how we put them back into the environment is having a direct and catastrophic impact on the health, and indeed future, of our planet and its inhabitants.

This awakening has spurred the business community into action and not only are they looking at their direct impact on the environment and the sustainability of their operations, but increasingly they are broadening the net and looking down their supply chains and holding to account those that aren’t doing the same.

Businesses, including those in the print industry, cannot afford to do nothing. Legislation is demanding change and increasingly customers and clients are too. Printweek has reported on the many changes that printers are making, such as sustainable, recycled paper schemes, changes in ink and chemical make-up, energy saving initiatives and waste reduction.

It’s all very well making these changes as a printer, but if the very suppliers you use aren’t pulling their weight too, you could end up complicit in their poor practices.

Thankfully, moves by industry manufacturers and suppliers to take responsibility for their environmental impact and to develop more sustainable practices are widespread and gathering pace.

Heidelberg, for example, built environmental protection into its corporate policy back in 1992 and has been developing new initiatives since then to mitigate its impact.

Harald Woerner, the German manufacturer’s product manager for sheetfed with responsibility for environment and sustainability, says the environmental agenda has steadily been becoming more important to the business.

“Over the years, we’ve undertaken a number of activities to improve the environmental performance of Heidelberg and this applies to the manufacturing of our products as well as the products themselves.”

He highlights the launch in 2011 of Heidelberg’s carbon neutral scheme across its Speedmaster range, where customers receive certification detailing how much carbon the firm has offset to compensate for emissions generated during the manufacture of their machine.

Woerner believes that business and environment agendas must work together, and that people are equally important in the equation.

“Success in business and eco-friendly production do not necessarily rule one another out,” he says. “In fact, the opposite is true: environmentally friendly production minimises waste, energy consumption and emissions. However, these are only two of the three sustainability pillars: people, planet, profit.”

Other initiatives

Many other manufacturers are equally stepping up to the plate and investing in their processes as part of the industrial push to improve sustainable practice.

At the end of 2019, HP unveiled a major $200m (£152m) spend, as part of its ‘Sustainable Impact’ agenda, in water-based inks for the textiles and corrugated packaging industries, the former of which is one of the world’s biggest water polluting industries.

Improvements are being made in all sorts of ways as, rightly or wrongly, industry organisations start to be motivated by the business benefits too.

UK-based creasing matrix and accessory specialist C&T Matrix, by the very nature of its product, uses around 500 tonnes of plastic every year. “Not a very popular thing these days,” admits managing director Simon Shenton.

But rather than bury its head in the sand the company has taken action and dramatically reduced waste by investing in new equipment and increasing in-house recycling meaning that now 100% of its EVA and ejection rubber waste is put back into its product, with the objective to decrease overall waste by 40% by 2022.

“They have greater requirements from customers which is getting passed down the supply chain, so there is pressure on manufacturers to improve their green credentials,” says Shenton, citing many of the firm’s large, multinational customers.

“There has been investment needed on our part but there is also a payback on our investment – three years we think – in terms of putting the recycling back into our process and reducing spend on virgin material.”

Of the more popular and obvious initiatives adopted, waste, energy- and water-usage reduction feature highly among manufacturers and suppliers, as well as various carbon capture schemes.

A notable one in the UK, now in its 10th year, is run by Premier Paper and the Woodland Trust and allows its customers and their clients to mitigate the carbon emissions from paper purchases by creating new native woodland. In 2019 the scheme had raised more than £1m for the trust with more than 240,000 new native trees planted nationally and 60,000 tonnes of CO2 captured.

Premier Paper’s marketing services manager Brad Goldsmith says: “Sustainability is vital to a business, in the first instance without sustainably sourced materials, the future of the industry is threatened.”

Positive efforts

Epson Europe’s CSR manager Dan Welch says that rather than offsetting carbon, the company is focused on reducing its emissions across its business and producing technologies that have a positive impact on society and the environment.

He cites the firm’s cold print processes as well as its new PaperLab technology that can recycle used paper into a new product within one machine. Furthermore, he says Epson is looking at using 30% recycled materials in its machine builds with the desire to make it 100% in the future.

He believes the pace and demand for change in sustainability in manufacturing will only increase. “Ultimately the manufacturer will have the most responsibility,” he states.

“They will have to up their game in various areas that they may not have done previously, and I think that will happen in the next two to three years if you look at the Environmental Bill.

“We have a responsibility for our product and what we put on to the market but there is a certain element of responsibility for the consumer, whether it’s a business or a person, to ensure that when it’s in their hands they do what they can.”