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Print industry unclear on net-zero definition as sustainability tops priority lists

The print world knows it has to be more sustainable, and mentioning the need to reduce carbon seems to be a key part of that process

It would be an interesting experiment to find out how much paper has been expended by people and organisations writing about their plans to reduce their use of printing and paper consumption. Not hugely interesting, I admit, but the headline figure might be worth a second glance.

For many years now, the mantra from many organisations has been to reduce their use of print and their paper output. It still is. According to Quocirca’s Sustainability trends report 2022 , which surveyed 212 IT decision-makers in the UK and the US, 71% said their company planned to reduce paper consumption by at least 30% by 2025. In addition, 70% claimed they already recycled paper, 58% were implementing digital signatures, and 52% were adopting digital workflows to avoid printing.

So, that’s good news. As is the fact that this focus on reducing paper and print means that 50% claimed their companys net-zero goal influenced their choice of print supplier to a great extent, with another 40% saying it influenced their choice to a moderate extent.

Net zero is a big deal for many of these organisations, according to the report. Just under three-quarters (74%) said their companies had set net-zero goals, with 60% of their targets due by 2030, 31% by 2040, and 8% by 2050. All very admirable, however – to inject a note of caution – as Microsoft pointed out in its 2021 Environmental sustainability report, no one seems to know exactly what net zero means.

“Progress relies on us all counting carbon consistently,” the report stated. “The world lacks a common meaning of the term net zero and a common unit of measurement for assessing the climate impact of various net zero approaches, and we must all focus on maturing the markets needed to achieve a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.”

That could make things slightly awkward. Commenting on the Quocirca report, research director Louella Fernandes said the research showed that reducing environmental impact would be the top priority for businesses by 2025.

“[This means it] eclipses customer experience and cyber security concerns,” said Fernandes. “A priority for customers must also be a priority for the industry, and we expect to see vendors focusing heavily on sustainability as they position themselves as valuable partners on the journey to net zero.”

But how do they go on that journey if no one knows precisely where it is headed? The answer seems to be to mention “net zero” and “sustainability” as much as possible in terms of goals and strategy, then do your best to get to where you think that is.

For example, it should be fairly easy for companies to show customers that they are reducing their environmental impact and that they are placing a much greater emphasis on sustainability, because these are measurable against what they did in the past. The difficulty with net zero, as it appears to me, is that it sounds like an absolute. As a result, it could be much harder to achieve.

When it comes to sustainability, only 19% of UK organisations surveyed had fully implemented a sustainability strategy, compared to 38% in the US. That’s quite the gap, but, on the upside, 46% of UK respondents stated that reducing environmental impact was in their top three business priorities for 2022.

Sustainability has a much higher priority with smaller organisations than larger businesses. That’s encouraging for channel partners who tend to have more of the former in their customer base than the latter. It’s also potentially more challenging as they need to match their customers’ sustainability strategies.

More than a third (36%) of small organisations had a fully implemented sustainability strategy, compared to only a fifth (20%) of large companies. Nearly half of small organisations (47%) identified sustainability as important to their business performance today, and 95% of them said their net-zero goal influenced supplier selection to a great or moderate extent.

Fernandes argued that vendors need to “ensure that sustainability factors are clearly in evidence when engaging with smaller business”.

“Customers need tangible data, transparently communicated, so they can select the technology partner that will deliver the most appropriate solution for their business,” she added.

The same applies, clearly, to channel partners who will be helping vendors reach those smaller businesses. Hopefully, that tangible data does not need to be printed on a sheet of paper.

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