Set out to achieve the highest standards

Hannah Jordan
Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Since joining commercial printer Anglia Print in 2002, ardent eco campaigner John Popely has made it his mission to shape a business with as little negative environmental impact as possible.

Popely: “The staff and customers have really  supported the process all the way”
Popely: “The staff and customers have really supported the process all the way”

In fact as director of the business, which was founded by his father Fred in 1978, he has helped build a company that has almost no environmental footprint and gives back to its staff and the community through local charities and discount printing and design services.

As its plethora of certifications prove, the business is powered by 100% renewable energy, is carbon neutral, uses waterless printing presses, non-soya, vegetable oil-based inks and has had a zero-waste-to-landfill policy since 2005. It is FSC, ISO 140001, Soil Association and Printers Against Plastic certified and is a Living Wage employer, sticking to a 35-hour week and giving staff an extra day’s holiday on their birthdays.

Popely’s tireless work received grand recognition in 2016 when the Beccles-based printer won the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development and last year was awarded the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment’s (IEMA) Sustainable Organisation 2019 award, outperforming global entrants from all sectors to secure the accolade.

The challenge

Underpinning much of this work has been Anglia Print’s efforts to achieve and maintain its EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) certification, a rigorous process that allows organisations to continuously assess and improve their environmental performance. In 2014 the five-staff business became one of only 11 printers in the UK to achieve the standard alongside companies including Severn, The Print Room and Pureprint.

“It had been in the back of my head for a long time because it was the hardest environmental accreditation to get in the country and it was completely open and transparent.

“There were very few businesses that were doing it because it’s a hard process to follow. Compared with ISO 140001, where you don’t have to publish your results, it’s a different ball game, because for EMAS you have to publish the whole lot,” Popely explains.

However, when the Brexit transition period ends, the scheme will no longer be available or valid in the UK, unless businesses are prepared to undertake the potentially far more costly process of subscribing to EMAS International.

So Popely, now owner and managing director of Anglia Print, looked elsewhere and he aimed high.

He says: “I discovered that B Corporation accreditation is the closest to EMAS in terms of its rigour, openness and transparency for our environmental efforts. But, the great thing is that B Corporation certification goes that bit further as it looks at your ethical credentials as well.”

Established by B Lab, a US-based non-profit organisation that advocates using business as a force for good, the scheme certifies businesses that have proved they use their profits and growth for good and that they have a positive impact on the environment and on the lives of their employees and local communities.

Businesses are externally assessed across a range of criteria and must achieve 80 points out of a possible 200 to qualify. Criteria include governance and transparency, working standards, community impact, environmental impact and customer impact.

To date around 3,500 businesses worldwide are B Corporation certified with Guardian Media Group becoming the first international news organisation to achieve the standard, in November 2019. Popely set his sights on becoming the first UK commercial printer.

The method

Enlisting the help of sustainability consultant David Shorto, with whom the business had worked to gain EMAS accreditation, Popely set to work at the tail end of last year.

“Then the pandemic hit, which knocked our resources on the head and put everything back a bit, but we managed to keep going as we were so far down the line at that point.

“One of the things that drove us was our understanding that we’d be the first commercial company in the country to achieve it; GMG is in a different league and there were other commercial printers in the process but weren’t there yet,” he states.

Popely describes the process as a flowchart of questions with one answer in a certain category leading to more questions until that segment is satisfied. Audits take place bi-annually although businesses must provide evidence on a yearly basis.

“Thankfully, a lot of what we needed we’d provided for the EMAS programme anyway, such as monitoring inputs, customer responses, dealing with environmental issues when they arise, and how we approach environmental and ethical issues. B-Corp also digs down deeper into your company Articles of Association and you need to change those so they reflect what you’re doing,” Popely explains.

“We had to provide them with a lot of evidence and documentation to support what we were saying, such as from our waste disposal suppliers to back our zero waste-to-landfill status,” he continues.

