How printing innovations can drive climate action

With environmental sustainability increasingly becoming a major focus for many organisations over 2021, Richard Wells, head of office print sales for Epson, reflects on how the print giant has adapted around this key issue
Epson printer

It’s been a busy year for the Epson community. And while we continue to ride the waves of the pandemic, together with our resellers, the biggest threat to our planet is still quietly and consistently maturing in plain sight.

For Epson, our responsibility to ensure we are adapting with growing environmental demands has never been clearer and the last year has been a testament to this. In February, Yoshiro Nagafusa was announced as the new president for Epson Europe B.V. and this was shortly followed by the introduction of Epson 25 Renewed, our new global corporate vision outlining initiatives for solving societal issues in the new normal. This coincided with Epson’s renewed Environmental Vision 2050, committing Epson to reducing carbon emissions in line with the 1.5°C scenario by 2030, committing to 100% renewable electricity by 2023, and investing 100 billion yen (approx. £650m) on decarbonisation before 2030, to name a few.

In May this year we announced a new partnership with National Geographic to promote the importance of heat-free technologies as a preventative measure to permafrost thawing and the subsequent implications this has on climate change. Those unfamiliar with printing technology need only check the warmth of the paper after it’s been printed to recognise how a heat-free alternative is a kinder solution for the environment.
Later in the year we also announced a new European-wide partnership with iconic athlete Usain Bolt, who is helping us to educate a wider audience on the energy and waste-saving benefits of cartridge-free printing.

In June, Epson was selected for inclusion in the FTSE4Good Index Series for the 18th consecutive year, and in October Epson received its second consecutive platinum rating by independent assessors EcoVadis, placing us in the top 1% of companies in the industry for sustainability.

More recently, Epson was named as the most sustainable company in Japan by Forbes Japan magazine and, at the beginning of November, Epson became the first company in the Japanese manufacturing industry to convert to 100% renewable electricity for all its domestic sites.

But commenting on the highlights is nothing if we’re unable to provide more tangible information on how we’re progressing against our greater commitments, including our science-based targets, which is why Epson Europe has just launched its latest Green Choice report.

A global spotlight on Glasgow

We had the privilege of being in Glasgow for COP26 where we met with partners, as well as members of the education and public sectors, to understand the trajectory of environmental sustainability in Scottish education, and how technology can help. Key takeaways from this were clear. Firstly, education should be further optimised to teach students how to make practical considerations around climate change, and the technology sector has an open invitation to play its part in supporting this. Secondly, environmental sustainability should play a more critical role in the buying criteria from public sector organisations and the environmental implications of technology should be made clearer to those that are using them.

Polls we ran on social media ahead of COP26 revealed that 46% of people believe manufacturers should be taking the most responsibility for Scotland’s fight against climate change, while a separate 46% believed this should be the public sector. The majority (55%) said more renewable energy was the biggest improvement needed in Scotland to tackle climate change, while only a quarter (25%) said they were reducing their energy consumption in order to address the crisis. For me, this only reinforced our responsibility as a vendor to drive awareness around energy-efficient solutions and the fact that we should never stop challenging the status quo for what more we, as both businesses and individuals, can do to tackle climate change.

Making incremental changes

What’s been clear over the last two years is that the technology industry, including those of us in the print world, has made dramatic changes to overcome the challenges that were imminently thrown at us with the Covid-19 pandemic. But for many, it’s clear it will take another Covid-sized event to realise similar change for the environment.

At COP26 we came across numerous technological solutions designed out of necessity for tackling the climate crisis. Clever inventions specifically designed to help get us out of this mess. But, for the vast majority of the industry, we have to adopt rather than redefine our solutions in order to ensure legacy technologies that people still need can continue their place in the world without compromising the environment. And despite my passion for what I do, I know that printers aren’t going to save us from climate change. But what we can do is offer a solution that provides an incremental benefit to the environment which also performs as well - if not better - on cost and productivity. The higher the volume of incremental changes that businesses make across different industries, particularly technology, the more collective success we can harness in reducing our carbon footprint. 

A key example is Epson’s business inkjet technology. The characteristics that make this a disruptive innovation are the same characteristics that make it kinder to the environment. Compared with its industry alternative - laser printing - business inkjet has longer-lasting, higher ink yields that reduce the costs from customers spent on ink, but also the frequency and emissions from the recycling process. It requires fewer components to assemble it and therefore there are fewer things that can go wrong, meaning less intervention for the customer and a reduced carbon footprint from sending engineers across different businesses to fix the hardware.

Business inkjet also consumes up to 83% less energy than laser, reducing energy costs for the end-user and the level of CO2 emissions released. If all businesses across Europe switched from high-energy laser to Epson’s heat-free business inkjet technology, they could save enough energy annually to power 800,000 electric cars for a year, cut €152m in energy costs and lower CO2 emissions by 410 million kilograms, an amount it would typically take 19 million trees a year to absorb.

But how can a ‘printing company’ be environmentally sustainable? Like every good organisation should, we relish the challenge of how to better adapt around the changing needs of the environment. The role of paper, as just one example, still has a very important role in the future workplace. Through our printers, we established that the proprietary Dry Fibre technology we created to develop the porous pads used in our printer maintenance boxes can also be used to recycle the everyday office paper into new paper. With this, we created PaperLab, the world’s first in-office paper making machine. PaperLab is now being sold across Europe and is a testament that, with the right innovation, manufacturers needn’t compromise their value proposition for customers, but rather integrate sustainable solutions into it.

The application of our Dry Fibre technology has further potential in packaging materials, and also for producing the nutrients to cultivate the microalgae Euglena to produce bioplastics. The opportunities for how we then put this into practice are endless, and all stemmed from an innovative approach to the printed paper.

Final thoughts

As we look forward to a new year and to overcoming any final challenges thrown at us from the pandemic (and beyond), my message to decision-makers is to advocate change. The climate crisis is becoming increasingly personal to some, yet remains a fleeting consideration to others. But, by and large, employees want to be proud of their organisations and to know that we’re addressing a crisis that will only continue to outweigh the threats of the Covid-19 pandemic. Environmental sustainability won’t magically appear on the paradigm of customer-buying incentives. But if every working professional put even half the energy and consideration they do into reducing costs and time for their organisation, just think what they could all achieve for reducing CO2 emissions, waste, and contributing to a greener planet.

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