The impact of print sustainability concerns on consumer choice
Quocirca’s Home Printing Trends 2023 report reveals that environmental concerns are increasingly influencing selection of both devices and consumables, and many are willing to pay more for products they believe to be more sustainable.
The research, based on the views of 407 office workers across the UK (200) and US (207) who work from home at least one day per week and have access to a home printer, reveals that the desire to operate sustainably, underlies many of the changes in working behaviours, including the drive towards digitisation and product choice, particularly for younger employees (18-34 year olds). Just 10% of those interviewed had been provided a printer by their employer, and only around half of them received a recommendation on which device to buy from that employer. Similarly, just 13% have a scanner provided by their employer and two-thirds (66%) cover the cost of ink and toner themselves. This leaves a large number of remote and hybrid workers making choices entirely on their own and understanding their considerations when doing so will be extremely important as suppliers look to capture this important segment of the market.
Sustainability is already influencing choice of device, and the right credentials justify greater investment
Two-fifths (40%) have purchased a printer based on its environmental credentials in the past year and a further 21% plan to do so in the next six months. Those based in the US are more likely to have purchased an environmentally friendly device (48%) than those in the UK (31%). Significantly, the majority (67%) would be prepared to pay more for an environmentally friendly printer, again higher still for those in the US (78%) compared to a more modest 56% in the UK..
Younger employees are much more concerned with making sustainable choices
Those aged 18-34 are the most likely to have purchased a printer based on environmental features (46%), compared to just 24% of those aged 45 or older. Despite having lower incomes in most cases, this youngest age group are also much more likely to embrace the idea of paying more for an environmentally friendly printer, with almost three-quarters (74%) stating they would be prepared to do so compared to 48% of the over 45 age group. As these younger staff gain experience and seniority they are likely to become decision-makers for more than just themselves and their home offices. Print suppliers need to understand and cater to their environmental technology preferences and ensure these are visible for this audience.
Sustainable printing is about more than device alone, and encompasses paper usage, device energy efficiency, and consumables
There is a growing understanding that sustainable printing and scanning covers the lifecycle of the device from the sourcing and assembling of its component parts through to disposal, and the impact of each and every use along the way should be considered. Most using devices at home are taking steps such as turning printers off when not using them (38%), only using colour when necessary (35%) and using recycled paper (30%). All of these are notably more common amongst those aged over 45, whilst their younger colleagues are more likely to be using sustainable approaches for ink and toner, along with sustainable print technology. The youngest age group also leads in adoption of strategies such as ink and toner saver mode (26%), refurbished ink (23%), and refilling inks themselves from bulk tanks (16%). All of these are likely to become more common in the coming years, and providers need to communicate on these strategies and where they can support or advise.
Extending the life of devices is also an emerging interest and looks set to play a part in choices both when acquiring and disposing of hardware in the future
Refurbished devices (used devices that have been fully cleaned and tested, with parts replaced if necessary) are generally perceived to be more environmentally friendly than remanufactured ones (in which a new product has been fitted with components from pre-used devices) (41% compared to 33%). Those based in the UK (47%) and those aged 18–34 (48%) are particularly likely to consider refurbishment more sustainable compared to remanufacture. In the US, equal proportions of respondents consider refurbished and remanufactured to be most sustainable (36% in each case). One-fifth (20%) have no preference, and a further 5% are not sure which is more sustainable. These proportions increase with age, and of those aged 45 or older, one-third (35%) have no preference and 14% admit they are not sure. Conversely, no one aged 18–34 says they do not know, which reflects their deeper engagement with these aspects of sustainability. The need for more clarity in messaging is clear – refurbished and remanufactured devices have different environmental benefits, as well as different cost implications. Suppliers should also demonstrate their own offerings in terms around end-of-life circular component and material recycling.
What does this mean for suppliers?
Suppliers must recognise and respond to these growing consumer preferences around product sustainability. There is an opportunity to capitalise on the demand that already exists and is likely to grow. It is acceptable to charge more for a truly sustainable device, although to realise this there will need to be clarity and authenticity around the ESG claims being made (for both the product itself and the company overall). Transformation of business models to drive innovation which supports circularity and encompasses all elements of the footprint each device leaves on the world (from creation to disposal, including consumables and energy usage along the way) will ultimately appeal the most and drive brand loyalty. Conversely, any hint of greenwashing or ‘lip service’ is likely to have a profoundly negative impact on perceptions and it would be better not to communicate at all than to come across as inauthentic or ill-informed.
The suppliers that succeed with younger, environmentally conscientious buyers will need to make their sustainable credentials central to their value proposition rather than positioning them as an extra feature or ‘nice to have’, especially when communicating with the youngest generation of home workers. There is also an opportunity to educate around the relative benefits and drawbacks of refurbished and remanufactured devices, helping potential buyers to identify the budget and environmentally options that will best fit their needs in the home office.
Most importantly, for all the importance attached to sustainability, it must not be seen as an attribute to be ‘traded off’ against product benefits. Consumers of all ages will demand the same print quality, reliability and ease of maintenance as any other device, particularly if they are paying more to procure it.
To find out more please read our Home Printing 2023 report
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