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Finsbury’s green-eyed warrior: Print 21 magazine article

Thursday, 18 December 2008
By Print 21 Online Article

Finsbury Green might be environmental leaders in the printing industry, but don’t expect to see the company’s CEO, Peter Orel, tying himself to trees anytime soon. Mitchell Jordan meets the man who claims not to be a greenie.

Midway through our interview, Peter Orel stops calmly and states: “I’m no environmentalist.”

It is a staggering comment from someone in his position; anyone who knows anything about Finsbury Green will tell you that a commitment to the environment is what the company is best known for.

Later, Orel goes on to justify his claim by explaining that: “I care for the environment, but I’m not a tree-hugging environmentalist and there is a distinct difference between the two.

“There are a lot of people out there who champion that cause [the environment]. I care for it, but I don’t spend my weekends chaining myself to trees.”

Keeping it in the family

Finsbury Green shares a compelling story which first began in South Australia in 1973 when Ernie Orel, a letterpress printer by trade, decided to open his own business, Finsbury Printing.

In 1984, Ernie called in his son, Peter, to help out. At the time, Peter was in his final year of high school and preparing to study accounting at university, until life got in the way and what started off as some casual work soon turned into a clever case of succession planning.

“It was definitely by accident, not by choice,” Orel recounts. “When I was growing up I saw my dad work way too hard for the returns.”

Something changed during his time at the company, enough to make Orel stay in the business ever since.

“I really liked working there, especially the clients and people in the business and thought I’d hang around,” he adds.

Starting as an all-rounder, Orel spent time in administration, estimating, book-keeping and preparing work for press. For the last 10 years, he has been in charge of running the business while his father, Ernie, retired in 2007.

Sadly, soon after this interview took place, Ernie Orel passed away suddenly while on holiday in Slovenia. In a statement issued by the company, his legacy and influence on the industry was acknowledged.

“Ernie was an absolute legend of the printing industry, building it into a national company responsible for some of the country’s finest printing. He was well known for his tireless assistance and advice to customers and support of designers, his fair mindedness when dealing with suppliers and his undeniable passion for printing.

“He also brought an attitude of resourcefulness that has lived on through the years, culminating in its environmental focus. For all those that were touched by his graciousness, we would like to acknowledge his leadership and guidance.”

For future generations
In the 23 years that Peter Orel has been with the company, an extensive evolution and green transformation has taken place for which he has been largely responsible. The catalyst for this journey was when Orel became a father of two children and started to think not only about his future but theirs as well.

“I knew that I was in an industry which was perceived as not doing the right thing for the environment,” he says. “Knowing that I wasn’t likely to get out of Finsbury Green or change to another industry, I wanted to have some influence in how our business could help the environment.”

At home, Orel began recycling and soon started looking at ways in which Finsbury Green’s waste could be recycled rather than going to landfill. Now, the company has reached a point where 97 per cent of its waste is recycled, ranging from paper and plates to ink containers and palettes. By 2015, Finsbury Green aims to have zero percent of its waste sent to landfill and Orel is confident that will be achieved earlier than the self-imposed deadline.

Finsbury Green also boasts the honour of being the first printing company in Australia to be simultaneously awarded ISO9001:2000 Quality Management and ISO14001 Environment Management Systems certifications. In 2005, this was extended to ISO14001:2004 certification and, in February 2006, the company was granted FSC chain of custody before re-branding as Finsbury Green last year.

In addition to this, the company set a target to become Australia’s first carbon neutral printer which it achieved in June 2005. The push to become carbon neutral came after measuring the company’s CO2 emissions from the years 2002 to 2004.

The target was achieved by planting trees to offset the company’s CO2 emissions from 2003-2004 using the direct sequestration method. The project continued for the next two years and, this year, Finsbury Green offset its entire 2006-2007 CO2 emissions of 2,754 tonnes with the Carbon Pool Project, a Greenhouse Friendly-certified company.

Today, Finsbury Green employs 200 full-time employees with offices in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. As a former Adelaide boy, Orel used to commute to Melbourne each week by plane before moving permanently to Victoria six-and-a-half years ago.

An open book
Among all of these developments, Orel points to 2004 as being a year of great significance. It was in this year that Finsbury released its first Environment Report and earned the kudos of being the first Australian printer to publish a fully-audited account of its environmental activities.

Orel believes that this is important for any business wanting to be taken seriously in the environmental stakes.

“How do you quantify being truly green?” he asks. “To be truly green, you need to publish results, because that is the only way you can really show that your performance is improving.”

