Understanding sustainability: Lessons from Global CEOs - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

How to come to terms with technologies, how to thrive in a tough business place, and above all, lead the transformation of your business. The Sustainability Drive is changing the way we work; and our industry needs to adapt.

The Sunday Column finds out how. Read on...

20 Feb 2022 | By Noel D'Cunha

According to a Capgemini Research Institute report*, 20% of US manufacturers expect to be carbon neutral by 2030, significantly lagging behind the timelines and net-zero goals of their peers in other industries. “This is because manufacturing has a unique set of obstacles when it comes to embracing sustainability,” the report said.

The financial challenges reflected 89% of manufacturers stating budget increases to fund the sustainability initiatives, while 87% saw low business return when the initiatives were deployed, the report stated. In the organisational challenges, 56% of manufacturers cited culture and employee resistance as the top challenge in implementing successful sustainability initiatives. Additionally, 30% of manufacturers see changing the current process and value chain as a top challenge.

But there are benefits of a successful sustainable initiative too, the report revealed. 80% of those surveyed have enhanced brand reputation and an improved ESG (environmental, social, and governance) rating. More than 50% also have improved efficiency and productivity, reduced costs, improved sales and boosted employee motivation levels.

The world of print
Today, brands demand that print has to go beyond the functions of the product or service. One school of thought is, the key is to do more than just meet consumers’ immediate needs. Further, the consumers are actively engaging with sustainability (77% of Indian consumers do). These consumers will invest time and money in companies that try to do good.

Baldwin Technology’s CEO Joe Kline, says that it’s always advantageous for manufacturers in every industry to think of how we ultimately help our customers serve their customers around the world in order to play a bigger role in sustainability, and to help them quench their customers’ thirst for sustainable solutions in the market.

CEO, Rick Michelman of Michelman, however, was perplexed at the government paperwork but viewed India as a fast-moving and genuinely creative space. “Organisation-wide we focus on creating a planet-positive footprint by reducing our water usage, energy use from non-renewable sources, and solid waste. In addition, we focus on developing planet-positive products and solutions by zeroing out certain chemistries and eliminating volatile organic compounds, light-weighting, and the circular economy,” he says.

Kline says, “Our primary focus has been around investment in new products that help drive more sustainable print processes by reducing the use of solvents, saving energy and eliminating waste on the job site. This is how we believe that we can reduce the most profound impact.”

The Green Gap
There is a gap between what the industry talks about and the rest of society. For example, the industry uses terms such as – the biodegradable and circular economy.

Seiko Epson Corporation’s president and CEO Yasunori Ogawa confirms that there is a gap. In 2021, Seiko Epson conducted a global survey called the Epson Climate Reality Barometer to investigate people’s attitudes to climate change around the world. In the survey, the company found that almost three in four (73.4%) Indians are optimistic that we will avert a climate disaster in their lifetimes.

Kline of Baldwin however is a bit circumspect. “Brands, consumers and manufacturers all aspire to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability, but the pace of tangible change has not yet caught up with those aspirations.”

Kline puts the onus of bridging the knowledge gap on the manufacturers. “We, as manufacturers, have a great responsibility to partner with associations to continue to educate the market about how our and other products and technologies can bridge the gap between sustainability aspirations and what to do to get there.”

Ogawa agrees. “We believe it is incumbent on companies like Epson to use surveys like this to warn people of the immediate dangers the planet is facing, and to offer practical sustainable solutions that they can incorporate into their every day and working lives.”

Manroland Sheetfed CEO Rafael Penuela says that our industry, as many others, with the essential need of the society to make compatible economic growth with environmental sustainability. “Technology drives both demands following customer’s expectation and legal regulations.” He adds, “In some countries, the printing industry is not considered environmentally friendly despite constant progress on controlled cultivation and recycling of natural substrates, avoidance of toxic substances, and reduced energy consumption.”

Penuela believes that next to individual initiatives the printers’ associations could become a more active driver to reduce the gap of knowledge. “We are now observing a clear trend of changing plastics by paper and cardboard. This trend is mainly driven by the consumers and supported by legislation. Another way to create awareness should be the inclusion of environmental factors in the standard processes of print. Next to the generally accepted factors of print quality, the industry should establish corresponding factors of sustainability.”

