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Can do it better

Can do it better

We're not doing too bad on the environmental front, but in recession are we letting our attention slip? Michael Savage, Envirowise production specialist, provides a revision lesson on how we can improve.
There's something of an absent teacher classroom chaos feeling about environmental application within the wide-format print sector at the moment - as if the recession has cast all normal behaviour and learning aside. As the new Image Reports Widthwise poll of printers in the sector found, there's confusion as to just what we think we should be doing, and then doing it. One in four of the surveyed businesses claims to have some kind of environmental accreditation, 60% say environmental issues influences their investment in technology, 49% belong to a recycling scheme yet only seven percent of companies carbon-offset parts of their business. What is clear is that in certain areas the sector has made great leaps in development, but in others there's still a way to go before we get an A*. So we asked Michael Savage, Envirowise production specialist, to provide a revision plan that we can all follow. Like any decent teacher he first builds our confidence, pointing out that resource efficiency for instance is no longer a niche concept across the printing industry. Indeed, there has been a quiet revolution within the sector over recent years, with a combination of greener technology, cost pressures, customer demands and tighter regulations transforming business practice. But we can do more. For example, by cutting unnecessary waste firms can strengthen their competitive edge and unlock valuable savings, adding an extra layer of financial flexibility during these tough economic times. Often cost savings can be realised through no-cost or low-cost measures, making resource efficiency appealing to businesses of all sizes. Indeed, more efficient use of resources can result in a number of welcome side effects, including a positive public image and enhanced relations with suppliers, which as we know are increasingly demanding higher levels of environmental performance to adhere to their own CSR policies. However, whilst good progress has been made, particularly in areas such as procuring recycled materials and managing waste more effectively, there's further to go in terms of better management of environmental programmes and embedding good environmental practice within the business. Companies that do so can expect the process to result in increased productivity and perhaps most significantly, cost savings that go directly to the bottom line so it's worth looking into from a commercial as well as environmental standpoint.

Set environmental targets

Before undertaking new environmental initiatives, it is crucial to know what the starting point is. The management philosophy that 'you cannot manage without measuring' applies to environmental programmes as much as anything else. Once this is clear, set targets - or Environmental Performance Indicators (EPIs) - such as waste per tonne of substrate used, or hazardous waste produced for instance. Regular measurement is also crucial, and will help communicate to staff what has been achieved to sustain motivation. If possible, attribute a cost to each item, to clearly link financial outcomes from actions. Measuring and monitoring use of resources will also help on the path to as ISO 14001 for those of you that don't yet have that.

Using cleaner technology
Cleaner technology can deliver considerable cost benefits through waste reduction, reduced energy use or improved efficiency which is probably why such a large proportion of Widthwise survey respondents said they consider 'green' issue when buying new kit. Businesses not already doing so should consider the environmental impact of new and replacement plant and equipment as part of investment decisions, and consider that green technologies often have a lower whole-life cost than less efficient alternatives. Enhanced Capital Allowances are available for many energy and water efficient technologies, enabling printers to write off the capital cost of an investment on qualifying machinery against taxable profits of the period during which the investment is made.

Managing energy and understanding your carbon footprint

Now, pay full attention - going forward businesses of all types will increasingly need to understand and manage their carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting is one way forward - though somewhat unpopular today - with the onus now more of carbon efficiency. So reviewing energy use and transport will help you get your house on order, plus it's likely to give rise to significant efficiency savings. Effective monitoring of energy use at the process level will help identify opportunities for improvements in energy efficiency that can save money. Submetering on key items of process equipment such as printers, finishing kit, boilers etc. can provide valuable information. A great deal can also be done to reduce fuel emissions and consumption increase fuel efficiency, fuel-conscious driving techniques and more efficient packaging to reduce distribution costs. Many companies are also extending their own carbon footprinting to the wider supply chain in order to better understand the impact of their purchasing decisions.

Strive for environmental accreditation

Over the last couple of years gaining environmental accreditation has been relatively highly placed on the business plan of many printers but within the context of the current poor economic conditions, it's easy for that to off the chart. Don't let it. As we know, many larger operations, especially those with any kind of public remit, may refuse to work with print providers that can't show the relevant environmental credentials - and Government is increasingly demanding best practice for green procurement. Small businesses can often achieve certification without significant cost, and the standards can be built into ongoing processes and training. Additionally, the initial audit exercise will provide a good incentive to review existing procedures and adopt best practice so look at it as a business strengthening 'want to do' option rather than an onerous 'must do' chore that keeps getting shoved onto the back burner.

Cultural company change

Involving staff is the key to ensuring that environmental policy intentions are translated into reality. Whilst you may have allocated environmental responsibility to a particular person in the organisation, on their own, staff may struggle to achieve real change. It could also be the case that a lack of understanding may prevent the adoption of new policies and processes by staff on the print floor. This can be overcome by educating employees about how they can influence better environmental performance - and efficiency savings - through their own actions and the operation of the company's processes. By setting realistic targets and encouraging staff to engage in the policy - and add their own suggestions - firms can achieve real environmental benefits.

Hazardous waste, chemicals and other legislation
Interest in 'green' issues continues to increase and is driving regulatory requirements and voluntary industry standards. For instance, hazardous waste become more of an issue for printers following the introduction of the Hazardous Waste Regulations in 2005, which brought in new controls and procedures for the movement of wastes, as well as increased responsibility on the producer for wastes generated. More recently, the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) Regulation, which came into force in June 2007, affects the chemicals and formulations used by many of you. It's important that you remain constantly up to date with current and future legislation to ensure that you comply with applicable regulations. It is a good idea to keep a register of regulations identifying who is responsible for meeting them within the business and what actions need to be taken. Identifying and implementing these changes will require innovative thinking about all areas of the business, achieving efficiencies wherever possible to realise the potential financial as well as environmental benefits.

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