Adding up the eco impact of your business

By Simon Creasey, Monday 23 October 2017

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Richard (not his real name) is the owner of what is probably one of the UK’s most environmentally friendly printing businesses.

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Most of the energy his factory uses is generated by on-site solar panels, he has installed motion-sensitive LED lighting throughout the premises, he’s currently exploring the use of electric vehicles and he has invested in the most energy efficient printing equipment available. 

Despite introducing all of these measures Richard could never claim the crown of the UK’s greenest printer and that’s because he’s never measured his business’s impact on the environment (which is why he prefers to remain anonymous). 

“At some point we will do it, but we’ve decided to invest in tangible environmentally friendly technology – things that actually make a real difference – rather than spending lots of time and money investing in going through a process to get ourselves a certificate just so that we can say that we’ve done it,” he explains.

That’s not the only reason he hasn’t as yet measured the environmental footprint of his business. The key factor is none of his clients have ever asked him to do so, plus he readily admits that he wouldn’t know what to measure nor where to start. 

So what do businesses who want to calculate their environmental footprint need to know about this process, what tools are available and what can they do to mitigate their impact on the environment?

The good news is there are lots of different tools available that will help a business to assess its footprint. The bad news is that very few of these tools are specific to the printing industry, says Steve Walker, commercial products manager at the BPIF.

“The challenge of course is in the first instance to find a way to measure the print specific elements and then to produce a product that’s easy to use,” explains Walker. “Most online tools will simply measure energy use and transport, which of course ignores the main component of a print company’s carbon footprint and that is paper.”

Available options

To address this issue the BPIF runs two services. The most recently introduced option is ClimateCalc, a tool that was developed in conjunction with Intergraf and covers 95% of a printing company’s emissions. 

“It is an online tool and is relatively simple to use particularly in its basic form,” says Walker. “It measures the carbon footprint of the site and enables it to quickly and easily give its customers a carbon footprint for an individual job. In its basic form it simply requires a company to input energy usage, number of employees, tonnes of paper bought and recycled. It then uses industry averages to ensure it is print specific.”

In addition to the basic form the BPIF has also developed a ‘standard’ version, which enables a company to use specific data on inks and plates rather than industry standards – on both the basic and standard versions printers can use specific paper data, which Walker says is vitally important as paper is “responsible for 65% to 75% of a company’s carbon footprint”.

He adds that the product is simple to use if companies are prepared to rely on industry standard figures as it only needs four bits of information to create a site footprint and then two pieces of information – quantity of paper used and distance to customers – to provide a carbon footprint for an individual job, with companies who join the scheme able to use the ClimateCalc logo. A fee is charged for using this service as the BPIF has to cover the cost of auditing it and pay a licence fee to Intergraf.

Another option available to printers is to use the government’s ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ factors. This requires producing annual figures for the consumption of energy, water, paper bought, paper recycled, refrigerant used, freight mileage and company car mileage – the usage of raw materials like plates, inks and varnishes is not included. This option is much more labour intensive and unlike ClimateCalc it’s not print specific, which means that it doesn’t pick up on nuanced differences – as Walker points out it only measures a company’s overall paper usage so if the annual paper usage of a business increases so too does its carbon footprint.

“A more pertinent measure would be, carbon emission per unit of production or sales or number of employees,” argues Walker. “Of course it becomes a little more useful on the individual product basis, particularly where a company through its broker can specify a paper with a lower carbon footprint. It can then potentially sell on the environmental benefits of buying from the company rather than purely price. Unfortunately, since the recession, however, it would seem environmental issues have taken a little more of a back seat.”

That may be true of some print buyers and print business owners, but it’s not applicable to everyone. There are a large number of print businesses out there who in addition to measuring their environmental impact constantly strive to reduce it. One such example is Cheltenham-based The Bigger Printing Company. David Bowen, marketing and operations manager at Bigger Printing, says the firm takes its environmental impact very seriously.

“We plan our production schedule very carefully to group together jobs that are on the same material in order to reduce waste,” explains Bowen. “We also ensure we place the prints as close to one another on the material in order to reduce the waste in the carcass. We have ensured our team has bought into our environmental programme which separates any waste material into the relevant containers and this has allowed us to become 100% landfill free. We have also updated our invoice system to a fully digital solution, resulting in a lot of saved paper.”

He adds that there are a number of other parts of the business that are currently being evaluated so that the company can make further improvements. 

Greenwash worries

Another business that also strives to continuously improve is Isle of Wight-based eco fashion brand Rapanui, owner of UK T-shirt Printing, which generates its own renewable energy on site.

Despite its success at reducing its own environmental impact, James Gray, direct marketing executive, cautions that sometimes ‘progress’ can be counterintuitive.

“Gas tunnel dryers use less energy and therefore produce less CO2 than electric ones, which sounds great, but when your energy is 100% renewable, it’s best to be back on electric and off the fossil fuels if you don’t mind spending a little more for a lot less CO2. Either way, it’s not one big thing that makes 50% of the difference, it’s a sum of marginal gains. Printers should look for the 50 little things that make 1% difference, many of which are fairly common sense,” advises Gray.

It’s a philosophy that Gareth Dinnage, managing director at Oxford-based Seacourt, also buys into. Over the past 20 years the business has made incremental steps, working towards a comprehensive environmental management framework that looks at the business as a whole and breaks it down department by department so that Dinnage can understand where resource efficiencies and improvements can be made. 

“Every business decision we have taken over the last 20 years has had one key theme to it: will this further improve the environmental performance of our business?” says Dinnage. “This approach is very different from the standard linear business model which is focused solely on the bottom line. Ours is based around the triple bottom line, where we take social and environmental cost into consideration, as well as purely financial ones. This approach ensures that our day-to-day business activities are absolutely aligned with our business ethos – it is this approach which enables our clients to have full confidence in us as a key partner.”

Partnerships are also important to recycling company J&G Environmental, which is accredited to ISO 14001. According to J&G’s Heather Brewer, the company’s environmental footprint is extremely important to the business.

“We have to practice what we preach, and set an example of what can be achieved when the right processes are put in place. For our customers it’s the natural progression to use J&G for the printing consumables and their print waste as it’s the full circle, cradle to grave. We are the only company that can do this,” says Brewer.

Of course ISO 14001 accreditation requires a degree of measurement and for many printers this process is likely to be one of the main drivers towards them calculating their environmental footprint, but for a lot of businesses gaining this sort of accreditation alone isn’t enough.

“We’ve found our best customers expect more than just a stamp, they expect to be shown what it means in reality. Certificates are a means to an end,” says Rapanui’s Gray. 

As for sage words of advice that businesses looking to calculate their environmental impact would be wise to follow, based on first-hand experience Dinnage offers the following. 

“Get an expert in to help understand your impact, get accredited to a set of meaningful objectives, not just to tick a box. Believe that what you do has an impact and that if you work whilst considering the environment and society you will ultimately have a better business.”

And who can ask for more than that? 

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