There is no Plan B

While some decry the concept of climate change, the reality – no matter what is happening – is that there is but one Earth and we have a duty to protect it as best as we can. There is, very simply, no Plan B.

Print, by virtue of being a manufacturing process, is a consumptive industry. Whether it’s raw materials in the form of paper and ink, utilities such as power and water, or fuel used to transport goods, print needs to consider its position and take a stand.

Reducing waste

And it’s a point that Steve Walker, commercial products manager at the BPIF, is keenly aware of. “A few years ago,” he says, “I watched a high-speed press pouring good copies of a well-known commercial catalogue directly into a waste skip because the operator was busy on another task.”

The firm eventually folded but as Walker saw it, the “uncontrolled waste was symptomatic of deeper problems in that company.” He believes that reducing waste, including energy, material and other resources, can keep businesses profitable.

Of course, from raw material through to disposal, materials have an environmental impact over their lifecycle. Chemicals require care, landfill carries cost, and the harmful effects of waste plastic are now widely understood.

For Walker, reducing waste “is one of the quickest and most effective ways to increase profit”. Even so, he thinks that the biggest savings come from engaging all employees in improvement for “waste is not mostly caused by wilful carelessness, but by ignorance and inadequate administrative and production procedures”. He says one answer is to make that sure everyone knows the impact of waste and the financial strength of the business.

And Laura Timlin, director at the Carbon Trust, agrees. She knows that every business is affected by climate change through revised regulation, energy cost changes, supply chain effects and new customer preferences. She says: “Businesses should benefit as a result of decarbonising... making simple changes could reduce a business’s energy costs by 5%-10%.”

She emphasises that changes should not be “one-off, but rather, part of a comprehensive plan”. She adds that “it is vital that companies communicate their environmental management plan to employees at every stage, as effective environmental management relies on everyone playing their part”.

A function of this is an environmental policy that should be pushed by senior management to underline its importance. At the same time, reduction targets should be set to motivate employees to think about where resources are consumed and how reductions can be made. As Timlin explains: “Simple communication or labels on energy-using technologies helps to guide employees on actions they can take to save energy while clear guidance helps to improve recycling rates.”

But it’s the simplest of measures that are so effective. Here Timlin calls for ‘sustainability walk-arounds’ to help identify wasted resources – lights left on in meeting rooms, spaces or toilets that aren’t in use; photocopiers, monitors and printers left on standby when not in use; and doors and windows left open during colder weather.

There are a number of technologies that can help and Stuart Pearce, managing director of SMARTech energy, is aware of them all. They include LED lighting, power quality improvement, power factor correction and voltage optimisation, energy efficient heating and cooling, as well as renewables like solar PV, ground source heat pumps and combined cooling heat and power.

He says: “Some of these technologies are low-cost to supply and install with short to medium payback periods. In contrast, renewable energy technologies like solar PV should be considered long-term due to their long payback periods and high initial capital outlay.”

Naturally, some might be tempted with new printing equipment. Pearce recognises that this can provide improvement in energy savings due to more efficient components, options such as LED drying, and reduced production waste. However, he notes that “the investment in new equipment should be evaluated against the payback period, because this capital can instead be used to reduce carbon footprint by investing in other technologies with quicker payback periods.”

It’s of interest that earlier in 2020, the Carbon Trust published the results of a survey of 564 SMEs that asked about attitudes toward sustainability and actions they’ve taken to reduce their energy consumption. More than 80% had taken action to increase their energy efficiency and 51% said they want to do more. What was fascinating to Timlin was that “more than 60% were very or fairly concerned about their energy spend – up from 46% when we conducted a similar survey of SMEs in 2016”.

Carbon emissions

The government, being in a position of overarching power, has the ability to drive change. Global warming is a function of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One incentive to improve environmental performance in terms of carbon emissions is Climate Change Agreements (CCAs). These agreements, which Walker highlights, “enable sites to claim significant discounts off the Climate Change Levy that appears on their energy bills. In return for this discount a site is required to meet energy efficiency targets, for which it is measured every two years.” It’s notable that the current scheme has been extended to 2025 and should, according to Walker, save the printing sector over £14m. In Walker’s eyes, print has been “very successful in meeting its targets and has improved its energy efficiency by 18.85% since 2008”. He adds that “it is to be hoped that the government extends this successful scheme further once it finishes in 2025”.

The BPIF manages CCAs for the print sector and can advise on the subject.

Back to the present, it’s logical that minds are focused on the pandemic, but, reckons Walker, “environmental concerns will [soon] feature much more prominently in the minds of the industry’s customers, particularly those high-profile customers, who will not only demand to know the carbon footprint of a job, but who will expect that impact to have been offset.”

There is another element of regulation to consider – the relatively recently launched Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting. It requires large unquoted companies to prepare and file energy and carbon information in their director’s report in their financial years starting on or after 1 April 2019. This process, according to Walker, “means a company will need to convert its energy use into carbon emissions. We can help companies interpret the emissions factors they will need to use, as well as giving general guidance about the scheme”.

Other financial incentives

With the government being in the driving seat it’s sensible to ask what help there is for firms to go green? Walker’s response is clear: “There really isn’t a lot out there at the moment from government.” He adds that: “The consultation document on the future of CCAs after 2025 asked industry what sort of projects they would like to see, but government emphasis seemed to be on ‘energy-intensive sectors’, and the printing sector doesn’t qualify.”

Worse, he says that the government ended Enhanced Capital Allowances, other than in Enterprise Zones, in favour of an Industrial Energy Transformation Fund which does not include print.

Beyond that, the Carbon Trust points to the government’s Energy Technology List which details energy efficient plant and machinery (manufacturer details along with product references) that businesses could consider acquiring.

