Going greener: 10 top tips

Kristian Dando
Thursday, July 23, 2020

There was a time during the last decade when carbon footprint reduction seemed to be the primary topic of conversation in the print industry, with recyclables, chemicals and shifts to new, greener machinery seeming to dominate industry discussion.

But with phenomena like Brexit, and more recently, the Covid-19 outbreak, moving the news agenda on at a dizzy rate, carbon reduction isn’t quite the talking point it once was. “It used to be the buzzword, but I think that’s fallen off the edge and the world has moved on,” says Gerrard Moss, managing director of Derbyshire-based environmental print management company Print Consultants.

Carbon reduction might not be as ubiquitous a talking point as it once was, but it’s still of vital importance, with clients and procurement departments frequently requiring companies to give a clear-cut case of their green credentials – not just a box-ticking exercise. So, making sure that your output is as green as possible can give you the jump on your rivals, and potentially save you a significant amount on your outgoings by making your operations more efficient. Here’s just a few ways you can bring your carbon levels down.

1  Understand carbon emissions

To fully get to grips with how to reduce your carbon output, it’s worth familiarising – or re- familiarising – yourself with how your business produces carbon. According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, there are three principle areas from which a business generates carbon. These are Scope 1, direct emissions produced by a company, like fuel combustion and company owned vehicles; Scope 2, indirect carbon produced from things like purchased electricity; and Scope 3 emissions, which are indirect emissions produced by things like waste disposal, outsourced activities, contractor owned vehicles and the production of purchased materials.

2  Look at your building costs

You might look at your printing equipment and the manufacturing process as the first thing you should address. But in reality, there are big gains to be made from just examining your everyday practical activities. “If a printer is looking for things they can do to reduce their own energy consumption, the easiest changes are often to be found in the building services: cooling, heating, lighting and so forth, and in IT,” says Clare Taylor, a London-based consultant who works with businesses, including printers, on making their operations more environmentally friendly. “Replacing kit is a big investment decision, whereas there are likely to be more quick fixes in the building, particularly if it’s an older building. Look for where hot air is escaping and cold air is coming in; where solar gain is overheating areas; where anything is regularly left on that doesn’t need to be; automated controls can help here.”

Taylor also points to lighting, heating boilers, as well as maintenance opportunities like fixing leaks in compressed air pipes and effective maintenance of air conditioning as good places to start, as well as insulation. “When replacing anything, look at energy efficiency and use all the energy-saving tools – for example automatic sleep for screens instead of screensavers,” she advises.

3  Use data, get greener

In a more connected world, it’s easier than ever to take the guesswork out of the print process. Printers have more and more access to data to help them make better decisions, particularly with developments such as Internet of Things technology, big data, machine learning and production tools which are connected to the cloud.

US-based firm Ironsides Technology works with companies in the print trade around the world to use data in order to help make printers be more efficient. “Make your kit and systems as efficient as possible,” says founder and president Bill Riley. “Measure in order to improve. You might find there are systems you only have to run three days a month, or discover that on some machines you only have them on eight or 15 hours at a time.”

4 Look at your supply chain

To understand your carbon output, you don’t just have to look at your own business – you need to analyse where your supplies and services come from too. “Set up a dialogue with suppliers to find out what you can both do together to reduce emissions related to that supply – partnership working will often have greater results,” advises Taylor. “Don’t just ask for certifications – not all businesses will have the budget for them, especially smaller ones,” she continues. “Instead ask what they are doing, and why. Understanding that may enable you to make changes that will support their actions, and how they measure outcomes. And ask customers what you can do together.”

5 Is your equipment efficient enough?

Once you’ve addressed the quick wins with your building services and looked at your supply chain you can move on to the print process itself. Investing in new kit costs money, so tread carefully and make sure that the cost and energy benefits outweigh your investment. “It’s a double-edged sword,” says Moss. “Replacing old machinery comes at a cost – have you got the quantity, and will you be filling the new kit up with unprofitable work?”

6  Examine your materials

Recycled paper has come along way since its early days, when it was both expensive and iffy quality, but British printers have been slower on the uptake than their counterparts on mainland Europe. “The Benelux countries and Germany have been using it for decades,” says Moss. Of course, without virgin paper there is no recycled paper, so make sure original grades come from suitably certified mills. Explore the properties and recyclability of other, non-paper materials.

7  Assess how you travel

Print is a physical product, so goods need to travel to their destination, making transport to and from the plant inevitable. However, if the current global situation has taught us anything, it is that many essential office functions can be carried out from home, and that face-to-face meetings can be substituted for a video conference. “Think about deliveries – what and who you use, if miles travelled can be reduced. And think about how technology can help, whether for process control or video conferencing to reduce travel – lots of people will be used to it now,” says Taylor.

Your own fleet can have a big impact on your carbon reduction too. You can make a big difference by having properly inflated tyres and making sure your drivers are accelerating and braking appropriately and that your vans and transport vehicles are loaded for maximum efficiency. Electric vans and vehicles are perhaps worth considering, but they do have hidden carbon emissions. “Electric vehicles do help, even though there are carbon emissions from electricity generation. Driving less is best of all,” advises Taylor.

8  Look at your value chain

Your value chain – activities performed in order to deliver a product to market – is another potentially effective way of reducing your carbon output. “The biggest impacts for most businesses are in the value chain, and again there are some simple changes that can be made to reduce this,” says Taylor. “One big thing is reducing waste – that saves the energy used to make something and in the next stage, whether recycling, treatment or disposal. Think about workflow management and where better controls could reduce process waste; water management – reducing domestic flow and what can be done on press – water treatment uses a lot of energy.”

9  How do you recycle?

Recycling is now commonplace in the print trade and has been for some time. But ‘just recycling’ isn’t always as carbon-friendly as you might think. “Where do you recycle? Is it a UK-based plant or is it going overseas?” asks Moss.

Global packaging firm DS Smith says it offers its print industry clients a range of services to help them operate more efficiently. “We work alongside our customers to advise and help them minimise waste generated, to ensure that collection and handling methods are as efficient as possible through proactive account management,” says James Kenward, commercial manager at DS Smith Recycling. “This includes on-site waste audits and training sessions with print operatives, siting bins in optimal locations and training on best practice to maximise recycling and segregation levels. The key to reducing carbon is to minimise vehicle movements by collecting full bins without slowing or jeopardising a printer’s core business of production, while maximising payloads for wastepaper collection vehicles. This is achieved through various means, tailored to the individual printer’s setup.”

10  Get staff buy-in

For any of your carbon reduction measure to truly start paying dividends, it’s essential your workforce – the people who’ll be carrying out the procedures – are on-side. “That can be the hardest part,” says Taylor. “How to do it depends on your management style and structure and your staff. Some may be very engaged, run with what you’re doing and have lots of excellent ideas of even more you can do; others won’t want to know and that can be very hard to manage. Usually it helps to make sure everyone knows what you’re doing and why, and if you share results: measure everything and celebrate success.”

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