4th Oct 2023
3 Min Read

Print media and sustainability: it’s never just black and white

IC & Engagement

Physical media might be in decline, but as clients look for more sustainable communications, is the beloved magazine really set to become a historical curiosity? We got together an expert team to dive into the past, present and future of print.

Digitisation has changed the way we communicate forever, prompting many to question the traditional formats and channels that comms teams have leaned on for so long. It’s a shift that’s mirrored in the decline of widespread print media.

For the print industry, it seemed the end was nigh. After all, digital domination shows no signs of slowing. But despite its detractors, the collapse of print never came. Instead, it’s taken on a different role: something altogether more meaningful.

Dive into the highlights from our round table discussion with marketing manager Kate Went, procurement and partnerships manager Richard Bibby, consultant and sustainability champion Harry Grout, former head of creative Tony Beresford and sales and marketing director at sustainable print house Resource Asif Choudry, as we decode the past to predict the future of print.

Has there been a shift away from physical print in the comms space?

Tony Beresford: “10 years ago, [the industry] was very much all about magazines. The internet was there, but it wasn’t being used in a way to communicate effectively. It was there to house PDFs, or to find out where to book your holidays. But about five years ago, we started to see things shift.”

Tony’s talking about how communicators started to realise the full potential of platforms such as Yammer and Workplace, and began tailoring their copy and visuals to make the biggest impact for digital users.

Richard Bibby: “The shift has been quite astronomical: a lot of people are going towards digital solutions. I think in some ways, it’s a bit of a bandwagon that people jump on. And I think it’s fair to say that print got a bit of a bad rap because it’s seen as very unsustainable, which isn’t necessarily true.”

What are the sustainability challenges for print?

Harry Grout: “We need to consider it in terms of a circular economy: [a magazine’s] impact doesn’t end as soon as it goes to the person’s home or is put in staff rooms. We need to consider how we can bring that back in to be reused, recycled or repaired. That’s the thing that I would like to see a step change in – a communication on how we can all make print more sustainable.”

Asif Choudry: “If anyone is using print, there’s absolutely no excuse today not to be sustainable – and to do it ethically. What that means for comms people is that you’ve got to look for suppliers and your scope three carbon emissions. Spend time looking at your supply chain and asking more searching questions.”

Does print have a role to play in our sustainability efforts?

Asif: “Everyone considers digital as far more sustainable than print. I can’t disagree with that at all. But the balance of the debate wasn’t there: nobody was talking about digital or e-waste. What’s the carbon footprint of sending thousands of emails and thousands of replies?”

Richard: “Customers are asking us for FSC paper or for environmentally friendly measures. That’s almost the norm now. Anybody who touches print is asking those questions and they want you to know the answers. If printers don’t keep up with that development, then they’ll fall by the wayside.”

Print is here to stay

Now more than ever, the pressure is on suppliers and print advocates to make processes and products more environmentally friendly than ever before. Print media may have got a bad reputation in this area, given the misconception that magazines have a role to play in deforestation, for example.

But as technology advances and organisations begin to recognise the impact they’re making on the world around them, change is coming. Though print may carry a higher cost, it weighs considerably less on the conscience thanks to vegetable-based inks, efficient digital printing and carbon offset production. More importantly, there’s a growing consumer demand: according to Nielsen, 66 per cent of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands.

And that’s before we consider the cut-through print brings in a world where audiences are increasingly connected and overwhelmed through digital channels. Print has proven its worth over the last few years, marking itself as an essential channel for anyone trying to land a message and engage audiences.

So when we question whether print is really back, ask yourself: did it ever really go away?

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