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A Sustainability Interview with Nathan Swinson-Bullough

by Jessica

Picture of Nathan looking out to sea

In a recent FESPA UK interview, our managing director Nathan gave his thoughts on sustainability and his journey and experiences so far with Imageco.

Why is sustainability fundamental to new business models?

Sustainability is fast moving to the top of everyone’s agenda, from retail to the NHS. As a wide format print provider, we are a key part of the supply chain for our customers, and now more than ever a strong sustainability policy is key to both retaining and winning new orders.

At Imageco we are succeeding as a result of our commitment to the environment. I am fortunate enough to be able to focus a lot of my attention on this having a great team around me producing the day to day work. I spend a lot of my time looking at new materials, technology and assessing how we can become more sustainable in general. Lots of our marketing is geared towards this, so our clients are all well aware of our ethics. Don’t get me wrong though, this is crucial from a business perspective – but first and foremost it’s my genuine concern for the environment that drives me.

I believe we need to create a balance between running our business and limiting our environmental impact. It’s a continual process and one that needs to be refined constantly, which is why I have signed us up to gain ISO 14001 environmental accreditation. This will aid us in sharing responsibility throughout our business and keep us firmly on our toes.

Are there any specific issues in sustainability with wide format print?

Yes, many and it is worrying the more you think about it. Carbon emissions are very high as with most manufacturing facilities. We look at everything, from our facilities and plant to delivery and installations. The requirements of running a national business means we ship overnight and travel to install.  Our factory is 30,000 sq ft and we have some large print kit running daily that consumes significant energy.

However, we are trying to reduce our impact by investing in electric vehicles.  EVs are coming on in leaps and bounds, and this is a mid-term goal that we will achieve over the next two years. Deliveries remain an issue, but our overnight service providers have a good environmental policy and are looking to make further improvements.

Our voltage optimisation device analyses the electricity consumption of our entire factory and minimises electric surges

In terms of our factory, the carbon dioxide is easier to address. We installed a voltage optimisation device: the best way I can describe its function is it’s like an electric meter. It analyses the electricity consumption of our entire factory and minimises electric surges, using only the power we need therefore reducing energy and carbon emissions. Then we have our solar installation which will be ready at the end of January 2021. Initially, we hoped to power all the factory by this, but roof complications mean that only a third can be installed. But this alone will significantly reduce our carbon emissions. By the end of 2021 all our remaining energy will be renewable.

What about Media, Ink & Packaging?

Our print kit consists of EFI Vutek and HP Latex, both having good environmental accreditations, the Latex in particular with water-based ink. Imageco’s Vutek printer uses LED curing and speeds up production. Our Caldera RIP software combined with our Zünd cutter produces minimal waste with great colour accuracy and nesting capabilities – reprints are rare and actual ink used is low. Back in the day running the large solvent kit we would empty waste ink almost daily, but now the waste tanks are rarely full and when they are, we send our ink away to be disposed of sustainably.

In terms of media, we have now switched our one-piece wallcovering, lightbox fabric and black back fabric to ones made from recycled plastic bottles: the black back is 50% recycled. We have started a tree planting initiative with the sales of our one-piece recycled bottle wallpaper with the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. For every 10m sold we plant a tree. We have a target of 500 trees in 12months – difficult in these testing times but we are making progress.

In terms of packaging, we are making huge strides. We recently had a plastic-free week, in which we replaced our entire order set with paper-based alternatives. To show that it very much can be done. Going one further, we have removed plastic bubble wrap entirely from our options list and replaced it with paper-based bubble wrap. One small step but it will lead to a huge reduction in ocean-bound plastic waste.

What is your personal motivation towards making sustainability central to your business?

Being responsible for Imageco, it was up to me to start the process of creating change. Far from being a climate expert, I am simply aware of the numerous changes individuals can make.  The government clearly needs to make the changes but we can’t hide and expect things to improve, we must actively make changes ourselves. Humans are responsible for 100 times more carbon emissions annually than all the world’s volcanos, a frightening statistic.

What innovative sustainable solutions have inspired you recently?

I love the materials that are made from recycled PET. Xanita board is one of my favourite products.

I recently read the story of the Patagonia clothing brand. The book ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ that my business partner Georgia bought for me describes their inspirational story and business model. The basis of 1% for the Planet that Yvon Chouinard created inspired me to begin our tree planting initiative.

This article first appeared on Club FESPA, find out more here.

To hear more about our sustainability mission visit our eco-page