Business Advice

The Waste Academy: lessons in printer sustainability

by FESPA Staff | 25/11/2023
The Waste Academy: lessons in printer sustainability

In the second of a two-part focus on FESPA UK’s innovative approach to print industry sustainability, we see how their new Waste Academy is helping to spread essential knowledge among producers, suppliers and customers.

In an article accompanying this one that focuses on FESPA UK’s recent waste management developments and particularly its Waste Accreditation scheme, FESPA UK Managing Director Suzi Ward and FESPA UK Sustainability Consultant Jon Hutton show how they have moved forward with some potentially industry-changing innovations. FESPA UK’s new Sustainable Waste Academy offers help to support businesses on their sustainability journey.

The fight against greenwashing

“It is quite surprising that we meet people who say they have been recycling for years and they have it all sorted. But when Jon walks into their businesses within 5 minutes, it’s evident that they are being misled and unfortunately all their waste is going to landfill, but they are unaware of it,” Suzi says.

“It’s not from a lack of wanting to be responsible; it’s due to a lack of education. We want to educate people enough to be able to identify when greenwashing is greenwashing, or to have enough information to ask the right questions. We don’t want people to make the wrong choice without knowing it.”

Jon is clear that a lot of educating is required and it’s not entirely about technical knowledge but also about becoming wise to some of the motives involved.

“The perception of waste management or recycling management and the reality can be significantly different, which is primarily due to the lack of available recycling infrastructure. Although, this can stem from greenwashing tactics from suppliers, because selling substrates is a difficult task with lots of competition. Therefore, enthusiastic marketing departments focus on ticks boxes – and sustainability is obviously very high on everyone’s agenda.”

Handling the truth

To address this, FESPA UK has created its educational Sustainable Waste Academy based on Jon’s knowledge and experience gained from 23 years in the waste management sector, and his subsequent work with print and signage companies. The academy is based across two education centres – one is already located at FESPA UK’s headquarters in Barnsley and another due to launch at FESPA’s headquarters in Dorking, Surrey. Currently, the Academy delivers two sustainability courses, with a third being planned.

“We have one course for waste producers, which covers printers, signage and any other graphics. Then we have the second course which is designed to help educate suppliers,” Suzi says.

The courses run over a single day, starting at 10.00am and finishing at 3.30pm. Regarding the waste producer course, this is designed for those in the print industry. The course is split into a morning and afternoon session, with the core theme focused on educating  the waste producer around their duty of care to waste management.

“We want to offer them an honest and truthful understanding of the waste and recycling industries, what’s available and what happens to materials,” Jon says.



“To begin with, we discuss how to identify greenwashing and how to avoid greenwashing;
the importance of sustainability and how to approach it; and how each business can vary. We look at how people can create their own roadmap, working their way through the whole subject of sustainability and deciding what approaches are best for their specific business and customers.

“We then look at waste and recycling management. We look at the contractors they choose, auditing contractors, getting transfer notes, understanding how material is consigned and treated. From there, we look at changes that can be made in the business to make financial improvements. We look at alternative contractors, how to approach them, what questions to ask, what containers could be used to minimise costs and how material can be segregated to minimise costs. We try to offer people an understanding that will encourage savings and compliance when they get back to work.”

Choices, choices

This background, Jon says, leads to looking briefly at material choices and the different substrates available – whether fibre based, paper based, or plastic based – and what to ask suppliers.

“It’s great to use cardboard because there are so many opportunities to recycle it, but it’s just not practical for every application. Therefore, it’s about understanding how to speak to your suppliers to get the most sustainable materials,” Jon explains.



“Then we look at how to market your choices. How do you market to the end user the fact that you might still be using plastics? They might still be of the mindset that plastics are bad, so how do you prove that you have made inroads into environmental credibility and then sell that to your customers? The course covers all aspects of how to approach the sustainable aspect of business.”

Suzi continues: “You could use cardboard for every single job possible, but if it goes into the wrong bin, it’s going into landfill. That’s the reality of it. All these materials and options are great but if you don’t know what you are looking for and what to ask, whether you’ve got cardboard or plastic, it will go into the same hole in the ground. That’s what people don’t currently understand but they need to understand.”

Supplier education

The Academy’s mantra are three keywords: education, collaboration and innovation.

“When it comes to collaboration, because we don’t have any bias, we work with all suppliers on neutral ground to benefit the industry on a number of platforms, such as waste take-back schemes and against the pitfalls of greenwashing,” Suzi says.

“Regarding our supplier course, Jon and I created that because we both think that, if you are going to make changes, it has to be led from the top, which is the suppliers. The people providing the materials need to be responsible to educate their customers and the wider market about what is achievable. The course is designed to educate suppliers’ teams so that they can understand their own products and what can be done with it. If you don’t get that sorted, it won’t filter down the line.

“Account managers and field sales know that sustainability is high on their customers’ agenda, but they don’t have the education to address it. They can’t sit at the table and confidently talk about their materials, what to do with them, why they should be used and why they are preferable to other materials. With the course, we are trying to create the education and the confidence so that they can say: ‘Ask me a question about sustainability and I’ll be able to answer it.’”

Bright futures

FESPA UK’s courses were launched on 27 September and six courses have already been delivered or are scheduled before Christmas.

“We educate between six and eight people at a time. The demand is there and by the end of the year we should have delivered four waste producer and two supplier courses,” Suzi says.
“We’re writing a third course at the moment, which is looking at working specifically with people’s clients to help them understand sustainability. That will look at things like business pitches and explaining what certain materials do, and how to deal with them when specifying.



“One thing that a lot of people don’t understand about FESPA UK is that we are a non-profit organisation, so the money that we charge for courses enables us to develop more courses and for Jon to go out and find more waste management solutions. Then we invest any innovation we can develop back in the industry. Some of the money that we are raising from the course is helping to fund young people coming into the industry through our Next Generation project.

“We’d also like to widen this out to the wider FESPA family. I’ve been approached by a couple of the global members to speak about this in their own countries and how we can help them develop similar courses and accreditations within the other 36 FESPA associations. So we’re very excited to see where this all goes.”

by FESPA Staff Back to News

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