For Graham Pitts, group managing director of the creative design and print agency KGK Genix, it was the pandemic that prompted him to rethink how he runs his business.
His company specialises in designing and creating brand activations, retail displays, event graphics and exhibition stands throughout Europe, and when retail shut and events stopped, 65% of its business disappeared. Working primarily with blue-chip clients, Pitts had seen how many businesses were working towards the 2030 sustainable development goals, including the 2050 net zero emissions target, and how they were looking for eco suppliers. Boosting his company’s environmental credentials seemed like the obvious path to take. “We had lots of time to think about how we would recover and set ourselves apart,” he says. “Coming up with new ways of doing the same things means we stand out from the crowd and won’t get left behind.”
Historically, printing businesses haven’t been particularly sustainable – especially those such as KGK Genix, which often create large-scale one-use products. “Our industry is typically throwaway,” Pitts explains. “We tend to produce graphics for a short space of time, such as a promotion period. Often, things can’t be used multiple times due to dates, so inevitably the product gets destroyed in some way – often it’s incinerated or ends up in landfill.”
Determined to find new ways to operate sustainably, the company has spent the last few years taking meaningful steps to reduce its carbon footprint.
Its first port of call was a carbon emissions assessment by an external specialist. This annual checkup serves two purposes; first, it allows the company to measure its impact and see how the sustainable changes it has made are helping; second, it means it is able to offset what it cannot reduce, and consequently achieve carbon-neutral status.
From the assessment, Pitts and his team were able to establish the key areas where they could reduce their carbon footprint. One quick and simple switch was office lighting. “We have changed everything from fluorescent to LED, which is much more sustainable,” he says. Travel has also been an area of focus, and with Covid leading to online meetings – which Pitts cites as “one of the few positives to the pandemic” – the company has managed to strip business trips back to the bare minimum. Local journeys have also gone green, with the company switching to electric vehicles. “It’s an advantage from an environmental perspective, but it also makes financial sense due to company car tax,” says Pitts.
One of the most important areas of innovation is the materials it prints on, and KGK Genix is working closely with its suppliers to make sure it is at the forefront of this technology – something Pitts admits is not without its challenges. “We’re working with manufacturers to test sustainable materials and products,” he says. “As a solutions provider, it’s up to us to show our clients a new product, as they won’t necessarily know about it, being an end user. It’s difficult at the moment because sustainable materials are more expensive, and often they don’t perform as well as their non-sustainable counterparts. We have to weed out the ones that fail, and also try to develop materials that work really well and are cheaper – or at least the same price to bridge the gap.”
When it comes to making the business more sustainable, Pitts is putting his money where his mouth is. Printing on sustainable materials often requires a specialist printer – which involves a chunky investment. To do this, KGK Genix applied for a Coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS) loan from Let’s do Business Finance, administered by the British Business Bank, which funded 20% of the cost of a new machine. Like so many of his sustainable upgrades, Pitts has found the new printer is benefiting his bottom line as well as the environment. “The new machine uses 75% less electricity than the one it replaced – that’s a considerable saving,” he says. What’s more, Pitts says the new machine is “better quality, faster, and we can print on a bigger range of sustainable materials. It ticks every box, it was a no-brainer.”
For companies that require regular displays, KGK Genix now offers 360-degree solutions – meaning clients can choose a closed-loop package where KGK Genix swaps over printing materials and disposes of waste in an environmentally friendly way. As hoped, such sustainable solutions – alongside KGK Genix’s move towards net zero – are proving popular with clients. “Compared to five years ago, we are seeing much more demand for sustainability credentials,” Pitts says. “Because we’re carbon neutral it puts a tick in the right box.”
Making these sustainable changes is certainly good news for the environment, but for Pitts, it also makes good financial sense – something that is particularly pertinent in the current climate. While there are upfront costs to investing in more energy-efficient systems – many of the savings are noticeable straight away, and Pitts is confident that in the long term it’s the right thing to do. “There is a monthly saving to be had, but it’s also an investment in the future,” he says. “When talking to clients, if it doesn’t cost more, everyone goes for the more sustainable option – and the more people who adopt this thinking, the easier and cheaper it will be.”
If you’d like help to green – and grow – your business, the British Business Bank should be your first port of call. Dedicated to making finance markets work better for smaller businesses, it provides free financial tools and expert information to get you moving in the right direction. Find out more at british-business-bank.co.uk/finance-hub/sustainability