Nathan Swinson Bullough, co-owner and Managing Director of UK based Imageco, on the firm’s sustainability journey.
Why is sustainability fundamental to new business models?
Sustainability is fast moving to the top of everyone’s agenda, from retail to the NHS. As a wide format print provider we are a key part in the supply chain for our customers, and now more than ever a strong sustainability policy is key to both retaining and winning new orders.
At Imageco we are succeeding as a result of our commitment to the environment. I am fortunate enough to be able to focus a lot of my attention on this having a great team around me producing the day to day work. I spend a lot of my time looking at new materials, technology and assessing how we can become more sustainable in general. Lots of our marketing is geared towards this, so our clients are all well aware of our ethics.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is crucial from a business perspective – but first and foremost it’s my genuine concern for the environment that drives me. I believe we need to create a balance between running our business and limiting our environmental impact.
It’s a continual process and one that needs to be refined constantly, which is why I have signed us up to gain ISO 14001 environmental accreditation. This will aid us in sharing responsibility throughout our business and keep us firmly on our toes.
Are there any specific issues in sustainability with wide format print?
Yes, many and it is worrying the more you think about it. Carbon emissions are very high as with most manufacturing facilities.
We look at everything, from our facilities and plant to delivery and installations. The requirements of running a national business means we ship overnight and travel to install. Our factory is 30,000 sq ft and we have some large print kit running daily that consumes significant energy.
However, we are trying to reduce our impact by investing in electric vehicles. EVs are coming on in leaps and bounds, and this is a mid-term goal that we will achieve over the next two years. Deliveries remain an issue, but our overnight service providers have a good environmental policy, and are looking to make further improvements.
Our voltage optimisation device analyses the electricity consumption of our entire factory and minimises electric surges
In terms of our factory, the carbon dioxide is easier to address. We installed a voltage optimisation device: the best way I can describe its function is it’s like a electric filter. It analyses the electricity consumption of our entire factory and minimises electric surges, using only the power we need therefore reducing energy and carbon emissions. Then we have our solar installation which will be ready at the end of January 2021. Initially, we hoped to power all the factory by this, but roof complications mean that only a third can be installed. But this alone will significantly reduce our carbon emissions. By the end of 2021 all our remaining energy will be renewable.
What about your media, ink and packaging?
Our print kit that consists of EFI Vutek and HP latex, both having good environmental accreditations, the Latex in particular with water-based ink.
Imageco’s Vutek printer uses LED curing and speeds up production
Our Caldera RIP software combined with our Zünd cutter produces minimal waste with great colour accuracy and nesting capabilities – reprints are rare and actual ink used is low. Back in the day running the large solvent kit we would empty waste ink almost daily, but now the waste tanks are rarely full and when they are we send our ink away to be disposed of correctly.
In terms of media, I have spent a long time researching new products. We have since become an official partner with Xanita in South Africa via Antalis using their sustainable fibre board in many applictions.
We have now switched our one-piece wallcovering, lightbox fabric and black back fabric to ones made from recycled plastic bottles: the black back is 50% recycled. We have started a tree planting initiative with the sales of our one piece recycled bottle wallpaper with the Yorkshire Dales Millenium Trust. For every 10m2 sold we plant a tree. We have a target of 500 trees in 12 months – difficult in these testing times but we are making progress.
Nathan Swinson Bullough of Imageco
What is your personal motivation towards making sustainability central to your business?
Until I took over Imageco as Managing Director and gained the authority to look at making changes I wasn’t sure what I could do personally to make a difference. In all honesty, as much as I knew climate change was obviously happening I didn’t know just how bad things were. I was always so busy at work trying to finish the orders. One Sunday in 2018 Planet Earth II by David Attenborough was aired on the BBC, showing oceans full of waste plastic and terrible scenes from around the planet of the damage humans are doing.
It had a powerful effect on me and I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility as a consumer and business owner regarding my impact on the environment.
I immediately knew I had to do something about it. Now I was responsible for Imageco it was up to me to start the process of creating change. Far from being a climate expert I am aware of the numerous changes individuals can make. The government clearly needs to make the changes but we can’t hide and expect things to improve, we must actively make changes ourselves.
