The Board recognises its obligations to protect the environment and is committed both to achieving required environmental standards across all the activities of the Group and to minimising its environmental impact. In 2019 a new Environmental Policy Statement was issued. The management teams in both the North American and UK businesses assess and monitor the potential impact of operations on the environment. Sustainability, energy consumption and waste management are key areas of focus.
Over the last few years environmental and sustainability initiatives have become much more important in our day-to-day business operations. Our physical operations cover office, warehouse and postal activities.
Internally, we have a committee on sustainability in the Oshkosh business under the acronym SMART – (Sustainability. Making A Renewable Tomorrow). This initiative has been supported enthusiastically throughout the business. Many projects and ideas have come to fruition, varying in scope and nature, but all with an emphasis on sustainability. Some examples are:
- Use of our in-house social media platform to engage our team members in SMART initiatives and discussions. This has proved to be the ideal forum for our SMART team to initiate engagement on what 4imprint has done and can do in the future to improve sustainability.
- Full roll-out of a major upgrade in the recycling of waste materials across the business, taking advantage of advanced single stream recycling capability. This has had a beneficial effect in terms of diversion of waste from the landfill: trash pickups from the distribution centre have been halved and landfill waste per employee at the main office significantly reduced. We estimate that in less than a year our initiatives have kept 768 cubic yards of waste from going to landfill.
- Attention to the small details. Small changes implemented across our facilities can together produce a positive environmental impact. For example, condiment packets, such as ketchup, have been replaced with larger bottles; plastic drinking straws and stirrers have been replaced with reusable or recyclable versions, and lights and water faucets have been attached to motion sensors.
- Installation of LED lighting at the distribution centre, with the LED fixtures using around 50% less energy than the fluorescent bulbs that they replaced. We estimate that our energy usage has reduced by 480,000 kWh, even with more equipment and more burn time. LED fixtures are essentially maintenance-free, last around five times longer and have a much smaller environmental impact than fluorescent bulbs.
- In 2018 we launched a recycling project to turn embroidery backing waste product into fuel pellets. This initiative gains momentum as the scale of our embroidery operation grows. We currently estimate that this initiative diverts around 30 metric tons of waste from the landfill on an annualised basis.
- We remain involved in several other initiatives, including the ‘Adopt a Highway’ programme, (clean-up of waste along an ‘adopted’ stretch of highway), and celebration of Earth Day/Arbor Day by giving our team members a choice of a seed packet or a tree seedling.
Some of our Oshkosh-based team members are engaged with the Green Masters Program promoted by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, and in 2019 our SMART leaders presented details of 4imprint’s sustainability journey at a WSBC event. We are pleased to have achieved the ‘Green Professional’ designation under the WSBC’s Green Masters Program Certification.
In North America, printed marketing materials such as catalogues use paper sourced from sustainable forests, conforming to Forestry Stewardship Council requirements. In the UK our catalogue mailings meet the Royal Mail’s Responsible Mail criteria, based on sourcing paper from recycled/sustainable sources, elimination of poly-wrap and robust suppression procedures.
Our product range is very diverse, covering many different materials, substrates, manufacturing processes and imprinting techniques. We are aware that some of the products that we sell are produced using plastics and other potentially non-recyclable materials. However, sustainability considerations feature at several levels in the product decisions of our supply chain and merchandising teams.
Consistent with our corporate purpose, our products are designed to promote our customers’ messages time after time through repeated usage and impressions. In other words, products should be lasting rather than throw-away. Multi-use products such as reusable shopping tote bags are a good example. Only 1.5% of our revenue is from products such as sweets, chocolate and catering supplies that would be considered disposable. We are, however, aware that there are many opportunities to make sustainability improvements across all product categories. From ‘scrap’ management in apparel through to elimination of poly-bag usage across many categories and replacement with more sustainable packaging options, our priority is to identify and deliver a number of projects each year that are realistic, measurable and will make a difference. These initiatives are driven with reference to one or both of the following themes:
Curate and educate: We aim to provide our customers with a curated, easy to access range of products with sustainable characteristics, allowing them to make informed decisions over the items they purchase. This will include:
- Partnering with our suppliers on ‘Green’ initiatives in the supply chain
- Publicising products or brands with strong sustainability credentials
- Working with our suppliers to increase the availability of ‘Eco-friendly’ options and highlighting those products to our customers
- Being vigilant and disciplined in rejecting products with false ‘Eco’ claims
- Educating our customers through placing emphasis on items that will be used many times over during a long product lifetime
The 3 R’s: We will be guided by these environmentally friendly principles as we assess and evolve our product range:
- Reduce: Less raw material, packaging, waste, scrap and pollution
- Reuse: Find ways for products not utilised or at the end of their useful life to be repurposed or returned into the product stream to avoid landfill
- Recycle: Inclusion, where possible, of recyclable products and products manufactured from recycled content, along with information on what and how to recycle
The importance of sustainability factors varies from customer to customer, depending on their product or marketing requirements but also on local recycling facilities and regulations. We aspire to make it easy for customers to segment products from a sustainability or ‘eco’ perspective – for example, website search functionality by recycling code, ability to be recycled, produced from organic materials, biodegradability, or manufactured using recycled materials. By way of example:
- Our largest product category, apparel, is potentially the most harmful to the environment from a downstream manufacturing perspective due to water consumption and the possibility of poor effluent management. More than 60% of 4imprint’s apparel revenue is sourced from suppliers and brands who are actively involved in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and committed to products with a high sustainability rating.
- The plastic water bottle category is a large and important category. Around 60% of revenue for these products is in the most widely accepted #1 or #2 recycling categories. This includes our own-label reFresh® brand.