17
Sun, Nov

Can you sell your sustainability USP as a printer?

Can you sell your sustainability USP as a printer?

That’s the question Image Reports posed at its EcoPrint debate. Here’s how the panel’s international spread of print experts see it…

1) Firstly, can we clarify what ‘sustainable business’ is generally understood to mean in the wider community (because in the large-format print sector at least it all too often means little more than offering ‘greener’ inks and more eco-friendly substrates!)

Eriksen:

For a start we look right across the company to make sure we minimise waste – that’s about being green but it’s also to save money. Then we also do a lot of recycling. All of these things are things that we do internally – it’s not something the client can see at all – but it’s something we can tell them about. It’s saving us money and its green so it’s a win win situation

Lilienthal:

We have a sustainability roadmap we put together four years ago as part of our Sustainable Green Partnership (SGP) certification process and as such, sustainability is ingrained in our business - it’s about continual improvement. I’d say that in terms of sustainability it’s easier to manage areas of cost reduction internally but finding clients who will purchase greener products is harder so we work on marketing that.

Sell:

Back in 2003 we bought presses that used less power and that set off a chain reaction in the company to be more sustainable. So then we started to use alcohol replacement valves and our own inks so we could be more environmentally friendly. And or sustainability programme has grown from that. In the first part of this year we installed solar panels which now generate 90% of our electricity. We pass this type of information on to clients via small seminars etc. so they fully understand what we’re up to and why, and the result is they’re all buying into what we’re doing – not once have they complained about the costs and charges.

Donson:

As a company with a name like Eco Print clients just expect us to be producing print on the greenest substrates possible etc. and we are – we are always trying to source new ideas and greener products for clients. But it’s not just about the output – we’re always trying to find more energy efficient ways of printing and more sustainable ways of running our business too. For instance, we send back ink cartridges for re-use, use a phone company that has an environmental agenda, and we use low energy transport and combine deliveries – we’ve even got a revamped 1920s bike with basket on the front for deliveries. It’s about going deeper than just delivery ‘green’ products.

Frankish:

For many years at 3M the focus was on doing what we needed to do to meet legislation. Over the last 15-20 years we’ve added the needed for social responsibility too – marrying that with the need to be economically successful. So we look at the overall footprint as a company and that of our supply chain.

2) So when we talk about a print company’s ‘sustainability credentials’ what kind of thing should we be including?

Sell:

There’s a lot of common sense behind sustainability. Think logically about how to put things together then tell people and show them what you’re doing – explain the processes behind it all. We say we’re an ‘A’ rated factory for energy – we’re one of the first factories in the UK to be able to show that. Those kinds of things show you’re serious.

Lilienthal:

To me it’s all about commitment. A ‘green label’ is easy to put up on your website or whatever, but a sustainable business is much more than what that indicates – it’s about taking care in every part of the business and addressing that. You can tell the difference between printer with just a label and one that is truly sustainable – you need to be able to prove what you’re doing and share the knowledge.

Eriksen:

I can easily find a label or two to stick on the company and its products but the customers need to understand that labels don’t tell the whole story. They are easy signifiers for someone wanting something to cling on to, but the problem is what do they signify – it’s not always what your customers think they do. There is a lot of confusion and need for education here. And it’s important that customers understand the full story.

Donson:

Totally - people just aren’t aware of the differences between the various labels even, so getting customers to understand that sustainable business is about even more than that just scares them. We design green into all we produce, and yes we want to talk about that with customers, but then sustainability story is bigger than that.

Frankish:

We’ve found that communicating your credentials is easier if you ask your customers what’s important to them – what are their sustainability priorities? Then you can target your message. It’s easy to start with internal assessment of the issue and look outwards – which you need to do - but it’s also about establishing credentials that matter to your customers.

3) Do you think print companies are practiced enough at establishing these sustainability credentials as part of their Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?

