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The environment is fast becoming the top priority for businesses. Carys Evans looks at some of the planet-friendly schemes sign companies are organising to boost sustainability

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More and more companies are looking for planet-friendly schemes for their business

Looking after our planet

Corporate sustainability, i.e. the management and coordination of environmental, social and financial demands and concerns to ensure responsible, ethical and ongoing success, is quickly becoming a top priority for sign companies.

With the future of the earth and oceans in a state of uncertainty, and with the help of news reports and documentaries such as Planet Earth, there is now little excuse not to make an effort to be sustainable.

So what planet-friendly schemes are sign-makers and those in the sign industry organising to contribute towards a more sustainable future?

Attitudes are changing

Pro Carton, the European Association of Carton and Cartonboard Manufacturers, is urging retailers and brands to look beyond products and packaging and to embrace environmental sustainability as a holistic ideal for the entire shopping experience.

Pointing to recent research detailing consumer attitudes to sustainability, Pro Carton’s general manager, Tony Hitchin says there is now a solid case for brands and retailers to widen the scope of their environment-friendly policies to win consumer trust and loyalty.

“Consumer attitudes are changing and there is a growing consensus that brands and retailers need to act and make the necessary changes,” Hitchin explains. “Associations, brands, retailers and manufacturers need to listen to, and act on, consumer concerns and ensure that not only is packaging sustainability a priority, but also in-store signage – including posters, ceiling hangers, banners, shelf wobblers and till-point signage.

Consumer attitudes are changing and there is a growing consensus that brands and retailers need to act and make the necessary changes

“There are plenty of opportunities for the industry to challenge the status quo, to even replace non-recyclable signage with paper-based materials and in doing so make the changes necessary to future-proof their whole retail and brand offer to the benefit of the environment – and their profits.”

Hitchin’s appeal to the industry follows Europe-wide research amongst 7,000 consumers in seven countries (the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey) showcasing that two thirds (68%) claim that being environmentally friendly is now more, or very important to them.

In order to understand consumer attitudes towards packaging sustainability, Pro Carton investigated views on the importance of leading an environment-friendly lifestyle, whether they’d be prepared to pay more for brands in sustainable packaging as well as their thoughts on government, retail and brand accountability.

The research found that consumers on the whole are driven by a greater awareness prompted by high-profile media coverage: 74% of Europeans claim media focus on the issue has influenced their purchasing habits.

Tony Hitchin, general manager at Pro Carton continues: “The arguments for Cartonboard/cardboard are compelling – it comes from trees grown in sustainably managed forests, it is not only renewable and fully recyclable, but also biodegradable, making it the perfect example of the circular economy.

Tony Hitchin, general manager of Pro Carton

“We’ve seen the market for carton packaging grow in recent years and we expect that rate to accelerate as negative media coverage intensifies over more harmful packaging materials.”

Hitchin emphasises the point that brands and retailers needn’t stop at packaging. The company urges businesses to create sustainable alternatives to every step of the shopper experience – including signage.

“We know that in-store, promotional signage in particular often only has a useful life of few weeks, so it would make environmental and economic sense if that signage was created from paper-based materials such as carton board,” says Hitchin.

With proven demand for product sustainability, Pro Carton’s research has discovered that the recyclability of packaging used in-store is a large determiner of whether some shoppers may make the decision to take their business elsewhere – 52% of shoppers in fact.

Creating a solution for all

As well as operating as an environmentally-responsible company, Antalis has been on the frontline when it comes to designing and manufacturing planet-friendly products. Recognising that its use of energy has a significant environmental impact, the firm has successfully achieved ISO 50001 certification for reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. In order to achieve the certification, Antalis’ UK team worked hard to implement an energy initiative at the firm’s Leicestershire head office.

The work involved navigating a combination of regulatory requirement, stakeholder interest and lessening energy consumption. As a result, LED lighting was implemented as an alternative energy-saving solution, lower heating temperatures and thermostats were brought in, and Antalis also commissioned 81 new DAF Euro curtain-side vehicles in a £5m investment to modernise its fleet.

Having begun measuring its own carbon footprint in 2008, Antalis continuously works to reduce its overall carbon footprint. Currently, 45% of electricity generation from the firm’s electricity energy providers comes from renewable energy sources, predominately hydropower – as with Rusal’s production of aluminium.

Antalis has been measuring its carbon footprint since 2008

One sustainable venture in which the green company embarked on was the development of a sustainable solution to fellow Leicester firm, Greenshires’ polypropylene mop trays. The mop trays are part of Greenshires’ collection of freestanding display units (FSDU} for retail.

