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PRINT IT Reseller Magazine Issue 110 – Meeting Customers’ Green Aspirations

Almost three quarters of print channel companies surveyed by Quocirca for its Channel Sustainability Study 2023, reported that they have some form of company sustainability strategy in place, with more than half stating that the dominant driver for channel sustainability initiatives is to meet customer expectations.

PrintIT Reseller: How have you developed your business’ sustainability strategy in 2023 in order to meet customers’ expectations?

Mark Goulding, Managed Print Director, Urban Network: We work closely with clients to understand their specific sustainability goals and expectations, not just to replace them on a like-for like basis. We work with vendors with innovative products who are determined to make their products more sustainable.

Liz Budd, Head of Marketing, First Copy Corporation Ltd: At First Copy, we’re embarking on a new carbon audit this year to push forward our sustainability strategy. We’ve been making changes for several years. A couple of the more recent changes include our car fleet going electric three years ago and starting a tree planting partnership with Ecologi 18 months ago. We are bringing everything together and using new tools to monitor our progress and set goals for the future.

Our vision is to ‘lead the way in green print and technology and guide and inspire others to do the same’. It makes sense that we should push forward our own strategy in order to support our customers with theirs; we don’t want to be a reseller that says ‘MPS is good for the planet’ and leave it there – we want to implement change.

Andy Ratcliffe, Managing Director, Key Digital: We are continually planning and making improvements to our business on every front, actioning them as soon as possible. This kaizen approach keeps us at the forefront of the industry and allows us to deliver the best possible service to our customers.

Buyer-vendor relationships are not as precious as they once were, delivery of the service as expected is paramount. We operate as a lean business that generates little waste in order to be as efficient as possible, the benefit touchpoints are endless.

Mark Bailey, Managing Director, EBM: Taking sustainability seriously has been a core ethos at EBM since 2011. Now 13 years later we have seen this approach grow and adapt massively in the wider market which is great to see.

Our customer-focused approach has developed our sustainability strategy since inception. Initially this was ensuring EBM was taking responsibility for its own environmental impact, for example becoming carbon neutral. Providing peace of mind with our customers that doing business with EBM doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment. Secondly, we took that one step further delivering carbon neutral printing via our Green Print Programme to our customers. As a growing business, in 2023, we are going to continue with our pledges of carbon neutrality and are focusing on offsetting even more print usage than ever!

David Smith, Marketing Director, Xeretec: Some time ago we recognised that customer management teams are looking for real quantifiable returns for their investments in IT. Sustainability is one of our five core IT lifecycle management customer ‘outcomes’ categories, and features in not only our supplier selection criteria, but also in what real returns a customer will yield from an engagement with our organisation.

At the very least we know that a significant number of customers are looking for support in their own objectives with carbon net zero, and we have developed programmes designed to provide not only a net zero position, but a net-negative offering. We have reflected this clear increase in relevance across all the markets where we operate by enhancing our own plans with outsourced expert guidance and tracking, together with a much more detailed explanation to customers on what elements contained within our offerings deliver best-in-class supply chain sustainability, and which choices bring maximum sustainability gains.

Terence Hargreaves, Sales & Marketing This year, Director, DMS Group: sustainability is not just a ‘nice-to-have,’ but a central facet of our corporate identity and value proposition. Recognising the heightened consumer demand for environmentally-conscious solutions, we have embedded sustainability into every aspect of our business model. Through meticulous environmental impact assessments and consultation with independent sustainability experts, we have ensured our operations exceed regulatory requirements and meet evolving customer expectations. An internal ‘Green Committee’ monitors these initiatives to ensure ongoing relevance and impact.

PrintIT Reseller: Two in five channel companies said that sustainability criteria feature in some or all the RFPs they respond to. How has the decision-making landscape changed in 2023 and how important is it to ensure you include measurable environmental benefits when pitching for business?

Mark Goulding: The print arena has changed, and environmental issues are now a real key talking point when discussing new equipment. Waste and recycling are far more in the buyer’s eyes than it ever was before, as is the sustainability of the product.

