The five pillars of sustainable production

Rachel England
Monday, February 6, 2017

Green credentials are no longer simply an attractive business bolt-on. Companies in all sectors demonstrating a commitment to reducing their environmental impact not only enjoy reduced costs, an enhanced reputation and a competitive advantage, but are taking important steps to ensure the longevity of their business.

In an ideal world, then, what would a truly green printing business look like?


Investing in new equipment is usually viewed as the biggest single expense in any green endeavour, but it’s also one of the most effective ways of boosting environmental credentials and making significant cost savings. 

LED-UV curing, for example, has taken some time to gain traction in a commercial environment but is now widely regarded as superior to traditional UV methods, offering instant drying, long light source lifespans and up to 88% lower power consumption than conventional UV. Plus there’s no mercury or spray powders involved, making for a cleaner working environment.

Kit that offers greater control over each print element is also beneficial. Fujifilm offers software that allows processors to minimise chemical usage by monitoring what’s going on inside the machine and adjusting replenishment requirements accordingly, rather than simply topping up chemicals on a regular basis, as is the case with traditional processes. As a result, bath life is extended; instead of swapping them out every two to three weeks, baths are operational for up to three or four months instead. Howard Hunt Group, which has adopted this software, has reduced its chemistry usage by 75%.

But there are also options for 100% chemistry-free printing. Agfa Graphics’ Azura TU plates, for example, eliminates developer and replenisher entirely, with print company DG3 reporting 87% reduced processor maintenance, a 95% reduction in waste collection and a reduction of 640,000 litres of water. Bristol-based Hampton Printing also extols the virtues of the plates, noting that its investment has reduced water usage from 24,000 litres per year to just 125 litres, and has replaced 2,400 litres of developer – which had to be collected and disposed of as chemical waste – with 400 litres of a washout gum solution.


Logistics is an oft-overlooked element of the sustainable business model, but it’s an area where big rewards can be had for very little effort: the Energy Saving Trust estimates that a business with a car and van fleet of 100 vehicles could save up to £90,000 a year by implementing green fleet policies. 

For a start, drivers can improve van efficiency by as much as 15% by making basic behavioural changes such as shifting gear at 2,000rpm and relying on windows instead of air-conditioning to keep cool under 60mph, and using air-conditioning over 60mph to keep aerodynamic. Of course, ensuring drivers stick to these kind of guidelines is no easy task, which is why many companies employ technology such as Lightfoot, a driver monitoring system made by Devon company Ashwood Automotive. The system keeps an eye on a driver’s behaviour, offering real-time guidance on driving more economically and sending a weekly or monthly email report to the fleet manager. The company’s fuel calculator suggests that a business running three vans, each doing around 50,000 miles a year, could save £3,325 in fuel and 3.64 tonnes of CO2 annually. 

Some print companies are going further still by investing in green vehicles, which is unsurprising given the benefits they offer. According to the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, opting for a low-carbon vehicle instead of a conventional one could save firms £18,000 in running costs over the vehicle’s lifetime.

CFH Docmail uses bikes and electric vehicles to deliver its products, with every letter delivered through the service saving 28 grams of CO2, while Nottinghamshire-based RCS was the first UK company to install a privately owned rapid-charging station for its own electric cars and vans.

Vehicle investment can be costly, but businesses can claim a 100% first-year allowance for business expenditure on new and unused (not secondhand) electric vans and cars, while government grants can cover up to 35% of the cost of a car (up to a maximum of either £2,500 or £4,500 depending on the model) and 20% of the cost of a van, up to a maximum of £8,000.


While the government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme for solar and wind power has run its course, many printing businesses are still reaping the benefits of renewable energy, which helps to protect against energy price volatility, reduces energy bills and, of course, bolsters those important green credentials. 

Nationwide Print, for example, installed 150 solar panels on its site, saving around 15 tonnes of CO2 a year and reducing consumption of energy from the grid by as much as 50%. According to managing director Julian Hocking, the project has made a “bigger contribution to saving the planet than all the environmental accreditation certificates we have achieved”.

