Is 'greening' your print business affordable? Or even worth the effort?

Marcus Timson

Marcus Timson, co-founder of the EcoPrint Show, has penned a response to Peter French's article questioning just how a business does go 'green' whilst remaining profitable.  He says:

"I read with interest Peter French’s well-written opinion piece about his experience in selling sustainable print.   It inspired me to write a few things down, hopefully to both encourage him – and others like him – not to lose hope and also to encourage the sign industry to attend the upcoming EcoPrint Show to find some answers to the questions he was posing.

I completely agree with Peter that in order for sustainability to work properly, buyers are in need of education. And I don’t mean to be patronising to print buyers, but they are not paid to think about the overall value of what they are buying. They are in jobs that are focused on them achieving the lowest possible price.

I agree that we should, where possible, buy locally. This is not because I am against competition, but because it makes sense on a number of levels. I hate it when I hear from Peter that he is losing out to businesses in China. These businesses will almost certainly not be producing sustainable print and the energy wasted to get the product out to the UK is very wrong indeed.

It’s a tough one this, and I think tougher for smaller businesses. I can see that Peter is - on the one hand - keen to take a sustainable path forward but - on the other - wondering what the value might be for him and his business. Will it be worth the investment?

Many small businesses sense that this ‘mega-trend’ towards a more eco-friendly society is something propagated by larger corporates and it isn’t necessarily reaching a local level. To some extent, depending on where you are located in the world, he is right.  Sustainability is still primarily a leadership issue. The main-stream is not yet demanding sustainable print. Or at least, they are not prepared to pay more for it.

But it’s a fact that the world’s leading brands and retailers are ‘greening’ their supply chains. For example, Wal-Mart is forcing its suppliers to align with their pledges towards sustainability. This in turn is forcing Unilever and Procter & Gamble to change how they produce their products from tier one manufacturing through to tier two and three – and this most certainly includes the print that they buy. So a leadership issue it is and clearly Peter is one of those leaders as he’s rightly asking questions such as those he has poses in his article.

My opinion is that the shift is still occurring and it is the top 15% that are embracing it and integrating it. It doesn’t matter how big your business is, it is the kind of person and the kind of vision that you have. I don’t personally profess to know the answers for Peter but I’m confident that the EcoPrint Show will.

The EcoPrint Show has been developed specifically to address these issues.  It will incorporate sessions from a number of sustainability experts across the globe within consumer companies and retailers, as well as real life case studies from print companies that have made and continue to make a great amount of value and profit from a sustainable print model. They will certainly provide some inspiration and guidance for him if he wants to know more and perhaps learn from their experiences.

All I can say to Peter is that he is certainly asking the right questions. At present, some buyers don’t get it.  Yet.  But when the shift occurs and they have to buy sustainably, they will drop Chinese print like a hot potato. Because they will not want the negative PR of buying toxic, unsustainable product that has no value.

As I write this, I hear that Toshiba has dropped its controversial ‘National No Print Day’ due to pressure from people (like me) who rightly say that print is actually the most sustainable media of all when it is done properly.

So, as the world becomes more conscious of the environment and business is more concerned about continuing to create value, Peter’s business will be positioned well, if he makes at least the kind of inquisitive questions about sustainability he is asking now. It’s a step by step process, and not one he has to suddenly achieve in a small space. But educating your customers is key. They will place a value on your expertise and some, not all, will end up becoming the cornerstones of your business well into the future.

Peter, I hope to see you in Berlin 26-27 September 2012 and good luck to you!"