Setting a higher standard for others to follow

Jez Abbott
Monday, November 12, 2018

One reason Imprint is good at exploiting business opportunities is because it never exploits people. The large-format company owned by Pureprint recently became a member of the ethical supplier register Sedex.

Sharing with other members its ethical and social performance does more than build trust with staff, suppliers and customers, insists managing director Dave Bullivant.

It is excellent at securing more of those business opportunities. This may explain why the Newcastle upon Tyne company with a multimillion-pound turnover is continually notching up new clients and awards. Most recently Bullivant’s team of 130 people scooped Point-of-purchase Printer of the Year at the 2018 PrintWeek Awards to go with the two awards won by its proud parent Pureprint Group.

But going for ethical accreditations – and between them Imprint and Pureprint have a clutch of ISO, FSC chain of custody and CarbonNeutral certifications – means more than floating out a few soothing words and ticking boxes. Auditing is systematic and rigorous, compliance is tough, and any standards that need raising nearly always cost time and money. Some may ask: ‘Is it worth it?’

The challenge

For the likes of Imprint, Bullivant gives an emphatic “yes”. His company, which was acquired by Pureprint four years ago, offers a wide range of large-format print to retailers, a sector that in recent years has become red hot on supply chain sustainability and personal freedom. For most retailers of this world, suppliers are either on the ethical trade bus or under it, and clients won’t deal with you down there.

Sedex therefore makes good business as well as ethical sense. The global membership group is one of the world’s largest collaborative platforms, with 50,000 members from 150 countries. Each one uses Sedex to manage performance on labour rights, health and safety, the environment and business by sharing data to drive continuous improvement and in turn sharpen up their businesses.

As one of the UK’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of point-of-sale and large-format media, Imprint wanted to “move in line” with Pureprint Group, which has a long-established and pioneering environmental ethos. It was the world’s first Carbon Neutral printer and became the UK’s first FSC-certified printer, way back in 2001. 

Director Richard Owers explains ethical trading is “part of the Pureprint DNA”: the company’s very name emphasises both a pureness and purity of vision that dates back to the late 1980s when the owner of Beacon Press, Mark Fairbrass, was coaxed by his daughter into a greener business approach. This continued after East Sussex Press bought Beacon Press in 2004.

This continued after Beacon Press came into the fold in 2004 and the name Pureprint was born. 

“Accreditation has become almost like a default requirement for many sectors and especially for print companies trading in the retail space,” says Owers. “But we have always believed there is real value in third-party accreditation. 

“Outside auditing, judging and measuring across aspects of your business is perhaps the best way of benchmarking your performance and improving it. Just like the Printweek Awards, Sedex is a reference point to see where you sit alongside others in your sector.”

The method

Imprint health, safety and environmental manager Stephen Robinson led on the Sedex initiative and explains: “We have legislation, and we have ethical trading schemes like Sedex, which are completely different. The latter go above and beyond legal requirements and drill down on almost everything, from working hours to responsbile employment practices.”

Pureprint, which joined Sedex around 2010, had a handle on just how much importance procurement teams place on the certification. When it was bidding for work involving the Olympic Delivery Authority in the run-up to the 2012 games in London, it was made clear that Sedex membership was an important hoop to go through in securing work.

Imprint signed up for a ‘four-tier audit’ focusing on health and safety, labour standards, business ethics and the environment early last year. It did so after a retail client asked the printer to sign up as part of its own corporate social responsibility pledge on responsible supplier chains. A so-called ‘semi-announced audit’ took place on two weeks’ notice and involved two inspectors attending the plant over two days.

As well as checking documentation, the inspectors interviewed staff on areas such as their working days, rest facilities and career prospects. Bullivant recalls the process – far from being hectoring or adversarial – was “definitely a two-way thing and a working partnership with lots of recommendations coming out of it”. Staff also appreciated their voice being heard.

The first two-day audit cost around £2,500 and a follow-up audit over one day added £1,200 to the cost of Sedex membership. The only improvement needed at Imprint was a “little bit of house keeping” on health and safety. All the audits meanwhile are available to read online and a key benefit of Sedex membership is the reduction in the time it takes to generate reports needed to monitor and communicate the effectiveness of Imprint’s ethical trading strategy. 

The Sedex reporting platform makes data easily accessible and quick to extract, freeing up time for the team to do what it does best, large-format printing. And far from adding to bureaucracy, Robinson reckons Sedex reduces it by preventing unnecessary duplication of information, while its data on ethical standards can be shared with multiple customers.


Both Bullivant and Owers have no doubt Sedex membership is good not just for the moral high ground but the business’ bottom line. After all, says Bullivant, “a happy printshop is an efficient printshop because the staff know we are much more responsive to their needs”. Owers meanwhile recalls market research undertaken by Pureprint a few years ago to see if “what we do on ethical standards makes a blind bit of difference”.

It did. For example, ‘on a score of one to ten, how important are environmental credentials on your buying decision?’ almost all respondents put seven, eight or nine. Half of staff meanwhile insisted environmental standards were important in choosing whether or not to work for the company, while procurement teams put 30% weighting on the need for sustainability and the environment. 

If Sedex membership can win business, internally it can save time and money cutting the costs of undertaking audits and checks for individual clients. It has also helped a sector that has had a few “corporate embarrassments” in the past years, says Owers.

“There have been one or two stories of paper supplies in Europe linked to unethical forestry practices in Asia and the result has been that the companies involved have become much more heavily involved in accreditations such as ISO and WWF much earlier than most of their competitors because they had a situation they had to deal with.”

Bullivant concludes: “Pureprint leads the way in sustainable printing, and as part of the group we are on a journey to make the large-format part of our business mirror our parent. Our customers have similar goals and concerns to the Pureprint core customer and environmental responsibility is high on their agenda. 

“We are striving and succeeding to meet customer needs and make the large-format business as sustainable and ethical as is possible.” 



Location Newcastle upon Tyne 

Inspection host Managing director Dave Bullivant

Size Turnover: £14m; Staff: 130 

Established 2002

Products Large-format creative indoor displays for shops and giant POS props and floor-standing units, vinyl hoardings and signage, screen and digital print for windows

Kit Sias large-format multi-formula screen printing; EFI, Fujifilm and Inca wide-format printers; plus a raft of small-format digital and finishing equipment

Inspection focus Becoming a Sedex member


Align your business and ethical goals; balance you environmental and sustainability ambitions with your business needs and objectives

Communicate with your staff, customers and suppliers to get the buy-in needed to fulfil your ethical goals and achieve Sedex membership

Assess your performance and review practices to ensure your ethical standards dovetail with your broader business objectives

Stay relevant and compliant by putting in place new measures when needed to react quickly to new legislation and reduce impacts on your business

Share your success by marketing your ethical and environmental credentials and entering industry awards to prove you’re setting industry benchmarks


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