On the plus side some amazing work is being done all over the planet to reverse the damage. The more I learn of negative impacts, the more I hear of new companies and initiatives to battle them which is positive. Humans are responsible for 100 times more carbon emmisions annually than all the worlds volcanoes. That’s a frightening statistic.
Has COVID-19 helped or hindered the drive towards sustainability?
We had some time on our hands to address our sustainable goals, we signed up for our solar power and voltage optimisation. As an industry I see an issue– the mass production of acrylic screens, visors and masks, and increased shipping of acrylic from China. Although this was necessary to keep us safe, we did look at sustainable alternatives and created a range of paper-based and PETG screens.
Imageco tries to support and stock the most environmentally friendly products: how hard is this in practice?
We invested a lot of time trialling products ensuring they worked and were fit for purpose. As green as a product may be, if it doesn’t work then we can’t sell it.
We spent most of 2018 testing products and reached a point where we were happy in what we had found; 2019 then became the time to start implementing and educating our clients with our new products. This worked well and we started to receive work from new and existing clients resulting in us becoming their sustainable supplier. We were nominated as finalists for the Green Company of the Year at the Digital Printer Awards. We have seen lots of innovation and new eco product launches over the last 18 months, and sustainability is rising up the agenda of our suppliers.
Imageco's organ donor tribute at University Hospital Southampton was formed of 80 metres square of digitally printed vinyl in x20 drops that covered the bulkhead with a sail pattern
In 2021 I expect more products become available so this will get easier. I’m always wanting to hear about the lastest innovative products. I really enjoy new possibilities and love R&D.
What innovative sustainable solutions have inspired you recently?
In the print world, I love the materials that are made from recycled PET. Xanita fibre-board is one of my favourite products, and the work Drytac are doing on biodegradable vinyl is ground breaking. HP are making further great advances in their wide format print technology that is exciting.
There needs to be more effort to change, whether as a printer or a supplier. Just printing PVC-free alone doesn’t make you sustainable
Beyond the world of print, I recently read the story of the Patagonia clothing brand. The book ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ that my business partner Georgia bought for me describes their inspirational story and business model. The basis of 1% for the Planet that Yvon Chouinard created inspired me to begin our tree planting initiative. I wanted to do something else that would benefit the environment.
What advice do you have for small businesses worried that sustainability will impact their bottom line? What small changes can they make?
There are many grants available to help with this – we had a great R&D tax credit rebate in 2019 for our work done on trialling sustainable print media. Solar, voltage optimisation and switching to LED ultimately saves money.
Look at all available funding options and determine the savings they will eventually make. Other changes are easy: packaging, media and technology are all affordable. Improving your green credentials is a powerful statement, and I’m still learning and looking at what else we can do.
I am in a fortunate place with my team working on this which means I can focus on sustainable development. I’m aware not everyone has the luxury of this. I am a board member of FESPA UK too so I hope I can use this platform to help and inspire others in our industry.
Do you think there’s a lot of greenwashing in the print industry?
Generally no, but there needs to be more effort to change, whether as a printer or a supplier. Just printing PVC-free alone doesn’t make you sustainable. There is some great work being done by some, but more industry-wide effort needs to take place. I think this will happen over the next few years. The pandemic has had a significant impact on our industry– with many businesses fighting for survival, however sustainabile behaviour remains an essential component in rebuilding the industry.
What are you going to talk about at the FESPA Global Summit 2021?
All of the above, a bit of Imageco history and how we went about change and what I see for the future.
Give us a notable sustainable success story you have been involved in...
I’m proud of the tree planting vs recycled bottle wallpaper, the fact that I have been asked to talk at the FESPA Global Summit and conducting this interview now shows the progress we have made and recognition we are getting for our efforts. I’m extremely proud of that.
I’m doing what I can to help and what I believe is right. It’s nice that clients come to us for advice now and there are many jobs done on sustainable media that are a result of our hard work. If I can influence others to make sustainable choices that would be the greatest success story.
What can FESPA members do?
Look at what you can do in your personal life as well as work. Take sometime to read about the situations we all face – it’s frightening but equally there is some inspiring work going on out there. It’s easy to hide and pretend nothing is happening, but in the words of Sir David Attenborough: “What happens next is up to all of us.”
by FESPA Staff