Friday, December 19, 2014
EcoFolio is a French state-accredited nonprofit organisation that is responsible for paper collection and recycling throughout France. How cool is that! This group is encouraging businesses and consumers to recycle more paper by making it easier and more efficient, and working with all parts of the supply chain to make this possible.
The group started in 2006 with the intention of getting French paper recycling rates to 55% by 2016 and 60% by 2018. In France this has been as much about changing behaviours and attitudes as it is about raising volumes. Ecofolio recognises that the two are intimately linked, and that cooperation and collaboration are the cornerstone of its strategy. So far its results look promising.
Links have been established between various governing bodies, including accreditation agencies and local municipalities. This includes the French ministries of Ecology and Economy as well as regulatory bodies. Ecofolio itself has an executive board with governance shared by various paper producers, ranging from copying and graphics papers through to newsprint. Between 2006 and 2012 Ecofolio has allocated €230 million to 1,094 local authorities representing 98% of French people. It has received an annual “eco-contribution” which sounds a bit like a tax, from 11,678 “paper-generating entities” and involved 67% of the paper industry’s companies in the Ecofolio work.
This group is working at grass roots to improve paper sorting, collection and recycling systems. They provide advice and ideas to help homes, businesses and local authorities with the operational aspects of recycling. They also conduct educational seminars and awareness-building campaigns to help French citizens better to understand more about how to develop a circular economy that reconciles ecology and economic growth. And they want to improve the national record.
Ecofolio found that paper collection costs varied by over 500% across various towns and systems, and that municipalities spent some €9.1 billion on waste management in 2010. As a result Ecofolio’s efforts, the French are now recycling more paper and are generally more aware of the process and the importance of paper waste management and recycling.
What is more interesting is that this is a cooperation between government and an NGO, and that the Ecofolio work is relevant for the European Union in general, not just France. According to a McKinsey study published in 2012 cost savings of between €380 billion and €630 billion would accrue to EU manufacturing, if circular economy practises such as Ecofolio advocates were adopted. That’s an awful lot of money available for some relatively straightforward actions. The trick is to get ecological initiatives to work at local level, and to make sure that all links in the supply chain are up to speed and motivated. Time to talk to Ecofolio perhaps?
Friday, December 12, 2014
It’s amazing what money and motivation can do, especially when investors’ funds are at stake. The Climate Disclosure Project (CDP) helps 767 investment companies managing US$92 trillion in assets to assess the risks of climate change to their portfolios. The bottom line is understanding how environmental factors influence risks that could negatively impact money and its performance. Risk factors include such things as greenhouse gas emissions, energy, water use and investments into infrastructure and how they improve or impede economic competitiveness. With so much money at stake you can be pretty sure that every effort will be made to protect these companies’ investments. Even better, the CDP estimates that carbon reduction initiatives generate a 33% return, which it values at $15 billion worldwide.
Many of the companies who are part of the CDP project are big customers for the graphic arts. They include media organizations such as the Pearson Group and News Corp, big brands such as Eurostar and Fiat, and retailers such as Burberry and Marks & Spencer Group. There are also a lot of big packaging buyers in the mix such as Unilever. CDP gathers environmental impact data from companies whose complex supply chains inevitably include print. The primary goal for this work is to protect invested capital and reduce investment risk, so it really is all about money.
However the CDP recognises that financial athleticism in an uncertain environment and changing climate requires a bigger plan to transform how the world does business. This involves collecting data that will help companies change their business processes to be more environmentally friendly. Companies are encouraged through the CDP data not only to respond to dangerous climate change but also to take steps to help prevent it and protect the planet’s natural resources.
CDP works with thousands of companies around the world, gathering data that helps large corporations and governments come up with big ideas and strategies to tackle climate change. Chances are that many of these companies are users of print, which makes it even more urgent that players in media supply chain understand how their business and production processes influence environmental impact.
We all understand the power that money wields, but maybe we don’t fully appreciate the power of factors driving its nurture and protection. The CDP helps investors to minimise associated risks, but their work is also helping improve capital allocation, making sure that money is spend wisely to support long-term prosperity which depends on a healthy planet and climate. Such a long view is a far cry from the usual perspective which goes for profit at any cost.
Friday, December 12, 2014
We’ve heard back from the Danish government on why they think taxing print is a good idea. But their response raises more questions than it answers and exemplifies one of the fundamental problems facing environmental questions: ignorance.
The Ministry of Taxation has told us that the “The purpose of the advertising-tax is to reduce the quantity of printed door-to-door matters and will be for benefit of the environment”. The tax is 0.67 US cents per kilo printed, so a direct mail printer printing 700 tonnes per year will have to pay $469,000 in tax. The tax reduces by a half for print carrying the European EcoLabel, itself a flawed specification.
The Danish government reckons to raise DKK340 million per year in taxes, which is about $57 million and a trivial amount for a country with a GDP of $331 billion. They also expect the tax take to go down year to year, as the cost of print becomes untenable for media buyers. The social and economic cost to the country will certainly dwarf the income this tax raises, but that doesn’t seem to be a consideration in this hazy picture.
The tax covers “all forms of distributed advertising brochures”, with a few exemptions, such as telephone directories. Creative print buyers who want to use print can dress up telephone directories in all sorts of ways, especially if they want to reach very local audiences. In fact this could be an opportunity for digital printers who want to use variable data to create highly local, advertising driven publications. The question is how the Danish government defines a telephone directory. Does it have to be on yellow paper and only use black ink?