Taking this into consideration, Orel’s previous claim not to be an environmentalist now makes more sense. (Interestingly, he isn’t fond of gardening either, so there is no opportunity to slip in any green thumb puns). Instead, Orel is coy, calm and coolly casual in both his personality and appearance. He may be CEO, but that doesn’t mean he comes to work in a suit and tie.

This is also his first major interview with the media and the prospect daunts him a little; he frequently falls into contemplative silences before resurfacing. (“Please don’t ask what my favourite movie is,” he says, half-jokingly, and despite asking the question, I leave without an answer.)

So if he doesn’t like gardening or activism, what does Orel enjoy doing when he isn’t at work?

“Travel,” he answers. Especially travel that involves wine. Indeed, if Orel didn’t come from a printing background, there is a high chance that you’d find him instead in the Dordogne as a wine-maker.

“I like drinking it [wine] and I like the idea of working six months in Australia and six in Europe,” he chuckles.

Will he ever leave the world of printing behind to concentrate on creating the perfect drop?

“No,” he states with a steely certainty. He has his work cut out for him looking after Finsbury Green.

Calling the shots
It isn’t only Orel who makes decisions concerning Finbury Green’s environmental initiatives. For the past five years, Orel and Rodney Wade, environment and technical manager, have made the majority of the decisions together. Realising that “with only two people you tend to run a little dry of ideas”, Orel formed a Sustainability Committee in March this year.

Consisting of five people with a staff member from each division and location across Australia, the committee meets twice a year to provide direction for sustainability efforts.

In addition, Finsbury Green also has an intranet where staff are able to make suggestions – not just regarding the environment – but in any area where they feel the business needs improvement. Orel notes than on average he receives at least one new suggestion a week.

When it comes to politics and the environment, he believes that the Greens have the best policies and that the Federal Government does not do enough.

“The Government is hypocritical,” Orel says. “On one hand they push the environment but they are also very budget conscious and make decisions based on price only.”

As for the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Orel believes it will frighten the life out of many printers.

“It scares them because it adds another cost to the business and one where margins are already under pressure,” he says.

He is also quick to assert that just because they are green, Finsbury Green’s prices are not more expensive, and that there are in fact savings to be made from implementing such initiatives.

“Our pricing structure has not changed as a result,” he says. “It may be harder to print alcohol-free, which we do, but it is not more expensive. Most of our initiatives have only added to our bottom line.”

There are also many Finsbury Green customers who choose the printer not just for its environmental credentials but also for the awards it has earned and reputation for producing quality work.

The winning streak
Finsbury Green’s awards are too numerous to list in entirety, but include the 2007 South Australian of the Year Environment award, a 2006 United Nations Environment Day award, 2005 City of West Torrens Business Environment award and 2003 Good Business Environment award, among others.

By coincidence, my interview with Orel is scheduled on the same night as the Victorian PICA awards and we meet twice in the one day. He may have changed clothes since morning, but ignores the black-tie dress code, turning up in a loose white shirt, free of tie or a jacket. In yet another coincidence – or irony – Orel and I are not only seated at the same table, but also seated beside one another. We joke about why we didn’t think to conduct the interview here, where wine abounds; though the awards are a difficult environment to continue a coherent conversation, not least because Orel spends a considerable amount of time on stage, claiming two Diamond awards and – perhaps most importantly – the Paper Round Environmental Award.

Last year, Finsbury Green missed out on the award, and Orel was not sure whether the company had any chance of claiming it this time around.

“We weren’t expecting it at all,” he admits. “After last year, we weren’t sure what the criteria was and if we met it. This [award] was a nice surprise.”

As the CEO, Orel has big plans for Finsbury Green’s future. He believes that talking about anything further than five years ahead is impractical, but in those five years there is much to be done.

To begin with, Finsbury Green will consolidate its Notting Hill and Port Melbourne sites into a new premises in Port Melbourne and from here, the growth will continue.

“In the next 12-18 months there will be a number of opportunities for acquisitions,” Orel says.

He cannot comment or reveal much more, other than that it is unlikely these acquisitions will be in different states to those in which Finsbury Green already has a presence.

“Ultimately, we want Finsbury Green to be of a large size,” Orel continues. “It’s not that bigger is always better, but given the type of business we’re in, to get the ROI we need to ensure that we are filling the capacity we have.”

Peter Orel might belong more to the league of astute businessmen than idealistic environmentalists, but it is obvious that he has played a major part in moving the Australian printing industry towards greener pastures.

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