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Friday, 4 September 2009

'Choice Editing' - the role of the retailer in sustainable development

'Choice editing' is the phrase used by the Sustainable Development Commission ( to describe how retailers restrict choice to consumers by only supplying environmentally sound goods. An example of this is with fridges, since it is argued that it is very difficult to buy a fridge that is not got a very high energy label because retailers won't stock them.

If you are shopping around the high street, or the Internet, you often come across retailers selling goods in a 'green' section of the store. In this sense the retailer is trying to offer attractive goods to those that buy on ethical lines without compromising their other goods they offer. This is an example of a retailer using the the potential of increased sales to label goods rather than taking an ethical or responsible attitude to what they stock and how they trade generally. I would consider them to be implementing a green marketing strategy rather than becoming a green business.

Of course it is not always easy to identify green retailers or green products. There are a large range of labels and standards which imply ethical, environmental or social standards are being met but it can be confusing to the consumer. The Sustainable Development Commission say that consumers should choose products that they think will ease poverty, reduce climate change and promote a one planet economy.

I think there is a stronger argument for not limiting oneself to the product but at looking at the policies of the organisation selling it. Are you convinced that the organisation is committed to sustainable practices? Does the organisation demonstrate knowledge of the issues that it needs to address? Does the organisation communicate to its customers accurately and effectively to help them make choices?

Green labels are fine. However, they can also be a smokescreen to promote a green image without necessarily understanding or acting on key sustainable issues within their business (energy, transport etc). A really green business will use its position in the market to influence suppliers and ensure that suppliers supplying goods of a dubious nature (child labour, climate damage and exploitation) are not traded with. There is a strong business argument for this and examples of successful companies who adopt these practices (Body Shop and animal testing). Organisations have a lot to gain commercially by being seen as sustainable and responsible.

At Greenhouse, we have adopted 'choice editing ' practices to support our 'sustainable printing' goals by ONLY supplying paper which is either recycled or has FSC certification. We also have ONLY used vegetable oil based inks as standard. ALL of our internally printed products are produced using our ecoprint-system4 process ( We do not offer choice in these matters. There is no 'sustainable' option. And consequently we have customers that feel confident in the fact that when they are dealing with us, they will be getting an ethical and sustainable product, whatever they order.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Carbon Offseting - the Marmite of the Green thinking world

Carbon Offsetting - as a environmentally conscious business, you will either love it or hate it. To borrow a question posed in a recent editorial feature in PrintWeek Magazine, is it cheque book environmentalism, or a legitimate means to achieving carbon reduction targets?

To cut to the core of it, Carbon Offsetting won't solve our climate problems.

To do this we need to significantly reduce the amount we consume as a society and to produce what we consume using as few resources as possible produced in as efficient manner as possible. And we need to control our population.

Can a market driven by materialism and money achieve this on its own? I very much doubt it. What is imperative will be strong leadership by our political institutions who see an opportunity for our society to lead the world in green thinking, living and technology. The concept of 'the polluters pays (not profits)' needs to be quickly enshrined in our legal and taxation systems. This is to some extent happening in the motor industry with the active encouragement of electric vehicles. On the contrary, the pathetic support for the solar renewables sector gives us an example of how established economic power bases, such as the motor industry, are still pulling the financial strings and steering the economic ship.

Yet, our society has grown rich on the exploitation of human and physical resources. This is deeply ingrained in our culture. The human race has proven itself to have very limited ability to deal with long term problems - usually we put our head in the sands, point the finger of blame at someone or something else or end up in denial (despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary). We are all guilty of taking actions which deal with our immediate issues rather than putting our actions into a longer term context.

So what does Carbon offsetting bring to the table if not the answer to our problems? Well, it may help bring the message of resource depletion and exploitation to those who would normally only 'poo poo' the concept. And, of course, once you buy into Carbon Offsetting (literally) you are accepting the existence of the problem and the need for something to be done. If it can convert the hardened market driven minds in this way, it may help our society to collectively use our significant powers to make a real difference to the human races most pressing problem.

Carbon Offsetting won't provide us with the answer to our manmade problems, but it does have a role to play in winning the battle of the minds.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

The commercial benefits of sustainable print procurement

'Green' products are sold as an ethical choice and, because they have added value, often attract a price premium. Businesses create the idea that a 'green' product offers more than the standard version of this product. Therefore there must be a charge for this additional offering. In many cases there is no additional cost base to justify this pricing. It is based on what consumers will expect to pay.

The psychology of the consumer has been trained to expect this. Organic foods are sold on this basis. So when you are buying ethically you are often put into the predicament of having to pay more to satisfy your conscience.

In terms of print procurement this mindset is problematic. It is problematic because printing sustainably reduces your cost base and allows you products to be more price competitive. However, as most marketers will tell you, what individuals percieve to be true is the truth. When you advertise a greener printing choice you have to beware of the perception that this will create in the minds of print buyers as to what the implication is for your prices.

It is a battle we at Greenhouse Graphics fight on a daily basis. And it is a battle with an unknown, but potential client. We are trying educate our potential customers about the real commercial benefits of sustainable print procurement. Better pricing results from less waste produced, reduced waste disposal costs, reduced insurance risk (and therefore premiums), improved production efficiency, less resource usgae, reduced energy costs and improved staff morale and motivation.