Elephant Print’s solar installation, meanwhile, saves the company 50% on its energy bill, as well as 64,350kg of carbon emissions annually – the equivalent of planting 215 trees.

Watermill Press benefited from the government’s Feed-in Tariff, but even discounting the scheme the investment was a no-brainer. The solar array cost the company £90,000, and it now stands to save £30,000 a year in energy bills. It will have paid for itself in just three years.

Companies considering renewables would do well to investigate the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive, too. In 2014 Saxon Packaging installed a biomass boiler fuelled by recycled wood pellets to replace its oil-operated heating system. With fuel savings and RHI income in excess of £24,000 per year, the project is on track to deliver a four-year payback. 


Consumables is an area where printers can make the quickest environmental wins. The industry gets a bad rap for paper usage, but recycled and sustainable-grade papers are now the norm. Although there is some debate over which is ‘better’ for the environment, both have a role to play. Recycled paper, of course, doesn’t end up in landfill (where gate fees can reach up to £86 per tonne in some areas), and technology in this area has come on leaps and bounds in recent times. A few years ago there were technical challenges in achieving a high-quality recycled paper – you’d have to add some virgin pulp to get it up to scratch. Now, though, 100% recycled paper can be of an extremely high quality. 

Paper made from waste is gaining traction, too. ‘Crush’, manufactured by Italian company Favini, uses organic residues from food processing around its Crusinallo mill in Northern Italy to reduce the amount of virgin fibre needed. 

FSC-certified paper, meanwhile, assures printers and procurers that paper brandishing the FSC logo has come from responsibly-managed forests that promote regrowth and biodiversity, certifiable through comprehensive chain-of-custody documentation – something customers are increasingly mindful of.

European demand for printing inks currently lies at around 1 million tonnes per annum, so more companies are turning their attention to vegetable-based inks, which offer high-quality results without the environmental issues associated with their mineral-based counterparts. French manufacturer Capoverde is currently working on getting its products into the UK market in a bid to reduce the consumption of print media made from oil-based materials, which it has estimated as being  1.9bn m2 a year in Europe alone. Its products use acrylic coatings, without PVC and VOC release, and the coatings are free from phthalates, formaldehyde, phosphate and glycol ethers.

Of course, much of the environmental damage from consumables comes after they’ve been used, but a number of companies have stepped up to tackle this issue. Altodigital offers a cartridge return programme in line with ISO 14001 standards, while J&G Environmental – known for pioneering sustainable waste management in the industry – offers a complete ‘circular service’ to its customers, delivering consumables then collecting waste containers for recycling and reuse.


The oft-mentioned ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 are almost standard for print businesses now – customers would certainly be right to be wary of a company that didn’t have accreditation at this basic level. As such, forward-thinking environmentally-savvy companies are casting their nets further afield. 

The Carbon Trust Standard, boasted by the likes of Antalis and Johnston Press, is a rigorous standard that recognises organisations making a meaningful effort to reduce their environmental impact. A number of printers are voluntarily involved with carbon-neutral schemes, too, although CarbonNeutral certification is the most impactful way to illustrate this. In 2002 Pureprint was the first printer in the world to be awarded this status, and many others have since followed suit.

But as businesses expand, it’s worth looking at accreditation schemes that hold sway in other countries. The Ecolabel is particularly important: it’s an EU-wide scheme that spans everything from consumer products such as shampoos and cleaning detergents, to floorcoverings, textiles, and even campsites and hotels. 

The idea behind such a wide-ranging application is that the logo is instantly recognised across Europe, making it easy for both consumers and businesses to make a ‘green’ choice by opting for products that carry the mark.

York Mailing was the first UK company to achieve certification, which has been particularly beneficial for its work in Scandinavia thanks to a tax on print and paper in the region that can be partially negated with the accreditation. 


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