Liz Budd: I am surprised it was only two in five. We regularly receive proposal requests that feature sustainability, and that’s not limited to corporate requests. Many smaller businesses are driven by sustainability too, and we’ve seen an increase in demand for information about recycling consumables, sourcing more environmentally-friendly resources, energy efficiency and the circular (or otherwise) nature of devices.

That demand is wider than the manufacturer; businesses want to know what we are doing for the community and how our OEM manages the manufacturing supply chain, for example.

Very few RFPs are yet asking for devices and services that measure up against specific carbon targets or KWh/ wk ceilings, but we suspect that time is coming, and we’re preparing for when it does.

Andy Ratcliffe: We are seeing sustainability having a greater weighting in RFPs’ requirements, more so in the last year or two. Many organisations are now having to report their environmental data and are targeted to make annual improvements.

As such, measurable data is a common requirement with energy use being the most requested. We then go a step further and can calculate the overall print impact, including paper usage and consumable usage. This can then serve as a useful ‘real world’ impact tool that goes into our customer’s ESG reporting.

That information then works as excellent case study material, which a growing of prospective businesses ask for. They want to know what is possible and how they can apply similar sustainability initiatives into their business and what that impact might look like for them.

Mark Bailey: In 2023, the business landscape has witnessed a significant shift towards greater emphasis on sustainability and environmental considerations. In the SME market in which we specialise, I don’t believe this has been driven necessary from board level in RFPs as a checklist. Rather than from the user level up, where everyday users are being more aware and changing their attitudes. We have seen that in many circumstances users want to know their employer is using sustainable products and suppliers. This is driving the purchasing behaviour of management to take sustainability seriously.

SMEs need to balance the cost vs benefit argument when considering supplier. Because EBM has a rich history in driving change for the better, especially in the sustainability area. We’re proud to put our sustainability message at the heart of our solution. Driving purchasing behaviour and having the conversations upfront with our customers.

David Smith: Almost every RFP we complete contains a highly relevant sustainability requirement, and these are now scored with increasing priority. You need to be on top of your subject and recommending the right solutions to maximise your chances of winning future net new customer contracts.

Terence Hargreaves: There’s been a significant shift in the landscape of RFPs; they no longer focus solely on cost, features, or service quality. Increasing numbers of RFPs now require comprehensive sections on environmental stewardship.

For DMS Digital Group, this is less of a challenge and more an opportunity. We’ve incorporated a range of quantifiable environmental benefits in our solutions, such as reduced energy consumption, extended product lifecycles, and waste minimisation. This ‘Green ROI’ is now an essential part of our value proposition when approaching potential clients.

PrintIT Reseller: More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents to the Quocirca study said customers are showing strong or moderate interest in sustainable offerings, and 92% say that customers are prepared to pay more for solutions with stronger sustainability, at least some of the time. Has this been your experience, or with the cost of living crisis, is cost still king?

Mark Goulding: Cost isn’t king. It is definitely in our experience the messaging and the product sustainability that are key points for buyers. Energy costs are on everyone’s minds so anything that helps with that is also sought by businesses.

Liz Budd: Every customer is different, but rising costs mean a cheaper option is still sometimes preferred over a greener one.

The magic happens when we can offer a more sustainable option that is also a more competitive one, pricewise. Part of this comes down to a responsibility on behalf of a reseller to discuss the total cost of ownership (TCO) and be clear about all costs associated with taking on new services and solutions. What appears a cheaper option on paper isn’t a more affordable option over the course of a contract if the device isn’t energy efficient vs the alternative, for example.

Resellers need to talk to more people in businesses to see the value of a more sustainable solution – marketers, premises managers, and environment teams working toward different goals that all add value to a solution.

Andy Ratcliffe: At Key Digital, we emphasise value over cost. Customers are now placing a value on sustainability and how it adds to their ESG credentials. They will also have to present the actions they are taking to lessen environmental impact to their prospective customers, so it is vital that they value it.

