Sat, Jun

IR Talks to... Martin Kingdon, Chair and Sustainability Director, POPAI UK/Ireland

This summer, on 15 June, POPAI UK/Ireland will run its biggest ever sustainability summit - ‘Impact22’.  Topics on the agenda include the greening-up of retail POP and sustainable materials. I talked to chair and sustainability director, Martin Kingdon, to find out where the organisation thinks large-format PSPs
fit into the scheme of things. 

POPAI stands for Point-Of-Purchase Advertising International and I understand that your key aim is to promote the importance of that medium to your members. Given so many of my readers are involved in producing POP/POS and other print for retail outlets, can you give me an overview on where that print community is on your radar? 

We have a wide range of members with strong representation from both the client and supply side as well as temporary and permanent display, agencies, materials suppliers and printers. We have 175 members currently of which 105 are on the supply side. Our print members tend to be the larger companies in the industry who have been making strides over the years in both maintaining a technological edge and enhancing their relationships with brands and retailers where possible, as well as the procurement houses.

Our focus for many years has been the application of technologies and resulting displays into retail and the impact that this has on the shopper. This has meant that we have looked to work with print companies to ensure that they are aware of the latest in client thinking across a range of areas, including sustainability.
As far as our overall level of knowledge and contact with the sector is concerned we have recognised that there is more that we can do and as a result have started working closely with the BPIF to facilitate mutual knowledge sharing focused initially on sustainability, as well as co-operating on specific initiatives and shared future events.

Whilst this relationship is in its early stages the signs are extremely positive. This can only serve to help both sets of members better navigate the complexities of the commercial world.

Additionally, regarding sustainability, POPAI set up the sustainability council comprising representation from ten companies across the industry, including that of print.  

Historically, there’s been something of a disconnect between printers and the ‘creatives’ specifying print for the retail space. That, together with the lure of all things digital, means print has perhaps not been used to it fullest potential. We keep hearing that a move towards relationship working is changing that. What are your thoughts? 

We have been hearing about the death of print, in relation to the growth in all things digital since the year 2000. It hasn’t happened yet. 
Questions are now being asked about the environmental footprint of digital, i.e. internet, and a recent study states that 4% of greenhouse emissions emanate from this. As far as digital screens in-store are concerned, these were supposed to replace posters many years ago due to their flexibility of messaging and increased visibility. Whilst this is true, many clients didn’t understand the cost of maintenance of the screens, the cost of content, what their role was etc. They can be the correct solution in many cases, but it comes at a price. 

Regarding the relationship with creatives, I am not sure that much has changed in recent years, aside from some print companies setting up their own creative or agency offer. As with most display of whatever kind, in general it is only a part of an overall campaign - the issue for years has been to get the in-store/print element fully represented within the campaign delivery thus securing the appropriate budget. Studies show this has been achieved to a degree, but the creatives have the key role to play to ensure that what they design is relevant, legible, impactful, practical and cost effective.

‘Greening-up’ POP/POS is of course an increasingly important issue - hence your Impact22 summit - but who’s pushing the envelope as far as POPAI can tell? 
We are all aware of the global concerns regarding the environment. Matters specific to the world of retail, display and print have not moved at the same pace though. We have seen, historically, that retail and all that goes along with it, is often looked at last and has to work proportionately harder than other media areas with more stringent demands being placed on it.

Regarding sustainability specifically, there is a lot of pressure coming from within brands and retailers for an improved delivery of sustainable products. One of the key issues around this is the wide-spread confusion over what actions should be taken, what is genuinely better for the environment, and the establishment of facts within the context that an individual client is working in.

We have seen greatly varying levels of knowledge within clients, and the responsibility for dealing with this does not rest within consistent areas. We have found it challenging to identify those roles or individuals on the client side who have both responsibility for it and the power to effect change.
One area of definite change is the dramatic increase in sustainability content in tenders and RFP’s etc. Procurement is the main point of sustainability engagement in many cases although they may not have prime responsibility for it.

The print community has a significant role to play not just in regards to substrates used, but in the inks, adhesives etc that are used. The levels of understanding of these and where they are placed in the sustainability hierarchy seems to be patchy at best. 

POP/POS print providers are increasingly in a position to offer more eco-friendly retail solutions. Do you think those specifying such products are managing to stay abreast of developments? 

In a recent sustainability survey conducted by POPAI, retailers, brand owners, POP manufacturers, designers, and agencies were all asked how they kept up to date and were made aware of developments in sustainable materials and processes. Material suppliers and wholesalers were reported as being the most common source of this type of information, either as a result of enquiries made by POP manufactures or designers, or by the suppliers themselves pro-actively making their customers aware of new products and production methods. 86% of respondents said that they received updates from their material supplier. They in turn are reliant on materials wholesalers. As a result there is the opportunity for information to be filtered or not put forward if not relevant to that specific business relationship. 

In addition to material suppliers communicating directly with end customers, 75% of POPAI’s respondents also said that they also learn of materials developments through the trade press, with a further 56% saying that social media and POPAI are also sources of information about new environmentally friendly materials. Blogs are also useful, with 31% of companies saying that they are kept up to date through this medium.
In general though I would say that specifiers do not have the overall expertise to know exactly what will make a substantial difference in environmental terms, particularly given the blizzard of ‘eco’ products coming on the market.

It is also difficult to be definitive about specific environmental benefits as in many cases the context of how they are used is critical to the result. As an example, referring to client side feedback when eco-inks are spoken about, it seems that there is no clear understanding of what the benefits are exactly, how they impact on the recycling process, what the cost comparisons are etc. 

Finally, there is still a definite perception on the client side that ‘eco’ equals ‘expensive’ and a reluctance to change. This is historically correct as products have not been mainstream and therefore the volumes are not there to bring prices down to those of comparable non-eco products. This is starting to change but it will still be some time before there is parity. The key question here though is “what price the planet?”

Do you have any printers speaking at the Impact22 summit? 

Impact22 has been set up mainly to hear from the client side on how they are addressing the challenges of operating in a more sustainable way. This is essential knowledge for the rest of the industry and getting companies like those speaking to share their thoughts and give detail on their sustainability journey is a rare event. 

My expectation is that through these presentations those attending will start to see where the opportunities are for them, both through sustainable practices and more broadly into how sustainability, quality design, technical delivery  and cost have to work together to define the retail environments of the future.
Within I22 there is also the opportunity for ten companies to showcase their offers specific to sustainability. These slots have all been sold and there is representation from the world of print.

POPAI has a long history of running events where the supply side of the industry has the opportunity to present the latest developments and this will continue later in the year.

What scope is there for digital print providers to play a more involved role in the development of a more sustainable retail market? 

There is great scope for digital print providers to play a greater role in communicating the benefits that they may provide to deliver a more sustainable retail market.

As with other elements in retail delivery the critical issue is to deliver a message with clarity and simplicity that may be understood by a non-technical audience.

There is now a willingness for most clients to engage in the sustainability agenda. However the key attributes of a material and the main benefits provided may not be easy to understand. 

Given the plethora of claims being made now, addressing this issue will be a substantial step forward.

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