Grow a greener business from the ground up

Jez Abbott
Monday, December 18, 2017

After his vegetarian breakfast Gary Toomey mounts his bicycle and pedals the seven miles to his business. He’s new to this game. Not healthy, meat-free living, but launching a web-to-print firm.

Yet it’s the healthy, vegetarian lifestyle that will help define the ethos of his new company, which was registered this March and launched in July. Hatch delivers high-quality print-on-demand for creative agencies, trippy designers, fresh-faced entrepreneurs and principled start-ups just like his.

The website spells it out: “We are here for the bold, the risk-takers, the visionaries with attitude. We want to help the young at heart express, connect and grow. We think big and want more.”

That ‘more’ is environmental sustainability. Again his website spells it out: “None of us can live isolated. We have the responsibility to look after each other and the planet so we know the next generation can live in a better place. All our materials are ethically sourced and FSC accredited.”

The challenge

Toomey insists the business case for sustainability is clear and draws on several core arguments including positive brand associations among not just customers, but politicians and regulators. Others are less convinced, citing the old chestnut about the higher cost that can come with switching to a green energy supplier or using Fairtrade products, for example.

“There is lots of competition in the print-on-demand sector, so I knew I needed to set Hatch apart,” he says, referring not only to an easy user experience and outstanding service. “The world is changing and business must change too. Environmental sustainability is one of those changes that business must adopt. This is not just to improve the bottom line, which I have no doubt is achievable, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.”

That said, Toomey believes making his business greener should save him money on electricity, transport and other resources – money he will reinvest in his business on the Galleywall trading estate in London SE16. Launching and then running a printing business sustainably is not easy, says Toomey, who has heard of other printers taking the sustainable route, but not yet hooked up with them. Printers like him, however, have more institutional allies.

Groups such as the Carbon Trust and the resources charity Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) are great starting points for advice and pointers. The latter, for example, reckons waste costs businesses up to 4% of turnover, while systematic action could save £1,000 a year for every employee. With the right measures, waste costs can be reduced with little or no investment.

But so much of setting up and running a printing business sustainably is down to the individual being tuned into the idea of eco-entrepreneurialism – being on the same wavelength and sharing the same ideals, he says. Like Toomey, managing director as well as founder of Hatch, his colleague and customer services manager Matt De Franco cycles to work and is a vegetarian.

The method

“A sizeable part of carbon output comes from three sources: office energy consumption, materials and travel,” says Toomey. “So we’re implementing measurable actions to increase efficiency in our offices and be smarter and greener about business travel. Another key element to sustainability is waste, so we seek to reduce waste and recycle – and use recycled products where possible.”

If green courses through the veins of Toomey and De Franco, paper is the lifeblood of print. Not only did Hatch ensure it used FSC-accredited stock – the company gets through 40,000 sheets a month of stock, most of it SRA2, but some SRA3 – but it took advantage of industry leading technology. GF Smith for example recently launched Extract.

The new paper takes disposable coffee cups destined for landfill and transforms them into good-quality paper, available in 10 colours inspired by nature and the environment. At least five 8oz cups are used in one sheet of 380gsm paper. Extract is about a third more expensive than conventional paper but other savings on energy and transport will peg back costs for clients, Toomey says.

“Organisations such as the Carbon Trust can help on sustainability, but our industry is right up there with them on latest technology,” adds Toomey. “GF Smith for example were really helpful. We told them what we wanted to achieve and they told us about this paper in the pipeline. More products and services are making their way on to the print market, which suggests sustainable options are becoming more in demand. They will therefore in time become more cost effective.”

Currently, lighting and heating come from the grid, and beyond using energy-efficient bulbs and timer switches, Toomey is limited on his options for cutting energy use. However, next year he is hoping to start generating his own energy from solar panels on the works roof. This could not only help in the energy department but also transport.

Hatch has teamed up with the express-delivery professionals at courier firm Gophr to offer not just an excellent delivery proposition – guaranteed same-day delivery – but one that uses cycle couriers with cargo bags bulging with up to 5,000 small printed items. Toomey, however, is looking to the future and a day when orders become too big for bicycles.

He is looking at electric van options from Nissan. Currently he’d have to plug them into the dirty-old mains, but when and if the solar panels come on the scene, both business and cars will run on that cleaner energy source. That will be another plus point for the auditors from the Carbon Trust.

The result

Every year trust auditors come to tot up mileage, waste and energy usage to calculate the carbon footprint of organisations signed up to its programme. The companies then pay ‘credits’ to offset their carbon usage, and these are invested in environmental projects around the world.

If the Carbon Trust can put a figure on tonnages of carbon, it is too early for Toomey to say with exact certainty how his sustainable operation is affecting bottom line. Paper costs for example are are likely to be high. But as more environmental options come on the market and volumes purchased go up as the business expands, costs should come down, he reckons.

And business is taking off: “The way we are going right now is just about perfect: we are growing 20% week on week and any more would be hard to keep up with. Over half our work comes from designers via the website; the rest through emails and phone calls, with people asking for anything from business cards and brochures to bespoke work.

“Is it difficult to run a business on a model like this? The simple and honest answer is: yes, it can be, particularly when you’re super busy and under pressure. But we know our core beliefs and they aren’t fashion statements. We care about them in our personal lives and they filter into decisions and operations.

“As long as we stick to the foundations we are building on, all will be cool. So far it’s challenging, but ultimately, many of these challenges are fairly standard – wanting to use the right material, not wasting electricity, recycling waste correctly – or riding to work just come naturally.”

Future challenges involve waste paper recycling and improving hot-water efficiency while Toomey has visions of grasses and shrubbery shrouding the walls and roofs of a bigger business premises one day. Sustainability, he insists, is a value rather than a cost.

“When we prevent physical waste, increase energy efficiency and improve resource productivity, we save money, improve profitability and enhance competitiveness. Too many companies across sectors including print remain stuck in the ‘environment is a cost’ mentality.

“But being environmentally sustainable does not have to cost money – we don’t, for example, spend on petrol,” says Toomey, wheeling his bicycle out of Galleywall trading estate for the long ride home. “And going beyond compliance saves cost at the same time as generating cash. Lean, after all, means doing more with less.” 



Location South-east London

Inspection host Founder and managing director Gary Toomey

Size Turnover: first-year target £500,000; Staff: three 

Established 2017

Products Business cards, flyers, leaflets, roller banners, greetings cards, posters and brochures – all vegan, ethically sourced and FSC accredited

Kit HP Indigo 7900 digital press, two Ricoh digital printers, Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 litho press, Horizon Stitchliner, two guillotines, Infigo Catfish W2P platform

Inspection focus Setting up an environmentally sustainable business


Make it official Commit to sustainability and reducing carbon emissions by publishing your print company’s ethos and policies to ensure staff buy-in

Understand the business case Identify sustainable actions, their associated costs and the financial savings that can be made

Empower staff Ensure someone is, or key staff are, responsible for leading and maintaining progress on sustainability and set goals to target

Keep up to date Sustainability is an ever-evolving art, so ensure staff have access to the latest information, official guidance and training opportunities

Get help Seek advice from organisations such as the Carbon Trust, Waste & Resources Action Programme and local authorities, which can advise on sustainability

Market sustainability Environmentally sustainable practices, products and services are often unique selling points, so flag them all up in your marketing material


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