Time to be Lean, Mean and Green ?


Neil Falconer -Print Industry Strategy Consultant and MD of Printfuture.com

Neil Falconer -Print Industry Strategy Consultant and MD of Printfuture.com

In my regular conversations and consultancy work with SME print organisations, the green agenda has taken a back seat in the last few years due to the tough economic conditions and the fact that many of their customers have prioritised cost reduction ahead of sustainability. It appears that everybody still wants to be greener but unfortunately usually at someone else’s cost. The major issue for the print community is that customers are demanding green credentials such as recycled paper, accredited paper sources to broadcast their environmental concerns through their own marketing collateral. However in most cases apart from low-level activities like recycling office paper this is usually as far as their sustainability commitment goes. From interviews for numerous printer surveys we have conducted, the reality is that most customers do not want to pay for greener print products – they just see this as a cost of doing business and expect the printer to absorb any additional cost. Faced with this dilemma printers have a great opportunity to produce greener products and be more efficient without increasing their cost through a focus on lean manufacturing.

Most print providers are missing a major opportunity when it comes to improving their environmental credentials because they continually tell us that green initiatives always carry an additional cost burden. Printers can stay ahead of the environmental curve by using lean manufacturing techniques to significantly reduce resources, waste and the carbon footprint of their products during the manufacturing process and at the same time improve their profitability. This win-win opportunity for printers is a way of measuring improvements not only in business performance but also in calculating a reduction in their environmental impact. If you search on most print company websites there is very little emphasis or screen space given to environmental reference points other than displaying any accreditation badges like FSC, PEFC or ISO14001. Very few web sites contain an ongoing dialogue about the green initiatives the company is involved with, the targets they have set or the results that are being achieved. In today’s world of inbound marketing buyers conduct online research of prospective new suppliers before making an initial approach. As environmental credentials are still an important consideration, as long as they don’t come with a price tag, providing information on how a company is reducing its environmental impact can be very interesting and compelling to buyers. It can also be useful criteria for buyers to put into search engines; to filter out a lot of companies who are not actively marketing their commitment to green issues.

The origins of Lean Manufacturing can be traced back to the ford motor company in 1910, but print companies both large and small have taken advantage of its practical application largely through their trade associations in the last 20 years. It is therefore very surprising that more print companies do not actively use lean manufacturing processes and the results as a way of broadcasting how they are reducing their environmental impact. Results from the Vision in Print Lean Manufacturing Programme identify that lean programmes are often rolled out as a one off exercise to reduce cost and improve efficiency rather than being part of an ongoing continuous improvement process or related to sustainability. The reality is that over time commitment wanes, standards begin to slip and focus is directed elsewhere in the business. In a recent audit of one print company who had undergone a variety of lean initiatives three years ago it was alarming to see some of the bad practice that had crept in. Waste had increased significantly, the operational efficiency of the equipment had fallen dramatically and there were a lot of key performance indicators, which were not being monitored. A later refocus by the company on those lean initiatives gave them an opportunity to improve their efficiency and cost rates and at the same time use the information in their marketing materials as a way of demonstrating how they were reducing the company’s environmental impact.

The golden rule in lean manufacturing is print only what you need to minimise energy consumption, waste, inventory and transportation while at the same time reducing the manual touch points to a minimum. Digital printing and automated workflows are now critical in lean manufacturing because they make it possible to automate the processing of PDF files, proof online and print on demand to eliminate manual intervention, reduce job set ups and waste.

Areas like colour management, which do not initially appear to have a green or lean impact, can also make a valuable contribution. Calibrating and profiling the prepress environment to both digital and offset presses makes it possible to reduce set up waste and energy consumption, while ensuring jobs are right first time. It is clear that printers who are not focused on the opportunity to be lean, green and ultra efficient can easily become less competitive in the market. Printers tend to be greener than they think, largely because they are doing a lot of things from a cost reduction perspective rather than an environmental standpoint, either way they are both lean and green. Most printers regularly recycle printing plates, solvent, inks, paper, pallets; packaging materials and waste plastics but never record or calculate the green benefits in an integrated systematic approach.

Perhaps the most noticeable customer trend is the mix of different communication platforms used. Printers have the opportunity to process and output content in the most economical and sustainable way. This might be through offset for larger volumes, digital for on demand low run production or other electronic media like sms, email and online. Digital printing combined with inline finishing is a lean manufacturing process and represents a major opportunity to produce printed jobs in the most green, efficient and cost effective way.

  • It is the most efficient and cost effective way to reduce waste by printing only what is required.
  • It can reduce obsolescence and remove stock holding and inventory in warehouses.
  • Digital print is energy efficient and does not require plates or processing chemicals.
  • Digital print and inline finishing reduces waste, set up costs and energy consumption
  • Digital print integrates with the online world to produce the most sustainable and efficient marketing results.
  • Digital can print at different points in the supply chain therefore reducing transportation and logistics.

Similarly, efficient use of resources is another focus of a lean green print shop. Achieving the same outputs with lower inputs of raw materials, water and energy is a priority and over time these will provide tangible reductions in operating costs. Reducing your inputs through lean processes is a longer-term task, which requires commitment but will usually bring greater savings than waste reduction alone and provide consumers and clients with more environmentally friendly print products. There is plenty of advice available for print companies on lean manufacturing and reduction of environmental impact. Most OEM suppliers and regional print associations have useful information and can point you in the right direction for relevant training courses or consultancy advice.

This article was commissioned by Ricoh to bring you independent opinions from industry experts. We hope you find our guest speaker’s views interesting and stimulating. We would appreciate your feedback. 

For more information about Ricoh’s Environmental solutions and initiatives see:  Ricoh-europe.com/printandbeyond

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