Cost differences tend to be negligible in the market these days, so presenting additional value can prove very advantageous, be that sustainability, productivity, or increased workflow efficiencies.

Mark Bailey: Let’s face it, the first response when anyone is purchasing a service or product is costs. Does this service fit how much I am willing to pay? What we have found is that the wider market isn’t very good at explaining any more than CPC and model speed. Forcing a new customer down the price argument.

When EBM onboards a customer, we are very transparent and open in our approach. Whilst the cost of living has been noticeable, once you have really found out what’s behind the customer’s purchasing decision. Commonly it’s not just price. Customers show great interest in the sustainable offerings. Whether it be devices that are heat-free or ones with long-life parts. Customers care about being ethical and knowing their decisions directly lead to a better environment.

David Smith: It is not our experience that customers are prepared to pay more for sustainability. The market is exceptionally aggressive and competitive, with more and more suppliers chasing fewer and smaller opportunities. It is safe to say customers in a market like this expect very strong commercial offerings, that come complete with top notch environmental credentials.

Terence Hargreaves: Our experience aligns well with the study’s findings. Despite an escalated sensitivity to price owing to the cost of living crisis, a substantial segment of the market views sustainability as a non-negotiable criterion. Indeed, many are willing to pay a modest premium for solutions that are environmentally responsible. However, ‘value’ is a multi-dimensional concept that extends beyond cost or sustainability, and our strategy aims to achieve an optimum balance of both.

PrintIT Reseller: How are your OEM/distribution partners helping you to differentiate with sustainable products, solutions and services, and could they do more?

Mark Goulding: The partners we use are active in working on sustainability, which is key to our decision to work with them. We just drive home the message.

Liz Budd: On the whole, we’re happy with the support we get and the focus on sustainability that comes from our OEM, but manufacturers can always do more!

Across the industry, claims about carbon neutrality, energy efficiency, recyclability, and the like aren’t always easy to verify. It can be difficult for an end-user to compare and contrast brands against specific measures, and we’d like to see more transparency there.

There is a tendency from some manufacturers to focus on one particular aspect of a ‘green’ product, but everyone needs to work towards a world where you don’t have to choose to be energy efficient or have recyclable toner, for example.

We’re at a turning point where businesses will want to know more about the whole package of services and solutions, including digital footprints relating to cloud technology – policy and ethics are both going to lead us down that path.

Andy Ratcliffe: On the print side of the business, we often lead with Epson’s heat-free technology range where best suited – by far the most sustainable products in the marketplace. We also have access to Ricoh’s range of devices which are the most sustainable laser products in the marketplace.

They each have great software products that we can set up to default print drivers to duplex print, allow PIN release printing to reduce waste and also display user education notifications on the operating panels. User education is key to businesses reaching their sustainability goals as they endeavour to win the hearts and minds of their employees to make conscious decisions to reduce wastage.

As long as our partners continue to innovate, we will all be successful.

Mark Bailey: EBM has taken the decision to only work with ethical partners that are at the forefront of tackling environmental issues. When you see world events such wildfires on the news, it’s even more hard hitting and apparent that everyone, customers, suppliers, the whole supply chain needs to change in some way. No matter how small it is, every little bit of change will help in some way. Therefore, I believe we should all have the continuous improvement mindset. What can we do to improve? Even if it’s a marginal gain, all those add up.

David Smith: Certain manufacturers understand the value of this area of technology, and they offer very good details and programmes designed to ameliorate the customer experience. It is fair to say this is not always easy to pick out from the raft of data provided, but if you take time to become subject matter experts you are able to elevate the information and relay it to customers. Distribution focuses on getting the right product, available, at the right price.

Terence Hargreaves: Our partnerships play a crucial role in enabling us to offer a comprehensive suite of sustainable options. From eco-friendly packaging to energy-efficient hardware, such collaborations are integral to our sustainability efforts. While we commend the existing initiatives, there is always scope for further action. We advocate for more standardised methodologies for measuring and certifying the environmental merits of our collective offerings, thus facilitating more informed consumer choices.