Saving the planet can’t simply be left to others. We all have a responsibility to clean-up our acts as Imageco MD Nathan Swinson-Bullough extols.
One Sunday in 2018, an episode of ‘Planet Earth 2’ by David Attenborough was aired on TV. It was the that one that showed oceans of waste plastic and terrible scenes from around the planet of the damage we are doing. It flicked a switch - I felt embarrassed and an overwhelming sense of responsibility that as a consuming human and business owner I was contributing to what I was seeing. I immediately knew I had to do something about it, and that being in control of Imageco it was up to me to start making a change to its environmental impact.
These images of ocean plastic, melting ice caps etc. are now all over the media and, hopefully, everyone knows the severity of what is going on. But, I recently saw a Facebook post from Greenpeace - the message being “It’s not your fault”, and the accompanying videos were of pollution, deforestisation, coral bleaching etc., with the blame laid at the feet of the big companies - Coca Cola, Unilver etc. I commented on the post stating the messaging was wrong. It’s up to everyone to make the change. I am far from a climate expert, but I do now know there are lots of small changes we can make as individuals that together can have a big impact. Yes, the big guns clearly need to make changes, but so do we all.
On the plus side, some amazing work is being done all over the planet to reverse the damage. The more I learn of the negative impact the more I hear of new companies and initiatives to battle it, which is positive. Hopefully, new carbon capture technology for instance, will have an impact.
With the awareness now raised by the likes of Attenborough, sustainability is fast becoming the top of everyone’s agenda. As a wide-format print provider we are a key part in the supply chain for our customers, and now more than ever, having a strong sustainability policy is key to both retaining work and winning new work. We recently won the Green Company Award at the British Sign awards for our commitment and ongoing work to reduce our impact on the environment, and we are winning work as a result of such commitment.
I am fortunate enough to be able to focus a lot of my attention on reviewing the company’s sustainability measures, and in having a great team around me producing the day-to-day work. I spend a lot of my time looking at new materials and technologies, and assessing in general how we can become more sustainable. I also ensure that lots of our marketing is geared towards ensuring our clients are very aware of our ‘green’ ethics. Don’t get me wrong though - this is important from a business perspective, but first and foremost it’s my genuine care for the environment that drives me.
I believe we need to create a balance between running our business and limiting our environmental impact. It’s a continual process and one that needs to be refined constantly. This is why I have signed us up to gain ISO 14001 environmental accreditation – something that will aid us in sharing responsibility throughout our business and keep us firmly on our toes. Having ISO 14001 will also help us on larger tenders, and put us in good stead to win work. This will be looked at more closely in the future in the tender process and will play a key part in decisions being made in favour of those of us with the ISO standard.
As I have mentioned, we are a key link in our customers’ supply chain - we work with some great design agencies that have some of the biggest brands in the world as their customers. I speak to a lot of them regularly, and they always say that when a sustainable brief arises that we are the first port of call for them.
At Imageco we position ourselves as an extension of our clients, so that in turn they can fulfill their clients’ briefs in a sustainable way. We offer our clients information and support as part of our service and I work closely with our account handlers and project managers to advise on sustainable materials perspective etc.
Some of the more environmentally sound products can be more expensive, but I have seen a shift recently to them falling in line with traditional materials. I can see that there will become a point where PVC-free and paper-based material will be the more prominent products we use. I’m also keeping an eye on plant-based material developments, and there are some really innovative suppliers out there making inroads into groundbreaking materials.
We have spent a lot of time trialing new materials to get to a point where they acceptable as a commercial product - after all, there is no point in producing work and it failing as this has a negative impact on the environment too. Our biggest suppliers have worked with us to supply new media to try, and this combined with successful tax claims for our R&D work, has helped us financially support our developmental efforts.
I’ve said many times though, that becoming a more sustainable business isn’t just about the materials you print on. Take your factory for instance. Ours is 30,000sq ft [2787m2] so our carbon production is significant.
I frequently get asked about the cost implications of implementing CO2 reducing technology and kit. Yes, it is expensive, but there are savings in the long run.
We have invested approximately £70,000 over the last year in solar panels, voltage optimisation and to replace our factory with LED lighting. The LED will pay for itself in three years, solar and voltage optimisation in five years. There are lots of grants available for this too if you look hard enough. It’s really a no brainer - ultimately, making the investment will save money, and help you do your bit for the environment.
Print kit and efficiencies play a big part in both waste and CO2 production of course. We recently added the new HP Latex 800W printer to our arsenal. This machine is brilliant - many parts are made from recycled plastic, it uses water-based latex inks, plus there are many other environmental benefits. We are no stranger to latex - the 800W is the fourth machine we’ve had. We recently won a large retail rollout that had to be latex water-based ink due to the print having to be recycled.
We have the latest versions of Caldera, with cut and nesting automation running across all machines so that job nesting is done efficiently with minimal waste, and our Vutek produces work quickly, accurately and with cool curing rather than mercury lamps. Waste is kept to a minimum and work is produced quickly, reducing operating hours from what they once were prior to the Vutek being installed.
In the past, speed and quality versus price was always considered at a point of purchase - now we need to look at environmental aspects too, and this will play an important part of future investment decisions.
We recently started a tree planting scheme with the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. This comes at a cost of £10 per tree so we offset sales of 10m2 of our recycled bottle wallpaper per tree. This was something I wanted to do to give something back to the environment - and it’s a good thing to talk about with marketing, though that wasn’t my impetus. I had been inspired by Patagonia’s ‘1% for the Planet’ initiative, whereby members contribute 1% of annual profits to global environmental causes. OK, our initiative isn’t as grand as this, but it’s a start.
My business partner Georgia Halston - MD of our marketing partner Halston Marketing - bought me the book. She and I run another company, Sustainability Partnerships, to influence changes in the NHS to achieve their net Zero goals. This was originally formed by Scott Buckler who is now head of sustainable business development at Imageco.
We are continually evolving how we monitor our environmental impact at Imageco. It requires a lot of attention and hard work. As I’ve said, I’m fortunate to be able to step back from time to time and review things. Lockdown has helped from this perspective and given me more time. But my message on improving sustainable practices would be not to let time constraints be the issue. It’s in everyone’s best interests to do what we can - primarily for the planet, but also for the longer-term financial rewards. I’d say make it part of your business goals.