The more worrying justification the Danes have for this tax is that reducing the amount of print will benefit the environment. Print’s sustainability is proven as is its effectiveness and popularity. The view that print is bad for the environment is superficial and ill-considered. It isn’t print that is bad for the environment, it is waste. The Danish government should be encouraging better waste management and reduction, and environmental awareness. Responsible use of print should be the focus, not demonising it on the basis of uninformed environmental misconceptions.
This is a slippery slope that risks restricting information access and the ability of Danish companies to promote themselves and engage with customers. This tax constrains media choice and assumes electronic media for information access. A tax that restricts media channels is effectively a tax on information and knowledge. This cannot be healthy for a free and democratic society. The Danish government expects to pass the bill early 2015, with the law coming into effect mid-2015 although we were advised that “the Ministry of Taxation is assessing the development on the market for door-to-door matters and the impact on the expected tax-revenue.” Perhaps there is some hope of good sense prevailing, but don’t bank on it.
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
In much of the developing world no one seems to care much about pollution. In Beijing recently the government hosted the Asia Pacific Economic Conference. It wanted to show Beijing, a fascinating and strangely beautiful city, at its best. To help international leaders to breathe, the government gave workers five days off, shut down the factories and only allowed cars on the road on alternate days according to whether they had odd or even number plates. The result was clear blue skies and air you could inhale without coughing, proving that motivation is the biggest driver for change. Once the guests had gone, it was back to the normal dense stench.
Willingness to change takes money as well as motivation, which is why over two years ago the Green Climate Fund was set up. The goal is to help developing nations cut emissions and help thwart climate change. When it was first set up, the fund had less than a million US dollars half of which was allocated to costs associated with getting it start. Now less than thirty months later thirty countries have pledged $9.3 billion. This is a lot of money raised in a pretty short space of time, but how will it get used to support changed business practises in developing countries?
Printers and publishers will have some options to get funding, particularly if they are small to medium sized enterprises. The fund can provide money to such firms in situations where they have no access to conventional financial resources. This all means money to improve their environmental footprint.
Money is also available to small and medium sized firms who want to develop particular green projects or increase existing capacity for reducing emissions. Another option is providing grants for projects. The Fund will also include private sector companies in developing countries who want to support emissions reduction such as insurance companies and local banks and investment funds. In fact there appears to be numerous ways to claim funding if you are in a developing country and have concrete plans for reducing your emissions with a view to contributing to climate change mitigation.
This is all good stuff but printers and publishers are amongst the large cohort of companies in many countries who face severe constraints when it comes to making a change. Apart from the cost, a problem in all countries, there is the difficulty of claiming funds earmarked for businesses committed to environmental impact reduction.
There is another massive barrier to improving private sector engagement with programmes like the Green Climate Fund. Information gaps like not being aware of technological advances, or what resources are required, can lead to failure. In the graphic arts industry we are lucky enough to have a strong and plural trade press, however there are still too many companies reluctant to improve their knowledge. It’s time they looked over the parapets to see what help is available to support their efforts, and it’s time for funding organisations, such as the Green Climate Fund and governments in the developed world, to make funding applications simple. That way more of us might be able to invest in green technologies and especially in clean energy. Then maybe something might start to get done to fix that lethal Beijing smog.
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
In January Danish Members of Parliament (MPs) will vote on draft legislation to tax commercial print. The tax will make print cost 25-50% more and is being imposed to discourage print’s use, on the basis that it is bad for the environment. If it goes through, this tax will severely damage Danish businesses and according to the Danish printers’ trade body cost some 600 print and supply chain jobs. The Danish printer’s association is working hard to educate the people involved, however they have had limited success so far. It seems that the potential income for the government trumps arguments for print’s sustainability, the need to keep people employed and for businesses in the media supply chain to thrive.
Denmark imports its printing papers and has a history of taxing goods that it does not produce. Its tax on new cars, all of which are imported, can be up to a sciatic 180%. The government wants to encourage the use of public transport, but this tax is a great little earner. Danish taxes on paper and plastic packaging and beverage containers are also very high. All of these are about getting tax income under the guise of protecting the environment and mostly they are indeed useful environmental protection tools. The same cannot be said of a print tax. And Denmark isn’t really achieving its environmental goals: Denmark is fourth behind Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the World Wildlife Fund’s ranking of per capita ecological footprints.
According to Per Kaae Hansen, senior advisor at the Graphic Association Denmark “Knowledge about the environmental impacts from the alternatives to the printed communication are only to a limited degree taken into consideration by the government and when the issue is addressed it is based on documentation with a low scientific quality.” His group has commissioned the University of Aalborg to review four Life Cycle Analyses comparing printed and electronic communication and will present the results to the government prior to the vote.
It is surprising that so little fuss has been made beyond Denmark about this intended tax. In neighbouring Sweden the view is that it is madness, but nothing much has been done to dissuade the Danes even though this law will impact Swedish print service providers. The Confederation of European Paper Industries in Brussels isn’t much bothered because Denmark has no paper mills. Two Sides, a paper industry lobbying group has not challenged the move because, rather curiously “it is not really in our remit”. We are still waiting for further information from the Danish Ministry for the Environment explaining its position.
Taxing print is shortsighted in the extreme. This tax is an existential threat to many small businesses and employers and sets a dangerous precedent for other countries. The supply chain supporting print media creation and production will also suffer, if media buyers stop using print. Given the fragile state of many European economies, including the Danish one, this is a very risky strategy for Denmark.