Go green without going into the red

Helen Morris
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Environmental accreditations can be expensive and difficult to achieve, but the long-term benefits of cost saving and a better public image are worth the effort, discovers Helen Morris

It's hard to judge whether or not going green is a profitable business strategy. On the one hand, it's an area that print companies cannot avoid as customers are increasingly placing greater emphasis on environmental responsibility.

However, there have been a few high-profile casualties in the sector with the insolvencies of environmental printers Polar Print Group, Colour Works and Bovince suggesting that marketing yourself as a green operator doesn't necessarily guarantee financial success. So, is going green a profitable business strategy? It takes time and resources to go down the green route, but get it right and it can save your business money in the long run.

For starters, environmental accreditations are worth considering, but they don't come cheap. For example, the initial assessment fee for a single-site operation to be accredited with FSC, PEFC papers, or both, is around the £1,200 mark. Then there's an annual subscription fee: £650 for one scheme and £850 for two. However, they are popular accolades to achieve: in the UK at present there are 600 printers with FSC and a further 500 with PEFC.

Both schemes have an additional fee that is passed on to the respective accreditation organisations and the cost of this is decided on the certification holder's annual turnover. So for example, a PEFC-certified SME printer that averages a turnover of £3m can annually expect to pay about £100.

Lessons in legislation
On top of the expense, there's also the red tape. Legislation doesn't make gaining accreditations easy and can hinder a firm's attempts to go green. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) claims there is a one-size-fits-all approach that can aversely affect SMEs, such as overly complicated planning rules for installing alternative energy sources. It says the government should help ensure that small businesses' needs are taken into account. "After all, government grants to support energy efficiency are predominantly aimed at big business," says an FSB spokesman.

So it might come as a surprise that so many printers are engaged in recycling and monitoring their energy consumption. Research suggests that one-third of SMEs use environmentally friendly products, while 76% of small companies believe environmental awareness is "good business practice".

This approach has helped firms to save money at a time when cashflow is tight. Gary Tebbutt, print manager at Kingston Cartons, says that, financially, getting environmental accreditations is "highly worthwhile" for printers of all sizes. He has "no doubt" that going green will pay for itself in the medium- to long-term.

"It can save on costs and companies can receive extra work from clients that stipulate such accreditations during print tenders," says Tebbutt. "The crux of many environmental accreditations is keeping a tight control on energy and raw materials usage, which has a direct effect on margins. They can then serve to strengthen a printer's traction with an environmentally conscious customer."

B2 sheetfed printer Lynhurst Press agrees that green accreditations knock down barriers that some clients may have. The Romford-based company has FSC, PEFC and ISO 14001 accreditations. Investing in processless plates has helped it achieve this - the thermal plate, a Fuji Brillia HD Pro-T, can be processed on the press rather than through a plate processor. Lynhurst Press director Steve Samuels says that, while the cost of the plate is higher, the benefits to the environment are massive. "By eliminating the old process, there is no need for water, chemicals or electricity. Additionally, there is no waste product, which used to be created and was then sent away for recycling," he says.

Olympian task
Samuels adds that with the London Olympics fast approaching, most clients will require printers that have solid green credentials. "Ethically, we would want these accreditations to prove we're doing our bit, despite the fact that in the current climate it hasn't brought in much extra business. In the future, if you haven't got accreditations, I believe it will limit the amount of work you can tender for."

Harry Skidmore, chief executive at Derbyshire-based Easibind, agrees. He says that anyone involved with tenders or contracts, for public or private sectors, will "catch a cold" if they do not have accredited environmental management systems. The question is whether a company can afford not to keep up with its customers' green demands.

"Having an accredited environmental management standard in place saves hours in form filling and getting approval for contracts," he says. "The procedures are fairly basic compliance requirements, and a good management system is worth its weight in carbon offsets. Recession makes us all see red, but this has nothing to do with the environment."
He advises that companies should get funding for the British Standard BS 8555 through Business Link, the BPIF, IPIA or a trade association, which gives them a good start.

"Being energy and resource efficient improves your competitiveness and awareness of customer values," he adds. In addition, the strong business incentive to become green due to EU emissions legislation that comes into play in 2012 will make it "pretty standard" during the next 12 months. "Get in early and get business support while it is still available," he advises. 

BPIF membership director Dale Wallis echoes Skidmore's sentiment, adding that green accreditations can make a company focus on cost savings. "It can make you look more closely into how to save money and I believe that can outweigh the initial cost," Wallis says.

At first glance, the hoops a printer has to jump through to be environmentally friendly seem daunting. However, the reality is that it makes good business practice and could save your company money in the long run.


Simon Biltcliffe
Managing director, Webmart
"From January 2008, we set a CO2 limit of 190g/km for all company cars purchased. In a bid to reduce our carbon impact, we will be reducing this upper limit by 10g/km every year. For 2009, it was reduced to 180, during 2010 it will be reduced to 170, and so on, until we reach our upper target of 130g/km for the fleet. There is no lower limit."

Claire Lewins
Commercial director, Redwood
"Understanding a customer's business is vital and we attempt to learn as much as possible. We can then look at ways of reducing the impact on the environment by batching jobs together. This has the effect of reducing the energy consumption of the machinery, reducing paper wastage and emissions from transportation, and also ink and chemical wastage. We are able to get customers to adopt this approach by passing on cost savings which we make as a result. This is a very popular method in the current climate and also for customers wanting to improve their eco credentials further - a saving which can cover the cost of adopting papers with a higher recycled content or similar."

Reading-based Lamport Gilbert tried the Carbon Trust's carbon survey, which highlights where a company can eliminate or reduce emissions and energy spend. Since doing so, the printer says it has cut its annual energy bill by between 13-17%


  • Installed passive infrared sensor lighting to avoid unnecessary electricity use
  • Installed T5 adapters to permit use of low-energy lights
  • Set up office PCs and laptops to hibernate when left idle
  • Ran an internal awareness campaign to encourage staff to switch off lighting and PCs
  • Started using environmentally friendly vegetable-based inks and water-based coatings
  • Conducted an electricity audit to reduce energy demand during expensive peaks
  • Invested in two liquified petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles for use across the group to reduce transport emissions
  • Introduced an environmental procurement strategy, which resulted in the purchase of a press that required 50% less power than an alternative machine


  • Reduction of annual energy costs in the site by £8,000-£10,000 since the survey in March 2008
  • Reduction in annual energy consumption of 14-17%
  • Saved 26 tonnes of CO2, a reduction of 10% on the company's carbon footprint
  • Reduced levels of Isopropanol across both sites and volatile organic compound emissions
  • Reduced waste sent to landfill by 70% by improving dry waste streams, plus the recycling of paper, printing plates, ink cartridges, pallets and plastic
  • Cut water use on the platesetter by 50%



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