Sustainability Reporting

medium_laurel3.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

The graphics industry is massive and yet the number of printing organisations with more than 500 employees is small. This means that very large customers buy their print from a host of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Such organisations tend to be under the radar for most environmental reporting regulations, because their individual impact is likely to be quite trivial, although collectively it adds up to be large. The only time the printing industry’s SMEs really bother, is when their customers or shareholders require it. This is at once problematic and an opportunity for printing companies.

It’s problematic because it means that most print service providers are not compelled to bother with sustainability, so sustainability investments tend to depend on the motivation of company owners. But this lack of a widespread environmental ethic could also be an opportunity. This is particularly true for service providers working with organisations with a declared sustainability committment. Large enterprises such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca or Diageo take their environmental responsibilities very seriously. They tend to prefer working with suppliers who can support their sustainability compliance and accountability efforts. Being able to provide environmental footprint data is of considerable value to such clients. Print service providers who can do this have an easy edge over those who cannot.

The drivers pushing global companies to provide nonfinancial and diversity data are regulation, shareholder pressure and fulfilling declared commitments to reduce emissions. There are estimated to be some 3,000 companies worldwide producing annual sustainability reports and this number is rising. Companies understand that the planet needs more sustainable raw materials processing and greater energy efficiency. Printers working with data driven production tools have an opportunity to report on cradle to gate life cycle impacts. Printing contributes around 30% of the impact for all forms of printed matter, including packaging, displays, signage, books and newspapers. This is valuable data for customers.

The graphic arts development community has provided some basic tools for calculating carbon footprints, but these are not standards compliant so they don’t follow a common model. And there are many other reporting features we should be considering in workflow systems. Energy usage and emissions per job is an area ripe for development.

The pressure to provide sustainability reports is not yet particularly high. However in Europe, for some companies disclosure of diversity and nonfinancial data, including Corporate Social Responsibility data, will become a requirement by the end of 2016. The objective for this requirement is to improve consumer trust in progress towards a more sustainable global economy and to help identify sustainability risks. The number of companies required to provide sustainability reports will jump next year, so now is the time to prepare to support customers in their sustainability efforts.

– Laurel Brunner

The Verdigris project is an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. It provides a weekly commentary to help printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Epson, Fespa, HP, Kodak, Kornit, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.

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