Mick Rowan: Printing is a sustainable process but do the consumers know it?

This column by Mick Rowan of Think Laterally was originally published in print in the August issue of ProPrint magazine. To read the full story click here.

Today, sustainability is a top priority for decision-makers in our global economic and political arenas. It affects everything from the environment to health, but the decisions don’t just sit with those at the top. Consumers are now looking to do their part too.

Sustainability is no longer on the fringes; instead, it forms part of the consumer journey. The demand for sustainable practices is now forcing businesses to reassess their operations from a new perspective.

The state mandated lockdowns of the past few years have had people in front of their screens for extended periods. Retailers responded to the changing conditions by increasing their digital advertising spend to the detriment of print companies. Many retailers consider the traditional print materials slower, more costly and less sustainable than the digital equivalents. As a result, more businesses have been trading online without using printed materials.

At the same time, consumers’ changing attitudes towards environmental issues have significantly impacted the printing industry. Consumers, growing increasingly concerned with waste and pollution, simply don’t want to purchase products that they believe contribute to these outcomes. If consumers now see the industry as detrimental to nature, we’ve got a significant problem.

Jobs at risk

According to TRMC Industry Insights Report, 2020, paper, print, publishing, mail, and distribution sectors in Australia employ 258,000 people. In New Zealand, the number is 41,000. The idea that these jobs could be at risk is a terrifying thought. However, one that’s made far worse by the inaccuracy of the argument that print is not sustainable.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Print has been receiving some bad press, with people looking to reduce or eliminate traditional printed paper, board, and cartons as that part of their quest for a greener future. However, the facts don’t bode well for this idea.

The paper industry is constantly planting forests to grow trees. The fibrous part of the trees is then broken down to form pulp, the main ingredient in the papermaking process. If these planted forest lands were not being cultivated by forestation programs, they would most likely be destroyed by the ever-encroaching urban sprawl.

The pulp and paper industry are also totally carbon neutral. The trees the industry uses absorb carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere, and when converted into paper, the captured carbon remains intact. The truth is print is one of the only industries where the product is both reusable and recyclable.

Technology advances

So, the paper seems okay, I hear you ask, but what about the machines?

Well, printing machines have reduced energy use by around 40 per cent every 10 years, for the past 30 years! But it doesn’t stop there. Take Canon, as an example, which has received the EcoVadis Gold Award, an internationally recognised standard covering a range of Corporate Social Responsibility issues. Canon has globally achieved the ‘gold’ rating annually since 2013.

Canon’s 2021 sustainability objectives include developing a Canon Oceania carbon zero strategy and roadmap; completing the transition to hybrid or electric fleet vehicles for Canon New Zealand; and promoting responsible printing through growing the continuous ink printer market.

HP is another global powerhouse making significant sustainability moves as they work toward being carbon neutral by 2025. They intend to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent (on an absolute basis) by 2030. This covers Scope 1: direct emissions from owned or controlled sources, Scope 2, covering indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling and Scope 3, including all other indirect emissions that occur in their value chain.

Then there’s Epson, who Forbes Japan recently named first in their list of sustainable companies. Epson recently announced that they would be joining the RE100 global initiative uniting influential businesses to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.

It seems that almost everything we do impacts the environment in one way or another. The good news is that our suppliers are striving to be more sustainable and providing options that will keep our industry vibrant for many years to come. There are a multitude of sustainable choices for printing, like supporting forestation programs or choosing the right equipment.

The truth is plain to see: if you are looking for a carbon neutral option for communication, look no further than print. It’s a sustainable process that doesn’t have the negative environmental impacts that many people believe. We just have to make sure that the consumers know it!

Mick Rowan has spent the past decade building printIQ into one of the most recognised software brands in the printing industry, and with over four decades of experience, Mick truly has ink in his veins.

Check out the Think Laterally website for more info.

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