Sustainability in the wake of COVID-19 – Why businesses should hold strong to their sustainability efforts in the new normal

Sustainability in the wake of COVID-19 – Why businesses should hold strong to their sustainability efforts in the new normal

There’s no denying the world has changed. With no clear end in sight to the COVID-19 crisis, businesses are coming to terms with the devastating impact the global outbreak has wrought and thoughts are now turning to precisely which steps need to be taken as we slowly emerge from the fog of a pandemic.

Whatever the ‘new normal’ in which we find ourselves, it is hugely important that the strides in sustainability the industry made prior to the outbreak are not undone in the effort to quickly re-establish normalcy.

While the environmental agenda has been a core part of business strategy for a number of years, its prominence in recent years is undoubtedly the result as much of extensive media focus as it is changing attitudes. Nevertheless, businesses that introduced, developed and highlighted their eco-friendly credentials found themselves with a key competitive edge. In the wake of a catastrophic global pandemic, the temptation to revert to old ways in an effort to remediate financial concerns will be fierce. But is it justified? Matt Francklow, Managing Director of Creation Reprographics, doesn’t think so. 

“It would be understandable if those businesses that successfully weathered the storm of coronavirus considered putting sustainability aside for now, instead choosing to prioritise meeting the inevitably huge number of potential challenges headed our way, which remain largely unknown at this juncture,” he said. “But that is actually quite myopic and could prove highly counter-productive in the medium term.

“For example, one issue affecting the whole industry throughout the crisis has been the spiralling cost of solvents,” said Matt. “With alcohol being quite understandably redirected into critical healthcare and sanitisation applications, the resultant supply issues and shortage of solvents has pushed up prices of plates and inks and caused significant production problems.”

While this situation has clearly caught out a number of converters, Matt said many had already successfully implemented methodology that reduces or cuts the use of solvents and VOCs altogether, helping them to avoid both these increasing costs and the associated logistical and production problems. “This trend is something we’ve seen first-hand at Creation, which is why we advocate water-washable plate alternatives, such as the Asahi CleanPrint AWP and DuPont FAST Easy flexo plates, reducing our reliance on solvent suppliers and circumventing the current – and potentially ongoing – issues,” he said. “The AWP plates use Clean Transfer Technology, delivering right-first-time, premium quality printing for printers and brands. Putting paid to the myth that sustainability compromises on quality – these plates actually surpass solvent plates in ink transfer, plate longevity and dimensional stability!”

Similarly, while inks are not the most immediate subject of any debate on sustainability, as with solvents Matt said Creation has witnessed a continuing increase in ink prices as well as technological advances, which can and have changed the way they work. “For example, implementing effective extended gamut printing enables converters to prioritise the best possible use of their ink supplies and eliminate waste with our support,” said Matt. “Not only does this mean they benefit from reduced costs through efficiency gains, but the impact on the waste stream is significant.

“Another factor to consider is the ability of brands and packaging converters to meet the very specific demands of the consumer. The COVID-19 crisis has seen the headlines dominated by shocking fatality statistics and by daily expert advice on the ‘whats, whens and hows’ of navigating the once-in-a-generation event. But throughout this incredibly challenging time, the 24 hour news cycle has also highlighted some of the most inspirational human interest stories many of us have ever seen – from Captain Tom Moore’s outstanding fundraising effort, to the weekly ‘clapping for carers’ to demonstrate the nation’s appreciation for NHS and frontline care workers.”

Matt pointed out that, although this has been the darkest time in recent memory for many, it has birthed a new sense of community, responsibility and caring among the populace. “We must recognise that those consumers seeking brands that reflect their own values are not only likely to now be more resolute in their principles, but will have also significantly swelled in number,” he said.

With this in mind, Matt said that packaging converters emerging from the crisis will face challenging market conditions and could conceivably benefit from their sustainability efforts, responding to deliver against increasing and more determined consumer demands and subsequently making gains and boosting the perceived value of their product. “As the market begins to return to normality, those who have abandoned their sustainability programmes will find themselves at a significant disadvantage, with potentially irreparable damage done to their brand value if they are perceived to have set aside environmental issues in order to secure short-term profit,” he said.

Matt explained that as well as instilling an almost wartime ‘Dunkirk spirit’ into many, the coronavirus epidemic had caused a seismic shift in the way industries operate. “Although home working has been available to many for years, it is only during this pandemic that even tech-heavy manufacturing businesses have realistically examined the feasibility of more remote working, which has become significantly easier due to the great strides made in connected technology,” he said. “The crisis has demonstrated to many brands and converters that it is in now possible to maintain their existing speed to market through moving much more rapidly towards digitalising operations, including the design and approval workflow process. Not only does this serve to reduce overheads, but it also directly impacts on sustainability issues, such as travel and transport use and energy consumption.”

According to Matt, the constant stream of technical advances being developed in the print and packaging sector enables jobs to be completed more efficiently, with increased productivity, a reduction in waste and less energy usage along the entire process. “The tangible benefit to the business is then doubled, through the ability to confidently promote its sustainability policy working practices and appealing to the environmentally-conscious consumer, and therefore appealing to potential customers.”

As the country, industry and indeed the world emerges from the COVID-19 crisis into an uncertain future, Matt said being able to spotlight sustainability efforts will be crucially important to brands and converters alike.

“Perhaps more so now than ever, the market will hold businesses to account for their wider operations and the environmental impact they have,” he said. “As we all take our first steps into the new normal, now is the perfect time for businesses to examine their ways of working and discover the sustainability value gains to be made.”

Matt Francklow is the Managing Director of Creation Reprographics

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