Gathering a Green network

Consultancies can make a real difference by offering an environmentally friendly option to their clients, says Steven Johnson

‘Actions speak louder than words, son!’ My dad, a man of few words (but many actions) was a joiner by trade and thought that graphic design was signwriting. However, I think anyone involved in running a design business could pick up some useful undertones in the resonances of his favourite cliché.

Environmental commitment has been successfully harnessed as a corporate social responsibility brand building tool across virtually every sector and at all levels of the market.

From the BP long copy ads in the nationals to my local restaurant’s commitment to sourcing local produce, businesses are strengthening their brands by doing stuff rather than just saying stuff.

With design being sold as the engine of innovation that will drive the future UK economy, generating difference for business at large and bringing real added value for clients, we have to ask: to what extent are we being innovative in the way we run our own businesses? Are we properly leveraging our powers of creative thought to generate difference for ourselves and bring further added value to our clients? Sustainability is one way to differentiate ourselves and innovate in a way that benefits everyone.

We thought it was time to lead by example, so we have put together a roster of Green printers and are now offering an environmentally friendly option to clients on all our print projects: recycled stocks, vegetable oil-based inks, water-less processes, recycled packaging materials, plant emission control and accreditation from a range of bodies including ISO14001, CarbonNeutral and EMAS. It’s a simple idea, but it works: it incorporates sustainability, communicates CSR and brings added value for the client.

Inevitably, Green printing comes at a cost, and the price differential will create a barrier for some clients. It occurred to us that, to encourage our clients to go Green and swallow this price differential, we need to offer more than a warm feeling of moral superiority in return: we need commercial incentives.

The biggest motivation is the brand-building potential a sustainability CSR stance offers. So, thinking about the platforms that we could offer our clients, we came up with the following simple ways to help clients communicate their Green commitment:

We created the PEA mark, which clients can use to show that their material is environmentally friendly; a Green page on our website to profile Green clients; a template press release on our website, which the client can fill in to announce their Green credentials via the trade press; and a Green page on the GroupHub website – The Hub’s networking and professional development community for creatives in our region – offering further exposure still.

While this teases out the brand-building potential of a sustainability-based CSR stance for some clients, for others the simple fact of the price differential is an obstacle that will eclipse these more distant, intangible benefits every time. And this brings me to the second, more ambitious but equally simple, incentive – one that manages to eschew soft communication in favour of hard cash.

On the one hand, we have a roster of printers that have spare capacity. On the other, through our GroupHub creative community, we have an audience of design consultancies that would benefit from offering their clients a Green option, if the price was right. As such, we are about to look into launching a buying group to benefit from economies of scale.

By dangling the carrot of competitively priced Green printing, we can attract buying group membership and increase volume through the printers. By dangling the carrot of increased volume, we hope to negotiate discount structures with printers and secure competitive prices for Green printing for buying group members. The more members, the more volume, the more discount.

The upshot is that design consultancies can offer a competitively priced Green option to their clients, incorporate a positive sustainability CRS stance into their business and bring real added value. The clients enjoy the brand-building opportunities they suddenly have and the printers enjoy increased volume and a higher profile for Green printing generally, plus there is the positive PR you’ll benefit from and, more importantly, you’re actually doing something about it. Cheers, dad.

Steven Johnson is creative director of Lancashire consultancy The Hub

Some Simple Green Initiatives:

• The PEA mark: a graphic mark clients can use on their material to announce that it has been Printed with Environmental Approval

• A Green page on-line to profile Green clients and acknowledge their commitment to environmental issues

• A downloadable press release template for clients to explain their Green credentials to their industry via the trade press

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