Sail safely across the green sea of environmental accreditations

Philip Chadwick
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Environmental accreditations are an essential tool in winning clients, but which are the best and why? Philip Chadwick investigates

Environmental accreditations can be a contentious topic of conversation. While some talk up the fact that they demonstrate a company's social responsibility and are key to winning new clients - and keeping existing ones happy - others condemn them as an expensive box-ticking exercise that brings no tangible benefits.

If you're in the latter camp, you're part of a dwindling minority. While your arguments may be persuasive, the fact remains that in today's changing print industry, many organisations in both the public and private sectors will only work with you if you can demonstrate your environmental commitment.

But deciding on what accreditation you should opt for to underline your green credentials can leave printers all at sea. There are several available, but to judge which one's best depends on the size of your business and the kind of work you carry out. Also, you have to consider how the accreditation is assessed, as some customers will enquire about that as well.

Pick of the bunch
With accreditations ranging from the well-known ISO 14001 to the BS8555 accreditation, as well as paper schemes PEFC and FSC, it's easy to see why some companies can be confused when it comes to knowing which green stamp is best for them. Liam Gardner, national environment advisoer at the BPIF, explains that it's essentially a case of horses for courses.
"We tell our members to look at what their customers are demanding," he says. "It also depends on the size of the business. Accreditations, such as British standard BS8555 or Green Dragon, are out there for smaller businesses. They require a smaller level of investment to get to different stages. Most companies ask for the ubiquitous ISO 14001, but for some companies it is a big ask."

At the very top of the green accreditation league is EMAS, a scheme that requires the business to publicly report its environmental performance. One of a handful of print companies that have achieved EMAS is Beacon Press, part of the Pureprint Group. According to business development director Richard Owers, it's an accreditation that's gaining some traction in the industry.

"EMAS is the gold standard," he adds. "We also have ISO 14001 and we are FSC accredited. EMAS can give you an edge if the customer attaches value to it. But for us, it is something more than just having an accreditation. Part of our environmental mission is to provide best practice and to give leadership. It's very important that we work closely with bodies such as the WWF. There's also the danger of greenwash: people are naturally cynical about claims, so we need to be transparent."

The EMAS accreditation certainly requires that transparency. Under the terms of the scheme, Beacon has to demonstrate that it's constantly improving its environmental credentials and provide a public report outlining its policies in detail, ranging from its C02 emissions and litres of IPA bought, to the amount of ink purchased and the levels of waste committed to landfill.

The right fit
Stralfors, the Redruth-based direct mail, business forms and transactional printer, also takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. The company has had ISO 14001 since 2000 and also has the FSC accreditation. But there are no plans to implement EMAS, says Rob Norwell, environmental and compliance manager at Stralfors.

"Having it will not significantly enhance or benefit our business," he says. "That's not to say there's anything wrong with EMAS or that it isn't good for other organisations."

Understanding what accreditation you need really boils down to understanding your customer and at Stralfors, its clients in the financial sector attach more value to accreditations and are keen to see that the supplier is actively practising what it preaches.

"We are seeing a lot more organisations carry out their own reviews and audits," he adds. "Many customers have their own individual questions that fall outside the accreditation. They want to see how you are dealing with your environmental impact - it is a living and breathing part of the business."

Christine Wood, corporate social responsibility manager at Tullis Russell, which has been certified to ISO 14001
for 11 years, adds: "It gives customers confidence that our management of environmental protection and improvement in performance is managed within a solid, systematic framework. More recently, certification to FSC has allowed us to give our customers added confidence that we are sourcing our woodpulps from sustainable, well managed forests."

But it's the way a company is assessed that can carry even more weight and it's another area that print buyers are attaching importance to. "It is important to ensure that the certification body you engage with provides value for money," says Wood. "External audits should be useful to the organisation; challenging but realistic. ISO 14001 should support the company in complying with legislation and improving environmental performance."
Beacon's Owers adds: "There are a few consultants that aren't working to an approved standard - there is almost a grey area."

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) badge sorts out the wheat from the chaff. It's the sole government-approved body for accrediting a company's environmental management system in the UK. While it's a badge that should mean the assessor is thorough, it's also a badge that many print buyers are looking for on the accreditation's certificate.
"It lends credibility and weight - UKAS runs the rule over a number of accreditation bodies," says Stralfor's Norwell. "It's not unusual for our clients to insist on it."

The BPIF's Gardner advises that any assessment should be carried out only by "a credible, independent third party".
He adds that in the past, getting accreditations had been viewed as a financial burden. While many print companies have attained the correct accreditation, it still doesn't come cheap and there isn't that much financial help out there.

Funding issues
"You have to dig down quite deep to find funding," says Gardner. "It depends where you are and the size of your business - some Regional Development Agencies can help, but there is no definite support. No company is guaranteed any financial aid, although sometimes there is funding for SMEs."

While it may be expensive for some, having no accreditations is not a risk worth taking unless there is no demand for a certain degree of environmental transparency from a customer. That's pretty rare and, as the BPIF's Gardner points out, going green is a financially sound option in the long run.

"More and more companies understand their environmental responsibilities and the accreditations show that you are sticking to the legislation and monitoring performance," he says. "It's about setting realistic achievements and sticking to them. You have to incorporate a focused environmental management system (see box). There are plenty of companies out there that have really reduced waste and energy, while retaining the quality of their product and saving money."

So while there may still be detractors, it is clear environmental accreditations are an important part of print's future and that to win clients, businesses have to get on board.

A company that is serious about its green aspirations needs to have a solid environmental management system (EMS) in place. According to government-backed green consultants Envirowise, an EMS is a structured framework for managing and monitoring environmental performance and ensuring compliance with legislation.

The first step is to have a commitment from senior management, as an ‘environmental champion’ at that level will help motivate other employees. Then a company should look at carrying out a cost-benefit analysis looking at the price of raw materials, water, gas, electricity and waste disposal over the previous year.

It gets more time-intensive after that. Operational procedures need to be put together in an EMS manual and at this stage, it’s vital to consult employees.

As with any proposal for organisational improvement, commitment and input from the wider workforce is essential, explains Michael Savage, production specialist at Envirowise. Some employees will need more information about the environmental issues than others, depending on the level of responsibility assigned to them. Those EMS schemes that carry formal certification will usually require you to carry out a training-needs analysis and then provide evidence that the relevant training has been carried out.

Savage adds that an EMS is only a starting point and from there on in it’s a case of monitoring and reviewing how it’s fitting into a business.


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