In 2007 we launched our campaign 'make a choice, not a compromise' to project the commercial benefits of sustainable print procurement. It aimed to make people think about sustainable print procurement based on sound commercial decisions rather than purely ethical choices.

To a large extent our campaigns work and our business continues to grow with an ever expanding client base. Its great when you realise that buying sustainably will put money back in your pocket!!

Five things to ask your printer when buying sustainably.

Marketing departments the world over have cottoned on to the fact that 'green' sells. Just as a company always supplies 'quality' goods and services, companies the world over are now all 'green'.

So how do you know the company you are buying printing services from provides these in a 'sustainable' manner?

Q: Does the company have a green ethos or does is simply make generic and bland statements?

A: Many companies make meaningless and unconvincing statements to project a green image. Therefore ask to speak to the Directors of the company and feel convinced that they understand and are driven by sustainable goals. If they are reluctant to speak to you or try to pass you over to someone else within the organisation then tread carefully.

The web site has a number of examples of claims made by organisations that are marketing exercises with little validity. Make sure the sustainable goals of the company are generated and monitored by the owners of the business - not the marketing department!

Similary companies that have a 'green' range of products in additional to non green products can hardly have sustainability at their core.

Q: Does the company only refer to paper when making environmental claims?

A: The production of paper has significant environmental impacts and therefore the choice of paper used in a printed job is very important. However, printing companies that offer to print on recycled paper or FSC paper as a claim to being sustainable probably don't understand the issues of waste, VOC's, process efficiency and energy which are key internal indicators of a sustainable printing company. Simply printing on FSC or recycled paper means they have to do very little (or nothing) about the real issues. They will probably want to charge you more also!!

Q: Does the company have any environmental awards or accreditations?

A: Sustainability in business is a big issue. British business accounts for the same amount of carbon emmisions as does transport. In the last few years there have been numerous awards set up that reward businesses that make genuine commitments to a sustainable agenda. Has the printing company you use been recognised by sustainable business awards. If not, why not?

Accreditations such as ISO14001 are also good indicators of environmental status. However, with these accreditations it is important to note that they do not suggest an environmental standard. Rather, they suggest that the organisation is involved in a process of improvement. It is quite possible for a poor performing company to achieve ISO14001 accreditation as long as it presents some indication (no matter how little) of improvement. A criticism of the ISO accreditation system is that environmental status can be 'bought' rather than earned and many companies go through the process in order to qualify for tenders with little commitment to sustainability.

What is sustainable printing?

Sustainable printing is the process of producing commercial printed materials with the least impact on the environment.So if sustainable printing is to be a goal the first thing that needs to be done is to identify how the commercial printing process effects our environment.

For the purposes of this blog I will refer to the lithographic printing process, since this is the most common commercial system. However there are numerous other printing processes which will have issues that are different to those I am about to mention.

The commercial lithographic printing industry overall is generally a dirty and wasteful industry - but it does not need to be so. By combining knowledge, commitment and technology one can make significant inroads into the environmental impact of the process.

The main issue for printers revolves around energy. This is the largest contributor to the carbon intensity of the printing industry
as established in the Trucost Report. There are a number of ways to reduce energy within the lithographic printing process.
  1. Be efficient: less waste and better efficiency means less energy.
  2. Have an energy policy: this will include a switch off policy and a commitment to analysing where energy is used and wasted. One can also communicate the energy usage of a process to your prospective customers within a quote.
  3. Invest in energy saving and process saving technologies: this may include pdf workflows, CTP, ink profiling systems
  4. Generate your own energy: at Greenhouse Graphics we generate up to 15% of our electricity through our PV Solar panels.
The second issue for printers is waste and recycling. The lithographics process can be very wasteful with several hundred sheets of paper needing to be run through a printing press before the job is at a quality where it is acceptable. Waste from the process can include paper, ink (including ink containers), developer, fix, contaminated water, industrial alcohol and printing plates. Reducing these can significantly impact the upon environmental issues and again the correct application of technology and training can help to make serious inroads into the amount of waste produced. Where one has waste this needs to be recycled where possible. This involves using products that can be recycled (ie aluminium plates) and ensuring one finds appropriate waste streams so that the waste does not pass into the general waste with the risk of polluting.

The last issue is to do with the emmision of VOC's (volatile organic compounds) and the use of hazardous waste in the printing process. VOC's are a big problem in the printing industry and mostly eminate from the use of IPA (isopropanal alcohol) in the printing process, although they also occur in inks and ink washes. Although there are replacements for substances there can be resistance amongst printers to use these alternatives because of conerns about the effects they have on quality and effectiveness. This means that printers have to embrace these concerns and involve staff in suitable training and work with suppliers to overcome any resistance. There has to be commitment from the Directors/Owners of the company to invest in processes that reduce/eliminate both VOC's and hazardous waste from the printing process. Low VOC inks, washes and alternatives to IPA are available as are systems that completely eliminate hazardous waste from the reprographic process.