There are some Carbon Trust loans, but they are only available to SMEs in certain parts of the UK. SMEs in Wales can apply for an interest-free loan of between £3,000 and £200,000 with the Carbon Trust through the Energy Efficiency Loan Fund where they are replacing existing equipment that will result in energy savings. The same applies to SMEs in Scotland with an interest-free loan, from £1,000 up to £100,000 through Zero Waste Scotland.

The Trust offers more information on financing energy efficiency projects. It also has a number of online tools to help firms assess their position: SME Energy Benchmark Tool, SME Carbon Footprint Calculator and a Lighting Business Case Tool.

But despite the Trust’s activity, Walker says organisations looking for financial support for environmental improvements, would be best off contacting their local authorities to see what incentives they may have on offer, “but with Brexit impacting on funding this is likely to be limited”.

But there is an alternative – one that’s found in the world of software – where energy technologies are seen as a service rather than as a purchase, and it’s something that SMARTech energy is involved in. Termed EEaaS, instead of purchasing energy saving technologies, firms can implement projects without capital expenditure, finance leasing or risk. Effectively, SMARTech energy invests and the savings shared between the customer and SMARTech energy – and are guaranteed at between 20% and 50%.

Pearce says EEaaS is suitable for all firms “but the size and scale of the energy conservation measure dictates the viability of an EEaaS undertaking.” This is because the process of measuring, quantifying and validating savings can be expensive for small energy saving situations.

Even so, some should benefit he claims. He cites CPI Antony Rowe with an upgrade to LED lighting: “It is estimated that once they upgrade, they will save around £196,000 annually with a payback of just under 18 months. Their carbon footprint will reduce by 426.7 tonnes a year.”

He also points to Epic Print whose quote to upgrade to LED lighting should save it an estimated £2,811 annually with a payback of around five and half years and a carbon footprint reduction of five tonnes per year.

Give me other options

We all know that low- or no-cost measures can be implemented at home to achieve significant reductions on energy bills. But Timlin says the same applies to businesses who should check their bills and usage. “By analysing energy consumption,” says Timlin, “companies can identify where energy wastage can be minimised and can improve their overall decision making on energy usage”. A smart meter is central to this as it can provide vital information on what is consuming the most energy. Allied to this, Timlin says “switching to a green tariff is a simple step that organisations can take to reduce their impact quickly”.

On vehicles, firms with their own fleet can make savings through driver training programmes, route planning and switching to electric vehicles. The Carbon Trust has a guide on its website to help businesses invest in low-carbon transport options.

In relation to this, Pearce details two technologies specifically designed to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles that his firm is involved in, namely SMARTdrive and Hydrogen Retrofitting: “Both of these technologies,” he says, “are quick to retrofit and do not cause excessive downtime on the fleet. They can deliver more than 80% reduction in NOx and fuel savings of 10%-20%.”

Another option is to identify those suppliers that have the largest impact and those with which it has the most influence. The solution may come through tighter tenders and contracts or via new processes and logistics and by emphasising to clients that slower could be greener.

An adjunct to this, from Pearce’s perspective, “is to only source materials from suppliers who guarantee a certain level of sustainable operations. This includes the use of responsibly sourced vegetable-based eco-solvent inks”. Made from soybeans, they do not produce volatile organic compounds and are easier to recycle, but make sure your supplier is not offering a product made from soy grown on previously forested land. A number of paper merchants offer ways to offset or mitigate the CO2 emissions connected with the paper purchased.


It should be very obvious that making a move to environmental friendliness is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for business. And as the march to environmental awareness hastens, firms that don’t join the movement will be left behind or will fail.

BPIF: Reducing waste

Look in waste skips for re-work, excessive makeready waste and handling damage. The root cause may be sales and office processes, but waste will be visible on the shopfloor or in warehouses. Typical reasons are excessive allowances for makeready and overs and products over-made for customers but never sold.

Waste contractors provide data on how much waste they take away. Paper suppliers will usually provide historic information on how much material is bought. A typical printer with a £5m turnover who spends £2m on material and reduces waste from 30% down to 25% can increase profit by £100,000.

Unnecessary equipment or production time wastes energy and facility costs as well as increasing labour. Sometimes one process will be a bottleneck that reduces output for the whole business.

Digital and other modern technology can reduce waste. But too often the results are disappointing unless the business identifies their customers’ true requirements and streamlines processes before investing in new equipment.

BPIF Specialist Services offers expert support to members on environmental issues and free advice.

From Steve Walker, BPIF

A new approach: CarbonQuota

The pursuit of sustainability is set to change how the industry works for good. That is why a specialist team has launched a new service to bring sector-wide environmental standards to the heart of the industry. CarbonQuota consists of specialist carbon management scientists alongside industry veterans. With a focus on communicating success alongside measuring and reducing carbon footprints, it has even secured government innovation funding that has supported R&D work over the past 12 months.

According to CarbonQuota, general claims that ‘print is green’ are wearing thin in the eyes of brands and consumers, and the rush to make unsubstantiated claims is dangerous. In particular, inconsistent approaches to becoming carbon neutral mean that suppliers risk signing up to schemes that don’t meet the technical basis of the international standards, pledges and targets that their customers have signed up to.

The company’s experts note that a single email looked at once has a significantly lower carbon footprint than a door drop, when compared in a standard cradle-to-grave analysis. But at the same time they ask what if a retailer has to send one million emails to have the same uptake as 10,000 printed leaflets? They also raise other issues that the industry is going to have to deal with, such as what if there is so little availability of so-called “eco-friendly” vegetable-based inks that even more Amazon rainforest is cleared to plant these crops?

Things will be different by 2030 and CarbonQuota is confident that the print industry can ride this wave by addressing sustainability head on with robust measurement, credible facts and science-based improvement.