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Sustain-ability: print’s new mantra – Print21 magazine feature

Tuesday, 10 April 2012
By Print 21 Online Article

The potential sustainability of print as a medium is one of its strongest selling points but in order to make it work there needs to be less focus on procedure and more on changing people’s attitudes and behaviour, says Andy McCourt.

In the latter part of any year, there are many functions to attend. You can’t get to them all but one I was delighted to attend last year was the Pax Leader Labs/ARIES reception at Macquarie University, NSW.

The who? Well ARIES is the Australian Research Institute for Environmental Sustainability, based at Macquarie Uni. Pax Leader Labs is a private company dedicated to organisational change and sustainability, headed by Louise Metcalf, a well-known organisational psychologist.

While drinks and nibblies are de rigueur at such events, one tends to have moderate expectations of learning anything new from the speeches and presentations. Not so at this one; I came out with a head spinning with new information and thoughts surrounding the issue that so challenges our industry—how can we present ourselves as a wholesome, sustainable enterprise and universally practice sustainability?

Of course we have not ignored sustainability. The PIAA has its ‘Sustainable Green Print’ program, GASAA its ‘Truly Green’ certification and leading lights in sustainable print such as Focus Press and Finsbury Green have been practicing it for years. There is ample data to show that properly sourced and recycled papers and boards are excellent carbon retainers and that plantation-managed forestry is the world’s best ‘carbon sink’. But the Pax/ARIES night put a completely different spin on the issue, and one we would do well to consider at both micro and macro levels.

Let me start with a question: if someone came into your business and assured you they could reduce your costs by 50 per cent while increasing your sales by 50 per cent, would you think them clever, magical or just plain mad?

Magical carpet ride

Two such cases were cited by Metcalf. The world’s largest manufacturer of carpet tiles, Interface Inc, headed by the late Ray Anderson, had an epiphany in 1995 when Anderson discovered the true state of global pollution and its effects in the book The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken. He set about changing the company’s entire culture, even to the extent of encouraging staff to car-pool and, of course, reducing his firm’s dependence on petrochemical inputs. Energy was saved, water use reduced, old carpet recycled—all with the goal of ‘Mission Zero’—Anderson’s belief that he could run a successful enterprise that took nothing good away from the Earth that it did not put back.

Anderson was so persuasive and successful in this that he appeared in Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary film The Eleventh Hour. The amazing legacy that Anderson left was a company which had previously polluted and was ‘an extension of the oil industry’ is on the way to becoming carbon and environmental-footprint neutral. And, wait for this, sales and profits soared to almost $2 billion.

So, here’s the rub. For our printing industry, sustainability need not be a cost factor that is imposed on businesses by acquiring ISO and other ‘gongs’. It need not be thought of as more government meddling in the private sector with threats of fines for non-compliance—and of course new taxes!
It’s the best business opportunity facing our industry right now. Staring us in the face—if only we would change our thought-patterns.

Kirribilli or Kiribati?

Another book, Ken Hickson’s The ABC of Carbon, was discussed by Metcalf and her fellow Pax-man, Kerry Oldfield. Some scary scientifically-substantiated facts came out of that. Take a look at the carbon emission chart from 1965 to 2011 and it goes from a blip to a balloon. In 2010, the world pumped 6 per cent more carbon into the atmosphere than in 2009. This increase alone represents more than the national emissions of the three biggest emitters; USA, China and India. Per capita, Australia is the fourth biggest carbon emitter—due in a large part to our small population but huge mineral and energy resources.

Something has got to give and it’s likely to be countries like Bangladesh, Thailand, India and Pacific Islands such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, that suffer first. Indeed they are already suffering the effects of climate change with floods and land disappearing. There would be more outcry if it was Kirribilli, not Kiribati!
Back to the grist in the mill. What was new for me at the Pax/ARIES event was that “change based purely on procedure never works”. Wow, I mean that’s the ISO certifications, the FSC, PEFC and so on isn’t it? Procedures…and they will never work? Note that the quote says “purely on procedures”. So what is the missing action, the catalyst that will activate procedure into a working change proposition?

Thoughts. For change to work, especially sustainability change, the way people think from leadership down to the factory floor, needs to be changed. That’s what Pax Leader Labs is about, developing leaders who think differently; who can deliver shareholder value but change companies into sustainable enterprises—just as Ray Anderson did with his carpet tile business. As a great leader, he set the example. Even his company car was a humble Toyota Prius. ‘Thriving in perpetuity’ is a possible dream.

Failure is endemic

A sobering statistic is that between 70 and 90 per cent of change initiatives fail. TQM, M&A (private equity?), Business Process Re-engineering: less than 20 per cent become success stories because of the focus on procedure over culture-change or thought modification. “You are what you think you are” as one old sage put it.

There are many great achievements in our industry regarding sustainability. Australia leads the world in the percentage of newspapers that are recycled for example —76 per cent. But it is never enough until, as an industry, we can proudly boast that we have achieved ‘Mission Zero’: we deliver great products and services, run profitable businesses but we take little or nothing from planet Earth when all is accounted for. If we can wallop the misinformed, biased and naive anti-print brigade with scientific fact, positive examples of achievement and correct perspective of where printing sits in the sustainability league, we can also win the PR war that is going on.

Because we are an old and unfashionable communication medium does not mean that we need to behave that way. With the world’s largest print media trade fair—drupa—around the corner I am confident that the advanced technology on display—including nanoscale inks that use no oil and require less volume—will demonstrate just how sustainable we are.

Kyoto Protocols, Durban Climate Change Summits—none of these procedures alone will result in positive outcomes. In fact, at the recently concluded UN Durban Climate Change Conference, it was alleged that: ‘A unanimous decision was reached that members would decide to meet at a future date in order to make a decision on what to do next’. Yes, Minister.

On that Kafka-esque quote, I wish you all a successful and sustainable 2012, with changes embraced and not resisted.

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