Frankish:

The printing industry is far from being alone in not being good in establishing their sustainability credentials! A lot of my job is working with marketing people across a lot of industries and I see there’s a fear of being seen as being involved in greenwashing – it has frightened off people from bothering to try and explain what they’re about. We’ve actually put people off making marketing claims about green because they have to be able now to prove what they are saying. It’s a steep educational curve to learn how to use your sustainability credentials to best marketing effect and to be able to do it confidently and safely.

But there is a lot of intelligence in customer bases now and many understand that sustainability is a journey – so I think you can now have a dialogue on the subject with customers if you are honest in tone and explain that you are evolving. I think they understand that.

We’re starting to work with some NGOs and invite them to look into the types of claims we’d like to make and have them feedback to us on how they would interpret the message.

Sell:

Look at it this way; we’ve had one particular client since 1972 which produces log burning stoves. They wanted to go on an eco journey and we went on the journey with them in providing their printed products. So we produced a product using vegetable inks printed on recyclable paper and designed so had less trim waste etc. That’s the best way to show your potential to client – have a USP specific to each client with specific jobs showing your unique points.

Donson:

It is quite difficult – especially if you’re not just relying on labels. It’s a real tough job for the marketing department to fully understand what the company is about and be able to generate a proper message that encompasses the total ethos and working practise of the company if you don’t have some sort measure you can use to back up your claims.

Lilienthal:

In terms of USP we still focus on a lot of the things that make us a good print solutions producer – and sustainability underpins that. Not all clients will latch in to the sustainability angle so you need a USP that covers more than that base. 

Eriksen:

Your USP really has to be that - a unique selling point. The problem in terms of sustainability,  is that people have said they are green when they’re not so it’s made it hard for those now really trying to act that way and prove they are. It’s very difficult.

4) Printers are constantly being told that their customers – or potential customers –increasingly require them to buy into the sustainability message. But that when it comes down to it, it’s still all about price. What do you say to that?

Eriksen:

I don’t see it changing at all. A lot of brand owners need all these environmental issues covered but these green buying practices are developed at the top level by those who have a full view and understand cradle-to-cradle etc. Then a message is sent down through the layers of the company to print buyers who look for sustainable print – but they look for labels to tell them what that is, which as we’ve discussed, can be misleading anyway – then they also have to go back and explain why they’ve spent what they’ve spent. There’s something at the back of the mind that says “we got it cheap so we’ve done a better job”. It will take generations to stop thinking that way. We need to make sure print buyers are rewarded for not just buying on price!

Lilienthal:

For print buyers price is at the front of their mind but we can help address the issue of sustainability with them. You’re having to face commercial pressures every day so it makes it more important that you are a sustainable business anyway – to lower internal costs if nothing else! We work a lot with our supply train to help us with the commercial realities – to help lower the price of green, but also to help educate the market. But rarely do people buy green and are not interested in price

Sell:

We’re trying to shift the emphasis from price by offering a fully integrated service – to make life easy for clients. We try and train our people so we can handle client’s website design etc.– and it’s all one package. Key to our business is the partnership idea; if clients actually become ‘partners’ price is less of an issue.

Frankish:

In very few of the markets in which we sell are we the cheapest. We are usually pretty near the top of the pricing structure in fact with the products we sell – but we do sell, because we provide good product. I think there are ways you can earn your value if you innovate and work in partnership with customers to develop better solutions for them.

Donson:

We deal in small volumes of print orders – I find that on short-run small-format digital print there’s not a lot of difference in price between ordinary and green substrates etc. In other areas of print that’s not the case; greener isn’t always more expensive – but it often is. You need to be able to explain why there’s a difference depending on types of material and market demand, but print buyers don’t always want to hear!

5) Is part of the problem that print buyers for the most part are numbers driven, and printers need to be targeting their ‘sustainability USP’ to a different part of the supply chain – do they need to be talking to a different level/part of the customer base?

Eriksen:

It’s hard to say ‘I want to see your boss’. But it is important to try and build on existing relationships. Don’t look at jobs on a sale-by-sale level but bring the print buyers in, show them what you’re doing and make them understand this is not just a price by square metre or something, but a process. It takes time, but you take the focus off price. I don’t think you need to move up to the boss but have a closer relationship with who’s doing the buying.

