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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.