Fujifilms’ managing director Haruto Iwata does not think there is a mismatch between industry and society on this aspect. He contends that there is a global thought alignment and consensus about the value of sustainable development. Industries have made significant strides in adhering to this requirement. “There may be a knowledge gap but I guess it’s only reducing. You can find it in the steps companies have taken over the last few years towards this initiative.”

Iwata cites the example of his company’s open letter to the G20 Summit leaders at the meeting held in October 2021. “Fujifilm recognises the importance of right policy decisions to drive resolution of material issues such as climate change and supported the open letter signed by over 600 businesses and organisations urges the governments across the G20 nations to strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in order to realise the reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions of at least halving them by 2030 and achieving net-zero no later than 2050.” The initiative aims to accelerate the momentum towards de-carbonisation ahead of the UN Climate Change 2022 conference.

Digital print: A solution?
Digital printing has been the answer to an ever-increasing pressure on production deadlines, says Robert Weihing, global CEO of GMG.  

However, it ironically also created the requirement for speed, flexibility, reduced costs and waste. As digital technologies mature, analogue systems improve to keep pace, and integration between systems within the supply chain. Weihing says, “We will see more and more opportunities for improvement in this area. On-demand printing, short-run jobs and eco-friendly consumables are all positive trends that create less waste and lower the carbon footprint.”

Rainer Hundsdorfer, CEO of Heidelberg, the German sheetfed offset manufacturer, says that its customers have benefitted greatly from the digitisation. “The Smart Print Shop with end-to-end digital processes is now a reality, and the autonomous end-to-end print production, right down to the brochure placed on the pallet, makes it possible to significantly increase overall equipment effectiveness in print stores and thus profitability. Our customers also benefit from our digital subscription offers, which use our data expertise and even artificial intelligence to massively increase efficiency on the customer side.”

Satoshi Mochida, CEO and president at Komori has an alternative to increasing productivity, eliminating waste, and improving profits while at the same time achieving decarbonisation for the environment will lead to strengthened competitiveness. In particular, the packaging industry needs to focus on three areas to improve productivity: the printing process, the entire printing plant, and change of the printing industry supply chain, he says.

In the printing process, the demand for short-run production and immediate delivery is becoming greater, and printing presses with a high return on investment (ROI) are needed. Increasing printing speed, shortening makeready time, and reducing waste sheets are the key points. Another way to increase the productivity of the entire printing process is to downsize by consolidating with the latest high-efficiency printing presses.

Mochida suggests, “By consolidating three older, less productive presses into two of the latest, more productive presses, you can greatly reduce waste paper and power consumption while ensuring higher productivity than before, resulting in higher profits and a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.” Mochida adds, “Komori is rolling out the Lithrone GX/G advance series of presses and is working to improve productivity in the printing process.”

Green goals and gateways
Efforts to increase sustainability and protect our environment must be shared by all the key participants in our industry – product manufacturers, packaging designers and manufacturers, converters/printers, equipment and other consumable suppliers.

Mark Andy’s CEO Jason Desai, says, it cannot do it alone. The complexity and costs are too great for any single player in our industry to shoulder by themselves. “But as a leader in the labels and packaging industry, we’re ready to play our part. And if we work together, consumers and the rest of society will notice.”

Brad Wills, global senior vice-president, MacDermid Graphics Solutions, says, we must educate the consumer. “I believe packaging has to be purposeful, protective, and educational at the same time. It’s a difficult task, but with more technology, like digital watermarks, or QR codes, we can find new ways to educate a user on how to dispose of packaging properly.”

On its part, Wills says, MacDermid continues to innovate with its photopolymer plates and develop platemaking equipment and systems for a more sustainable flexographic workflow. “For example, our Lava thermal plate processing systems remove volatile organic compounds from the platemaking process. Beyond platemaking, we are working to create a circular economy for used plates. Our goal is to minimise flexo waste to a landfill.”

At PrintWeek, we believe, sustainability must be the buzzword whether manufacturing technology or purchasing your next kit.

*Source/acknowledgement: IndustryWeek