Are your green successes rocking the main stage?

PrintWeek Team
Friday, March 22, 2013

Printers could be forgiven for feeling, of late, a little bit like a small child being reluctantly thrust into the limelight of a school play or circle of expectant relatives.


"Go on, don’t be so shy – tell everyone just how environmentally friendly you are," implore these and other print publications’ pages – alongside customers, manufacturers and pretty much any other print figure with an audience.

That printers need to shout louder and more proudly about how well they, and the industry at large, are doing to go green, is a given. But such calls to action may be leaving printers feeling a little unclear about how to best do this. No one wants to alienate customers by going overboard on the environmental sell, especially as this approach can have the counterproductive effect of making people associate print with environmental problems.

So subtlety and intelligence are key – PrintWeek’s essential 10-step guide to turning up the volume on your green message, shows you how…

Practice what you preach
It might seem obvious but, before you publicise your green practices, ensure they’re adhered to in house. Transparency is crucial, and an in-house culture of environmental sustainability is hard evidence of your message.

"Companies in all sectors are quick to ring the big bell on how sustainable and environmental they’re going to be," explains Thomas Bergmark from Bergmark Sustainability. "But when you scratch the surface there may be little behind it."

So you need to imbue the culture. There are myriad ways of doing this, from ride-to-work schemes to competitions between departments on recycling. Your employees need to be the main ambassadors of your message, professionally and privately. With this in mind, the next tip should be easy to follow…


Emphasise the message in all face-to-face contact
Your front-line sales staff are often the first point of contact for customers. How clearly are they expressing your environmental strategy?

"Make sure customer-facing staff are fully informed of your environmental programme, what your objectives are, what you’ve achieved and the benefits to the customer," explains Alison Branch, managing director at multiple winner of the PrintWeek Environment award Park Communications. "They’re the people who are going to be selling it."

Naturally, this should be balanced with an awareness of overkill; customers need to understand other benefits as well as your green message.

"Nobody just buys on environment," states Branch. "Service and price are very important. It opens doors, but once the door is open, you have to tick the other boxes."


Apply for eco accreditations
Nothing solidifies your green status more than verified certification. But achieving one is far from simple. Branch explains that it requires a strong continual improvement and management programme.

"It requires major investment," she admits. "Some of that is financial, but it’s more about management time and control processes and having a champion to lead that programme. In our case, I’m the champion, so it comes from the top down."

Independent environmental system ISO 14001 is the first rung on the ladder, and achieving it isn’t easy. Understanding that the process is a long journey has been the core advice from all corners.

Don’t, however, get bogged down in awards and certifications. Martyn Eustace, director at the Two Sides initiative, advises it’s very easy to miss the point of any green status achievement. "We can easily get confused by the many badges and labels," he warns. "Ultimately, what are you doing that you believe is a benefit to your business and your clients? Your clients are still the most important focus. Increasingly clients just like to see a company attending to a number of key areas and attending to them well. Collecting badges isn’t the only way to do it."


Include your message on your website and in your marketing material
If you’ve achieved some great sustainable and environmental accolades, or have an exciting new strategy, your marketing material and website are, without doubt, the best platforms to shout about it.

One challenge printers face, however, is how you explain your achievements and, most importantly, how you present these green victories as benefits for your clients.

"Quite often, printers know what they’re doing is environmental and sustainable, but they’re unsure what to say," agrees Two Sides’ Eustace. "Do your research, get your information and support your own stories with facts. If you’ve got an internal programme, explain it in a way that clients will understand."

There’s a whole array of information, facts and myth-busters on the Two Sides website. And, for £150 annual membership, you can access resources for your marketing and website content, too.


Work with a green charity
"Another good partnership to build is with NGOs and charities," states Bergmark. "Other people talking about you is always better than shouting yourself. NGOs will use you as a good example, which is incredibly strong. It’s a case of picking one that relates to your cause and is a strategic move from a communication perspective."

Such partnerships can really bolster your message with actions, and there can be other benefits if you work with them in the right way. Park Communications, for example, has partnered with Trees For Cities. For every completed customer survey it receives, it donates £5 to the charity.

"It’s a great way to publicise our green attitude," says Branch. "Plus, it’s a great way to receive more completed customer surveys and it’s always great to donate money to a fantastic charity in a concrete way."


Develop an environmental incentive scheme
Another way to make your message clear is to present your environmental attitude as a service for customers.

If they show an interest in committing to an environmentally sound job, construct a package that helps inform and educate them on their options, from the range of FSC-certified papers to the range of alcohol-free inks. Offer a discount or a responsible pledge if the customer chooses this exclusively green print route.

Severnprint does this in the form of its SylvaPack scheme, which is a print route clients can take that adheres to the highest environmental standards. For every successful Sylvapack sold, it donates to Tree Aid’s planting programme in Africa.


Attend exhibitions and conferences
Sustainability and environmental conferences are an excellent opportunity to address different stakeholders, customers and clients. A relative new kid on the conference block, Ecoprint, shows a lot of promise with a strong emphasis on learning about improvement, elevating it from the standard, sales-driven tradeshow.

It’s a great place to start, but, as Bergmark observes, there are many others so you’ll have to be choosey in which you attend.

"Ecoprint seems like a very promising conference for the printing industry," he agrees. "But there are so many huge events arranged by world business councils for sustainable development. Thousands attend them, from politicians to NGOs to media and all kinds of stakeholders. They all seem so tempting from a communication perspective, but you need to be selective."


Recruit a PR company
Utilising a PR company’s contacts, voice and creative twists can take your story to a much wider audience.

"We’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a lot of editorial," explains managing director at polythene printer Polyprint Jonathan Neville, who works with Newman Associates PR. "We don’t deal with the general public. We have a message for the industry, who are much more powerful than the public as they have the power on the materials that go out there. The green issues were very important for us to broadcast, but we wanted to get ourselves out there anyway."

A good PR will analyse your business, highlight what sets you apart and express it in all communications. If there’s a larger environmental story in the news, they can offer you as a spokesperson.


Use green vehicles
Advertise your green message every time you make a delivery or visit a client. Electric, hybrid or LPG vehicles are one of the more subtle ways of backing up your green statement with genuine actions.

"We don’t want to say we’re green and then turn up in a Range Rover," explains David Pealing, sales director at Severnprint. "We’ve had hybrid vehicles since 2001, when they were even more unusual."

And why stop there? Continue this message with electric car charge points at your premises for both staff and customers. And use your vehicles to publicise your green initiatives more generally by perhaps wrapping them in a nice eye-catching shade of green, with artwork detailing your environmental credentials.


Finally, keep telling people!
"Don’t just tell them once," says Park’s Branch. "It’s an ongoing challenge and there are always new achievements to broadcast."

And don’t just tell customers; tell suppliers. Be clear about your sustainable requirements and highlight the benefits of a progressive partnership with you. Whoever you’re telling, however, make sure your green message hits home by making it part of the wider environmental conversation.

"Be transparent," qualifies Bergmark, who warns that going overboard can smack of greenwash. "When you’ve achieved success, don’t forget to highlight the remaining challenges you face. You have to show you have nothing to hide and invite other companies to join you. The media will find it harder to question you if you’re honest that the problem is large and you’re still rising to tackle the wider picture."


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