Turning the print industry green

Many printers are adopting green techniques
Many printers are adopting green techniques

A growing number of print and production companies are attaining eco-credentials, which is good news for green-aware clients such as BSkyB and First Direct. But does the effort involved deliver benefits to the printers themselves? Claire Foss reports.

Environmental concerns are a tricky issue for the print industry, as The Print Factory found out when it was fined £12,000 last September for failing to follow Environment Agency recycling regulations.

The incident demonstrates the pressure DM print and production companies are under to adopt eco-friendly policies. In the last year, many firms have gained the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Standard, which monitors how a company is run and covers areas such as prevention of pollution and compliance with environmental regulation. Many printers are also now accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes the use of paper from sustainable sources.

Some printers, too, are using organic and vegetable-based inks and offsetting their carbon emissions. Clean data is also a crucial part of producing 'green' direct marketing and many printers are championing digital print because it doesn't require the printing of extra stock or preparation sheets. Printer REAL Digital, for example, saved one client 26 tonnes of paper - equivalent to three million sheets of A4 - when it switched to digital printing.

Client demands

Triggers for making such changes vary from firm to firm. Leicester-based printer GI Group, for example, says that seven years ago it accidentally poured a water-based glue down a drain. Having rectified the problem, the company was prompted to become carbon neutral and change its working practices.

For most printers, however, the pressure to improve their environmental standards comes from clients (see box, page 61), particularly as many pitch documents now carry a requirement for printers to hold certain accreditations.

"It is often blue-chip firms that ask for green credentials," says Lucy Edwards, marketing director at printers Howard Hunt Group. "Standards such as ISO 14001 and the FSC accreditation tend to be the main requirements. Many are also asking about carbon neutrality."

Charities are also pushing environmental issues higher up on printers' agendas. David Shorto, print and paper buyer for charities Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and founder of independent green production advice service Paper, Print, Environment, says the two charities try to use only ISO-accredited printers. He says the number of printers with environmentally sound practices has increased in recent years.

"Trying to implement our printing policy two to three years ago would have been impossible, but the rise in the number of firms that hold ISO accreditations has meant we're almost spoilt for choice," he says.

While some clients are still testing greener production methods, the larger brands are, if not switching to green printers, encouraging their existing ones to adopt green practices.

BSkyB, for example, says green direct marketing is vital to its business, but can be hard to achieve. "Not all of our printers are accredited, but they are in the process of achieving this," says Kevin Trever, head of marketing procurement at BSkyB. However, Trever says the environment, while important, is one of many concerns when buying print for a company with a portfolio as large and varied as Sky. "The capacity for volume and flexibility to meet our needs has to be balanced with the environmental impact - we have to do what's right by the company," he says.

Trever added that while the firm plans to have half of its marketing materials printed on recycled paper by the end of 2008, a big problem is finding enough good-quality paper for its customer magazine.

The cost of going green

While improvements in printers' green standards may be good news for clients looking to introduce environmental policies, what impact is this having on the printing industry? Reduced direct mail volumes and commoditised pricing has squeezed margins in the sector. Is 'going green' yet another cost to bear?

There's no doubt that putting environmental plans in place carries a financial outlay for print firms. For a large printing firm, costs can reach up to £100,000 a year, according to some printers.

"Introducing green policies means employing a standards manager, so there is an additional payroll cost to bear, together with the expense of training staff and paying for audits. The cost (of implementing environmental standards) is about £50,000 a year," says David Laybourne, managing director of REAL Digital. Initial outlay on equipment such as paper compacters, which compact waste before recycling, can increase these costs further, he adds.

However, these costs are being offset to some extent by reductions gained on energy-saving measures.

Gurdev Singh, managing director of Nottingham-based printers Howitt, says that although it invested a large amount of money into machinery at the start of the process of going 'green', ten of its 14 waste streams now generate money from recycling.

"The amount of money we get (from waste) is not significant in our turnover, but it is still worthwhile and it pays to do it," says Singh. "The initial capital outlay to go green was high, but we have various equipment worth £30m, so we're used to larger outlays."

It seems the cost of environmental schemes are not passed on to clients, but absorbed by printers. Those that gain accreditations, however, are noticing the difference this can make when pitching for business.

"There is a cost, but you can recoup this further down the line," says Patrick Headley, sales director at GI Group. "We can get onto certain rosters more easily now. When we go for big tenders, ticking the ISO and carbon neutral boxes mean that some firms are keener to deal with us."

There's no evidence, however, that a switch to green print methods will have any impact on falling direct mail print volumes. Malcolm Webb, sales and marketing director at transactional and direct mail printer DSTi Output, says the move to electronic communications is likely to continue unabated as long as digital remains the cheaper channel.

REAL Digital's David Laybourne agrees but says the shift to greener printed communications is crucial to make consumers more receptive to traditional direct mail.