Due to damage to print quality caused by mops on paper-based boards, polypropylene trays were being used at the base of display stands. Antalis worked with Greenshires to find a sustainable alternative to this substrate. The firm recommended MopGuard, a recycled, 100% recyclable polyester sheet designed for this very purpose.

Commenting on the project, Paul Neale, product manager for visual communications at Antalis UK says: “We pride ourselves on leading the way in offering customers the best possible innovations. Mop trays are crucial in busy retail environments such as supermarkets to protect corrugated FSDU displays against knocks, spills, and floor cleaning. It is also of course a much more environmentally friendly option, over thermoplastic polymers.”

The ongoing plastic fight

Also producing sustainable solutions to the short-lived Point of Sale (POS) display products in retail, is Swanline Paper and Board. The firm is going plastic free and has pledged to remove all plastic substrates from its product portfolio by 2020.

On its website, the firm addresses its environmental stance, stating: “At Swanline Paper and Board, we consider the environment in everything we do. We believe that businesses are responsible for achieving good environmental practice and operating in a sustainable manner.

Swanline Paper and Board is keen to stress to its customers that eco-alternatives don’t need to cost more

“We are therefore committed to reducing our environmental impact and continually improving our environmental performance as an integral and fundamental part of our business strategy and operating methods.”

All products are eco-friendly and cost neutral and the company puts an emphasis on the fact that opting for an environmentally friendly option does not have to set you back more.

In line with its planet-friendly strategy, all waste created from Swanline Paper and Board’s sheeter is recycled. The firm has installed solar panels in order to reduce costs and CO2 emissions and all fibre-based products are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited.

The newest product to the firm’s eco range is the Cygnus Eco board. Launched in November 2018, the board is an environmentally friendly display board range that is 100% fibre-based yet resistant to moisture. The board was designed to replace plastic-based alternatives without impacting cost or performance.

Cygnus Eco Board is a solution to foam boards, foam PVC, fluted polypropylene, PE coated materials, and other plastic composites. The board is suitable for offset, screen and UV flatbed digital print techniques and can be digitally or die-cut.

Commenting on the product – which was the second environmentally friendly range to be launched last year by the firm – Ross Griffin, managing director of Swanline Paper & Board says: “We are extremely excited to share this new range as it offers an environmentally friendly alternative for numerous packaging and POS applications.

“Many people assume there will be a compromise in using an environmentally friendly board; either it will be more expensive than, or not as durable as, plastic alternatives. However, we have put this board through its paces and have conducted a wide range of trials over the last 12 months. We know this board can withstand extreme weather conditions and be used for a variety of applications.”

An unlikely suspect

Aluminium is a popular substrate in a number of applications, due to its sturdy, durable, rust-free composition. One thing that some may not be aware of is that the trusty material is also a great sustainable solution. The 100% recyclable material is a key driver of Europe’s transition to a sustainable economy, according to the Federation of Aluminium Consumers in Europe (FACE).

Aluminium is a sturdy 100% recyclable substrate

The federation highlights the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) as playing a fundamental role in encouraging the aluminium industry to achieve high levels of sustainable production. The ASI’s Performance Standards act as a benchmark for aluminium producers to increase their sustainability standards and obtain certification for their efforts.

Aluminium producers are opting for sustainable methods by choosing to sign wind power contracts to power its aluminium plants. Russian aluminium firm, Rusal, has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry, which it attributes to its access to clean renewable hydropower in Siberia.

Rusal’s ALLOW aluminium is made from renewable hydropower and was designed to help its customers to reduce the carbon footprint of their own products.

The reduction of CO2 emissions and the protection of the environment is at the heart of Rusal’s operations. The firm has set itself a goal of at least 95% renewable hydropower or other carbon-free power generation by 2025.

In a time of growing consumer demand and a greater understanding of the impact running a business can have on the environment, Pro Carton’s Hitchin concludes the importance of environmentally friendly policies: “The prevailing consumer trend toward more environmentally friendly packs means that if shoppers have a choice, they are much more likely to choose the sustainable option, even if it costs a bit more. This only further highlights that businesses cannot afford to ignore consumer sentiment; it is only a matter of time before consumers start to consider – and actively choose – companies making environmentally-conscious decisions in all areas of their business.

O Factoid: According to the World Economic Forum, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050. O

“Any retailer or brand that is not putting environmental concerns at the heart of their proposition are very likely to take a hit, with a resounding 91% of European consumers saying they’d choose to spend their money with a supermarket or shop that was proactively encouraging suppliers to adopt more environmentally friendly forms of policies.”

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