The Print Sustainability Imperative

The Print Sustainability Imperative

March 31, 2022
Articles, Digital Transformation, Research, Trends

Quocirca’s Sustainability Trends 2022 report reveals that net zero goals are giving new impetus to improving the sustainability of the print infrastructure. Print manufacturers must turn commitments into action amidst growing customer, employee and investor pressure.

The deepening climate emergency has intensified businesses’ efforts across the world to commit to ambitious climate goals, including net zero carbon emissions, carbon neutrality and science-based targets. While many companies are committing to net zero emissions by 2050, it is clear that the goal needs to be moved to 2030 or earlier if we want any chance of limiting the damage already done. This is causing a shift in priorities, and Quocirca’s latest research among IT decision-makers in the UK and US found that reducing environmental impact will be the top priority for businesses by 2025.

Companies are being pressured by customers, investors, regulators, and employees to take responsibility for the environmental impact of their activities across the value chain. In most sectors the largest source of emissions comes from Scope 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These are indirect emissions that occur along a company’s value chain, while Scope 2 emissions are those caused by generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling. This is why it is critical for organisations to take a critical look at their upstream and downstream supply chains. Reflecting this focus, 28% of organisations already have a fully implemented sustainability strategy, and a further 43% have a strategy in place, even if it is not yet fully implemented.

Net zero targets are influencing decision-making

Almost three-quarters of the 212 IT decision-makers (ITDMs) interviewed said their business had set a target to achieve net zero emissions. The majority (60%) of these have aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by setting their target for 2030. Of the rest, 31% are aiming for 2040 and 8% for 2050, the point the UN has identified for net zero to be achieved globally in order to keep temperature rises to 1.5˚C.

Public commitments to net zero targets ensure that businesses have a powerful motivation to achieve them. With the largest proportion of emissions residing in the supply chain, net zero targets influence print supplier selection. Nine in 10 respondents say their company’s net zero target impacts their choice of vendors to work with to a great or moderate extent.

When evaluating the environmental performance of print suppliers, 84% of ITDMs prioritise suppliers that offer sustainable products and solutions. They see energy efficiency, sustainable ink and toner, and environmentally certified products as most important, and these are areas where the industry is relatively mature. Organisations also expect suppliers to demonstrate that they have taken steps to reduce their own environmental impact. This will incorporate areas such as sustainable manufacturing, reducing emissions, greener product distribution networks, and more sophisticated recycling strategies.

Vendors will also increasingly be required to help their customers reduce their environmental impact; half of respondents say this will be expected by 2025. Offering sustainability assessments as part of managed print audits, assisting customers in developing and implementing eco-print policies, and expanding capabilities around digital workflows are ways suppliers can engage with this demand. The provision of analytics is also essential to demonstrate improvement over time and help customers show they are moving towards their targets.

Green generation gap, regional and size variations in sustainability approach

Quocirca’s Sustainability Trends Report identified interesting demographic and geographic variations, including that respondents under the age of 35 were more likely than older respondents to say net zero considerations influenced their choice of supplier. As this generation progresses to gain more decision-making authority in the workplace, focus on sustainability will continue to rise and suppliers will be under increasing pressure to improve product and company sustainability.

There was also variation between the UK and US on maturity of company sustainability strategies. Of US respondents, 38% say they have a fully implemented sustainability strategy, but in the UK this proportion is just 19%. Similarly, 36% of organisations with 500–999 employees have fully implemented their strategy, compared to 20% of companies with more than 1000 employees. Small organisations are also more likely to say sustainability is important to business performance now, and that their net zero goal influences supplier selection.

Paper recycling and reduction activities lead environmental initiatives 

ITDMs view energy use, paper use, and device disposal as the most environmentally negative aspects of the print infrastructure, and unsurprisingly, recycling paper and reducing its use are where most respondents already have initiatives in place. Recycling paper is already practiced by 70%, and 61% are reducing paper use, with three-quarters planning to reduce it by 30% or more by 2025. Working from home, and subsequently hybrid working induced by the pandemic, has prompted businesses to switch to digital alternatives to hard copy processes; this also contributes to reducing paper use. For example, 58% of ITDMs say they are switching to digital signatures, and 52% are adopting digital workflows to avoid having to physically print.

With print volumes continuing to decline, it is incumbent on vendors to support the intelligent digitisation of the workplace. This will ensure print is available where it is needed and digital alternatives are in place where appropriate, with neither having a negative impact on the environment.

Mitigating the print industry carbon footprint

Manufacturers are already making strides towards circularity. Some have hardware remanufacturing initiatives, and many are incorporating a greater proportion of post-consumer content into products and exploring innovative ways to reduce the impact of product distribution and end-of-life device management. Manufacturers are also making the shift from product- to service-based models (for instance, managed print services, cloud printing), and providing intelligent hardware and software that supports the transition to the ‘less-paper’ workplace.  An important part of the sustainable print ecosystem is also the ISVs that offer third party print management platforms to help analyse and reduce paper usage, cloud print services to reduce the energy usage associated with on-premise print servers and platforms that offset paper footprints through reforestation. Some print vendors are also applying advanced digital technologies, such as the IoT, AI and blockchain to improve supply chain transparency. More details on each manufacturer’s initiatives are included in the full Quocirca’s Sustainability Trends 2022 report.

The essential focus on net zero as a global effort to limit climate change must be seen as an opportunity for the print industry. It is an industry with considerable resources in terms of innovation, R&D, and highly developed expertise, which it can place at the disposal of its customers to assist them on their journey to net neutrality. At the same time, the industry must continue minimising its own impact and devising strategies to accelerate the transition to climate-positive operations.

Download Quocirca’s Sustainability Trends 2022 Executive Summary for more information.



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