Tue, Aug

Taking sustainability seriously?

If you’re not, you should be. As more print customers seek out suppliers that fit with their increasingly stringent environmental requirements, just offering recyclable products isn’t going to cut it. Here’s what HP environmental programme manager Stephen Goddard has to say on the issue.

“Few of my customers are asking for greener prints, and those that are aren’t willing to pay any more for them – so why bother going green?” I’ve heard this question from a number of wide-format print service providers in recent years. Whenever possible, I tell them that if they don’t take sustainability seriously they will be missing one of the great business opportunities of our time.
An Infotrends/Fespa survey at the end of last year indicated that 56% of European PSPs were seeing growth in demand for ‘green’ wide-format graphics and printing practices from their customers. This might indicate that if clients are not asking your business about sustainability, they are asking your competitors instead - perhaps those that have taken a more proactive stance on the issue.
I do not believe that clients are not willing to pay more for green, and nor do I think that they should have to. In fact I believe that we are seeing a fundamental shift in the market. Clients used to buy graphics on the basis of factors such as quality, cost and delivery times. A small advantage over rivals in one of these areas was often enough to win a job. Now a new factor has entered the mix – a demonstrable advantage in terms of sustainability can increasingly provide the edge required not only to win a job, but to build a lasting relationship with a major client.
Interest in sustainability amongst wide-format graphics clients peaked back in 2007 before the effects of the financial crisis led to a period of focus on cost, often at the exclusion of other factors. However, the focus of major consumer-focused companies on environmental factors is returning quickly for two simple reasons.
The first is that sustainability is becoming more important to the positioning, and frequently to the strategy and even culture of many of these companies. One only need think of Marks & Spencers’ ‘Plan A’, or Coca-Cola’s ‘Commitment 2020’ plan. Indeed, any major brand owner that does not issue a corporate sustainability report and have environmental impact reduction targets would now be seen as a laggard.
The second is cost. There is a growing realisation that there are many measures that can both reinforce a company’s green credentials and reduce its costs. For example, in the UK, steep increases in landfill tax are influencing a growing range of companies – including Tesco – to eliminate their landfill bins.
Major brands increasingly understand that the environmental profile of the wide-format graphics that they purchase matters not only because of the contribution that they make to their overall impact, but also because of the role that they play in representing their brand to consumers. These major brand owners are now increasingly seeking to source prints with a better environmental profile, which they might define in any combination of a range of factors. In general there is a great deal of overlap in what clients look for in ‘greener’ prints, but priorities vary.
A business that has committed to zero landfill might emphasize recyclability, whilst low carbon footprint will be a priority for another. Another may proscribe the use of certain materials – Hennes & Mauritz bans the use of PVC in marketing materials in its stores – and a maker of luxury cosmetics maybe most concerned about print odour.
However, for many organisations greener prints are no longer enough. They are also concerned about the profile of the PSPs with which they work. They seek suppliers that have a similar commitment to sustainability as their own organisation, and can prove this commitment over time. They are also looking for partners that can bring knowledge and ideas to help them to meet their own company’s sustainability goals.
How a PSP comes to demonstrate this knowledge, proactive approach and commitment over time is a topic in itself. However, thinking about how you can build a more sustainable business - and how you could use it to gain an edge in the marketplace - could be well worth your while. Going green isn’t just good practice; its good business.