Lilienthal:

Even where sustainability is a priority, it might not be the top priority so you’ve got to bear that in mind. Trying to go in at a high level over the normal print buyer’s head might not be a good idea– upsetting the print buyer is not a good move. It’s no good trying to whip them into an understanding – but gradually feed them with information and try and align your message with what they’re doing.

Sell:

Recycled materials are more expensive on the whole but I talked to our main suppliers and understood that the reason we don’t get the price down is that there isn’t the volume demand.  So told them I’d try and convert as many of my clients as possible to recycled. Now 36% of my clients use the same recycled brand. That’s been achieved because I’ve been able to get the price per tonne down via a lot of work with my supply chain. They’ve understood and believed what I’ve tried to do and worked with us.

Donson

Ideally you want to be talking to the CEO, managers and designers, but you don’t want to be upsetting people – so it’s about patience. Perhaps an option is to send your MD to talk to their MD rather than leaving the conversations up to the sales person.

Frankish:

It’s difficult to get your people talking to the corner office – the directors/CEO – so it’s important as a company to have a structure to talk to all levels of your clients’ businesses.

Do you think part of the issue is that print just isn’t seen as sustainable in general? And if that’s the case, how can individual print producers tackle that perception?

Eriksen:

I do think they know print can be sustainable – but sometimes you need to listen to what they want – not what they ask for. You have to be able to talk them around to a better environmental solution and try to be creative in the solutions you suggest.

Lilienthal:

You can’t force clients to be ‘green’. There’s nothing you can do if clients want you to ship miles away. We try to educate them on sustainable practices but not everyone cares. And there are changes within client operations all the time – new people in and out. So you have to be prepared to keep up the effort.

Frankish:

Many brands are looking at Scope 3 emissions – so if print is inherently not clean it will come high up on the need for emissions reporting, so that’s a good reason for addressing things like your carbon footprint. Once those kinds of measures are in place print companies will have a stronger position.

What needs to be in the sustainability message printers deliver to potential clients if they are to make their efforts work?

Eriksen:

I think it’s more important that you stop thinking so much about the attitude of the market and your message to it and just start being more sustainable. Start talking to your people about where you can start the process. Less talk and more action is needed.

Lilienthal:

In the US we have the SGP and its green certification process for print which is helpful in terms of good practice. I encourage all of you to truly understand what sustainability is and then try and apply those processes – it’s a commitment and you have to apply yourself to it. As a member of SGP we do measure our carbon footprint etc. but that’s difficult – there are easier wins – but document what you do so you have something more concrete to substantiate your message to clients.

Sell:

We spend a lot of time walking the shopfloor and buying into our people and befriending them so that we have a real open relationship and can understand the issues across the business.  Staff come up with lots of ways to save money and reduce waste etc. – make them part of your sustainability process and the message will start leaking out to market anyway.

Donson:

Make sure you have facts and details on things like waste on your website so that it’s easily accessible to those interested in your sustainability credentials. But the more you say you’re green the more people will try to trip you up so be up to speed and fully understand what you’re about.

Frankish

Two words come to mind: consistency and relationships. Make sure you are consistent across your business in establishing sustainable practices and work hand in glove with your customers to deliver what they want.

Realistically then, do you think printers then can profit from it by ‘selling’ their sustainability credentials as part of their USP?

Eriksen:

Yes of course – they’d be crazy not to try too. But it’s a real mission.

Lilienthal:

You can do it – but I’d ask, do you have the commitment, stamina and consistency to make the grade. It takes a while. Can you do it – yes.

Sell:

You can do it but it can be a frustrating journey. You need to stick with it and educate clients. It’s a long and often distressing process but can be done.

Donson:

Now is the time to at least start the journey because sustainability is it in public conscience.

Frankish:

‘Sustainability’ is coming up on par with ‘warranty’ on the requirements customers are asking us about in terms of product for in the graphics art markets so that must say something.

 

 

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