Innovation is important for making new products, but also for developing new methods of making things we already have, in a more efficient and environmentally sound way. Mark Pickford is from the printing company Seacourt, based in Oxford, who are winning awards for the environmental turnaround that they’re bringing to the industry, and he spoke to Chris Smith about how the company works...
Mark - Fundamentally we’re a printing company so we’re producing everything from stationery, letterheads, business cards all the way through to corporate brochures annual reports, sustainability reports and we also manage a lot of work in terms of large formats. So we're producing large format for events: pop up stands and that kind of thing.
Chris - And why is the printing industry potentially a naughty player when it comes to the environment>
Mark - Well 90 percent of printing that your listeners will be seeing on an everyday basis is produced by the lithographic process. It's a process that uses lots of water. Chemicals are added to the water to make the water more usable and those chemicals are very high in volatile organic compounds. As well as the industry is run on printing presses - very high users of electricity, we generate a lot of waste and it's something that we've kind of as a business decided that we needed to take responsibility for.
Chris - So basically the embodied energy and the embodied water in turning out something as trivial as a newspaper or even a sheet of printed paper is huge and you want to try and change that?
Mark - Yeah absolutely
Chris - How are you trying to address that.?
Mark - We decided about 20 years ago to completely change the way that we did our business to take the environment really at its core. And the first thing we looked at was the actual process itself. And so we converted going from the standard lithographic process to a waterless offset process which basically eliminates the use of water. We've saved 8 million plus litres of water since we converted. More importantly, or as importantly certainly, we've completely taken out the the chemicals that are added to the water to make it more usable for the process.
Chris - And to be clear that water previously, given that it carried that toxic cargo, you couldn't just tip that down the drain, that would have had to have been remediated in some way.
Mark - So you've got not only the contamination but you also then have the power and the energy that you use to require it to get it back to a normal usable process so it's far reaching.
Chris - Now if this is so good because I mean it sounds wonderful not to make all this contaminated water not to use these other nasty chemicals. Why isn't anyone doing this?
Mark - A few years ago it was going to be the next big thing. But the trouble is to get a printing company to convert to a completely different process it can be financially ruinous, we were very lucky that when we decided to go down this route that we were at a point where we wanted to develop the company, we were at a size where we could be flexible. It requires completely changing the process, the machinery the training of all your staff, the environment of the actual factory itself. So it's a very difficult process to suddenly go from one to the other.
Chris - So the capital outlay is very very big so that would be an impediment to smaller businesses.
Mark - Yeah and into larger companies you know the printing industry like many industries, margins are very tight. You know there aren't great deals of money to invest on not producing anything for a month or two months while you convert to a completely different process.
Chris - So you've had to put up a lot of money to convert your process but now you've done that. Are you still competitive in the market can you still churn out print copy at a price that means you can compete.
Mark - Yes we can. We have overheads that are slightly higher than another printing company but the industry itself is on a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. So we would always argue that we are financially sustainable which is just as important as the environment if you like for business. We certainly aren't the cheapest in the country and we would never want to be but we are very competitive and we couldn't survive as a company in this market if we weren't competitive.
Chris - It's a sort of position that the industry the world over finds itself in isn't it whether the planet pays the price. Where do you end up - at the moment we're all hooked on oil because it's cheap and it's there and it means we can make stuff cheap we make loads of plastic for instance it does the job we want and at the moment while the planet pays the price we're comfortable to live with that. Actually it means we've got to be brave and daring spend some money and live with slightly higher production costs but then the planet doesn't pay the price ultimately and that's the sort of direction that you're taking isn't it.
Mark - Absolutely absolutely.
Chris - So you've sourced out the water problem. What other initiatives or innovations are you looking to introduce in the future.
Mark - There's many things that we've done already which is: zero waste to landfill since 2009, even our teabags and sandwiches are dealt with by a team of worms - red tiger worms.
Chris - They eat teabags? I thought teabags were a bit of a problem.
Mark - No, no they seem to do absolutely fine on that. I don't think they like garlic or onions. So we have to be a bit selective about what we leave behind but we've been running on 100 percent renewable energy for many years now. The whole process of the business is all about sustainability. We've looked at all of our staff. Anything to do with the business and how they're engaged with the business, how they get work, go through carbon offsetting schemes. We always believe that mitigation is far more important than offsetting so we've mitigated as much as we possibly can and then what we cannot mitigate, we offset through schemes in the Brazilian basin and that involves local communities in the production of acai berries. So we have a social, economic and environmental benefit to the planet which we've called Planet positive printing whereby whatever we produce actually has a net benefit to the environment rather than a negative impact on the environment.
Chris - And did you notice mark we put you on the green microphone?
Mark - I did notice that and thank you very much. I was going to bagsy it.