“You have to provide accounts, how much you spend with suppliers and where your suppliers are so they can check your carbon footprint. We had to supply electricity bills, invoices and records, water usage, staffing details, Living Wage accreditation, evidence about how we treat staff and support them,” he explains.

“Also our community dealings and what we do to help others: for charitable and arts organisations, we do a lot of work mainly through free design, discount printing, free editorial and adverts in our magazines, which last year amounted to about £38,000. It’s a good chunk of what we do as a business and quite a commitment. We have to keep a track of that so we can show the value of what we are doing.”

Popely says that becoming B Corp certified requires “heavy investment” in terms of time, genuine commitment and finance. The cost of using the scheme, while around £1,800 less than EMAS, at £1,200 per year, is not unremarkable for a small business like Anglia Print, especially considering the challenges that 2020 has thrown at it.

Despite turnover crashing by 70% overnight at the start of lockdown and all staff being furloughed, Popely was able to complete the accreditation process.

“I had the support of my staff, who were all on board and believed in the process and fantastic guidance from David Shorto. I think amidst the chaos of Covid, sat here by myself, it was pretty therapeutic to have something to aim for!”

The result

Anglia Print was officially certified as a B Corp business on 20 May this year, with a score of 97 out of 200.

“We’re extremely pleased with 97. The staff and customers have really supported the process all the way,” Popely says.

“When we come up for renewal we will hope to build on it because there are certain things it threw up that we hadn’t even considered looking at, such as how ethical your finance providers are.”

Popely says that being open with staff throughout the process meant that he had their full backing and that the desire was there across the board to be involved and to succeed.

The impact of Covid on the business has meant that they haven’t yet been able to shout about the new certification to customers or use it as a marketing tool, but he says that is the intention once “a new normal” is reached and the business is fully up and running again.

“Our financial year is September to August and the first half we were going great guns, we were looking at £600,000 turnover for the year, up £200,000, and then it just stopped dead. Thankfully it is picking up again now,” Popely states.

“We do a lot of work for theatres, cinemas, food festivals and festivals like Glastonbury, Latitude and Hyde Park events – it all went overnight. It’s going to be a fight to get some of that work back and the intention is that this accreditation will help us to win the work,” Popely says.

“B Corp as an organisation is huge and is international so we will be pushing ourselves towards bigger organisations and indeed towards businesses that are part of B Corp already and just doing as much as we can to promote the name of Anglia Print.”


Location Beccles, Suffolk and Norwich

Inspection host Managing director John Popely

Established 1978 as Anglia Printing Services and 2008 Anglia Print Ltd

Size Staff: five; turnover: £400,000

Products PUR books, brochures, magazines, newsletters, leaflets and posters

Kit Four-colour Presstek 34Di and Komori Lithrone 424, a two-colour Heidleberg GTO PrintMaster, Konica Minolta 3070 and 1060 digital presses and a large-format Roland Versacamm SP-300V plus a wide array of pre-press and finishing equipment, including kit from Müller Martini, Duplo, Stahl, Polar, GUK and Wohlenburg

Inspection focus Becoming a B Corp business


“Monitor everything, your electricity, transport, couriers, etc,” stresses Popely. He points out too, that those already certified with other environmental standards, will find the evidence already gathered for those will help with the EMAS process

Popely firmly believes that smaller organisations should invest in external support, such sustainability consultant David Shorto, enlisted by Anglia Print. “He knows his stuff,” Popely states. “The smaller you are the less you have to go through, but it is still quite a lot of work.” Large firms would be wise to create a role responsible for the extra work, he adds

If you don’t feel you are up to it, look at the business before you start rather than getting half way through and finding you can’t complete

Be honest. If you aren’t honest with your data, they will sniff it out because there will be conflict somewhere. “They will hold your hand along the way if you need it,” says Popely. “They are used to working with larger organisations, so sometimes they might not believe something you claim, until you can prove it,” he adds


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