So does an entirely green future await the UK direct mail printing sector? Not according to David Shorto, whose website www.ppe.uk.net lists UK print firms with environmental accreditations. "There are thousands of printing firms in the UK, and no more than a couple of hundred of these have ISO 14001," he says.

Many of these businesses, he adds, may be small, for whom ISO standards are too expensive or impractical. While there are smaller accreditations available, it's likely the environment will never be the biggest concern for some smaller firms, who are likely to have a local client base and slim profit margins.

Misinformation is another barrier to change, with many printers and clients confused over sustainable types of paper. Bleaching and transport of waste are also contentious areas. There are issues, too, about the available quantities and quality of recycled paper.

Going green will be beneficial to printers that can absorb the costs of doing so. "Print suppliers are looking to clean up their industry and have done a great job in terms of ethical sourcing for materials such as dyes and inks," says Collette Nugent, head of direct marketing at financial services brand First Direct.

The DM print sector has some way to go in terms of practical developments and education on the subject of the environment. But as larger clients and suppliers lead the charge to greener production methods, the industry is proving its commitment to the issue by making a number of moves in the right direction.

COMMENT

- Anthony Rowell, Business Development Manager, Pureprint Group

"ISO 14001 is an indication that a printer is making the right choices, but what's more important is what it does on a daily basis to ensure that green systems are continuously re-evaluated."

- Collette Nugent, head of direct marketing, First Direct

"Print suppliers are looking to clean up their industry and have done a great job compared with say, the clothing business in terms of ethical sourcing for materials such as dyes or inks."

- Peter Frings, managing director, Target Direct Print

"A lot of our clients want guidance on green issues because there is conflicting information. The route we choose depends on our clients. If they want to reduce emissions, vegetable inks are less important than using recycled paper."

- Susan Steyn, business unit director, Bezier

"Many of our clients want to switch to recycled stock, but want to test the substrates before committing to it for a DM promotion. Although the environmental impact is important, so too is the look and feel of the promotion."

THE BIG ISSUE

Why brands want eco-friendly print

Financial services brand First Direct has switched its direct mail production to one that is environmentally-friendly and is using vegetable inks.

For Collette Nugent, First Direct's head of direct marketing, consumers exert an influence on the online bank's green policy. "Customers have asked us how we source our paper and if we use vegetable inks," she says.

More commonly, green policies are influenced by those at the top of the business. Kevin Trever, head of marketing procurement at BSkyB, says the broadcaster's chief executive James Murdoch has been promoting its green issues.

Growing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has also put pressure on print buyers. This is the case with Tesco. "We have a CSR policy which is available on the web," says Paul Sumner, print and paper buyer at the supermarket giant. "We believe across the board that (going green) is the right thing to do."

Once the decision has been made to switch to more green production methods, it takes time to implement. For Virgin Mobile and its printers BLP, going green on its marketing materials, transactional statements and packaging took about 14 months.

Paper sourcing is an issue too. "We often can't get the brightness we need and don't want to use recycled stocks that have been bleached," says First Direct's Nugent. "Our printers also tell us that it's hard to find enough recycled pulp to supply direct brands such as ourselves."

NEED TO KNOW - How a DM pack goes green

Car maker Honda created a direct mail pack printed by Bezier on recycled paper, using vegetable inks and made from a single sheet with an integral reply slip. It had no address window and was litho printed. Aimed at existing drivers of hybrid cars and prospects close to making a purchase, the pack encouraged them to book a test drive for the new Honda Civic Hybrid. About 7,500 packs were mailed.

TOP TIPS

- Paper should be recycled or sourced from a printer with an accreditation such as the Forestry Stewardship Council or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, to ensure the paper comes from managed sources.

- There are various types of ink that are largely or completely vegetable-based. Crucial at this stage is the elimination of alcohol and solvent-based solutions. New technology is making it easier for printers to move to low-alcohol or alcohol-free methods.

- Using clean and properly suppressed data ensures that no unnecessary packs are printed and mailed out.

- Digital print tends to be a more environmentally-friendly production method. It eliminates waste as there is no need to print extra packs, or to print stock (with letterheads, for example) that is then reprinted. Digital ink is easier to extract in the recycling process as it is absorbed less by the paper than in traditional methods. However, the pack featured here was printed on a litho press.

- Adhesives should be water based - not only are these greener to produce, but if a spillage were to occur, they can be cleaned up with water and not solvent. Envelope windows can sometimes be eliminated, but if required, should be made of pulp or vegetable starch.

- Many formats can require extensive trimming and result in a large amount of waste, even if just a few millimetres are cut. One-piece mailers are also kinder to the environment.

- A printer that can also act as a mailing house can reduce the need to minimise transport-related pollution by shipping materials between locations. It is also helpful if a printer is close to Royal Mail or downstream access provider distribution hubs.

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