23 February 2020 Business

Sustainability on all lips at European print conference

Printers need to change, to embrace sustainability and become customer rather than technology focused, in order to survive the generational shift that is underway.

Sustainability needs to underpin everything that a print company does, whether because this is necessary to comply with incoming legislation or to meet changing needs of customers and staff.

This was the message that emerged again and again at Intergraf’s Shaping the Future of Print event in Brussels last week. The EU is on the point of introducing its Green Deal for the economy. The Circular Economy Action Plan is expected to be published in March and this links closely to the EU Industrial Strategy. Emmanuelle Maire from the European Commission outlined this as the day’s opening speaker and also underlined the value of the EU Ecolabel for papers. This “incentivises the front runners to push for the best products to be the norm” she said.

While EcoLabel products will have little direct bearing in the post Brexit UK, paper producers will be exporting papers to this country that have attained the EU certification. This may not go far enough currently, according to Jannick Schmidt, associate professor from the University of Aarlborg. He called for the inclusion of Life Cycle Analysis in certification systems to take into account real life impacts, which currently are not always be taken into account, including where waste is generated.

Europe’s heatset web printers will be directly affected by a revision of environmental permits around allowed emissions. These will be revised before the middle of 2024, though again the UK’s remaining heatset offset printers will not be directly affected.

It is, however, part of an agenda to put sustainability front of mind for all businesses as the need to decarbonise economies increases. Sean Smyth, consultant for Smithers, stressed this in an address where he urged commercial printers to adapt. “Whatever you do, don’t do the same things – you’re in a market that’s changing”, he said.

Printers will be used to technological change which continues at an accelerated pace, but other considerations need to be accounted for in order to be successful. There are, he said, many types of printer, some struggling and many that are successful, that have a young, skilled and enthusiastic workforce that are innovative and have little trouble recruiting.

Part of this is is about understanding that the younger generations now taking control in many businesses place less emphasis on the manufacturing and more on relationships with customers and on sustainability. In order to be successful, Smyth advised printers to change current business models “to better meet customers’ and employees’ changing demands”.

Print remains in the line of fire for government and local authorities concerned about waste, thanks to its visibility which digital does not suffer from. Many authorities are starting to put pressure on brands and advertisers to tackle the proliferation of unaddressed door drop leaflets. If restrictions are applied, there will be an impact on printers across Europe, an issue tackled by a panel of national experts including Mark Davies, managing director of Whistl, to provide the UK’s point of view. He is also president of the European Letterbox Marketing Association.

The volume needed to be managed, he suggested, as "the higher the volume, the higher the opt out”. In the UK each household can expected to receive four unaddressed items a week, while in the Netherlands, where pressure is greatest, each receives 34. Across the EU the average for door drops is 14 per door.

The distribution companies needed to be smarter, he said, while warning “We need to pull back as an industry”. Sustainability is at work.

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Sean Smyth in action (pic Jason Bickley for Intergraf)

Sean Smyth in action (pic Jason Bickley for Intergraf)

Sean Smyth addressed the conference to point out that doing nothing and staying the same was no longer an option. Other speakers reinforced the point explaining how print had to be part of the movement towards sustainability.

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