Time bomb

 

Not so very long ago, the office product industry’s main concern in terms of its environmental responsibility was focused on the paper sector. Waste was another issue, with cartridges and electronics products – and their disposal – coming under scrutiny.
None of these issues have gone away – although they are being addressed by and large – but today’s big debate is energy consumption. Talk of excessive greenhouse gas emissions, stark warnings concerning climate change and a bleak future outlook are in the news almost on a daily basis.
During the UK’s Energy Saving Week in October, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) in a study of Europe’s five most populous nations revealed that Britons are the continent’s worst energy wasters, followed by Italy, France, Spain and, lastly, Germany. Bad habits such as leaving mobile phone chargers plugged in, appliances on standby mode and lights on all significantly contribute to pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global warming.
And while the EST’s findings only reflect consumer habits, looking at the wider picture of industry and business is like staring down a bottomless pit. According to recent United Nations (UN) data, instead of a decline in figures, there was a total increase of 2.4 percent in greenhouse gas emissions across 41 industrialised countries between 2000 and 2004.
Britain, France and Germany were "relatively close" to achieving Kyoto Protocol targets, the UN said, while the US remained the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter – its emissions increased a staggering 15.4 percent between 1990 and 2004, thereby in total accounting for nearly a quarter of all global greenhouse emissions.
And as the fear factor is creeping in, companies – most notably in the developed nations – from all industrial sectors are taking a close look at their operations to ascertain what they can do to "do their bit".
Manufacturers of office equipment fall under that bracket. Just think of all the equipment and technology in the corporate sector alone: from desktop monitors and printers, copiers and scanners to fax machines and laptops, they all use a vast amount of energy and are often left on all day – costing corporations huge amounts of money while at the same time contributing significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Raising awareness
There are ways to soften the blow, however, and the likes of Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell, Xerox and Lenovo have been working hard to make sure that users know it.
Zoe McMahon, environmental strategy manager at HP EMEA, says: "Industry as a whole is striving to improve energy efficiency because it constitutes such an important part of the business cost structure. And there’s significant potential for improving energy consumption in ICT through more efficient products. Electrical and electronic equipment manufacturers have a major role to play in designing such products."
From standby and sleep modes of copiers and printers, and PCs with low-voltage processors or special power management features to specific energy-efficient data centre technology or energy savings generated by multifunctional devices (MFDs), the list of energy-saving enhancements is endless.
The crucial question is: Do users know about all these functions and how to activate all the different modes and settings? Perhaps even more to the point: Do customers actively ask for energy-efficient equipment?
Paul Arrowsmith, European PR manager of production systems at Xerox Europe, believes it’s a bit of both. "I think what customers want most of all is business efficiency. A lot of the large companies are interested in configuring their business processes and their document management processes in the most effective way. And two of the factors within that context would be environmental and financial impact."
An MFD is a good example of a product that scores highly on both accounts. As Malcolm Hemming, Xerox Europe’s manager of the environment, health and safety, says, energy efficiency may not necessarily be the overriding purchasing criteria, but it’s very much part of the package. "MFDs streamline the way in which documents are managed. They fulfil a number of functions. Historically, companies used a whole range of different machines separately – printers, copiers, fax machines…
"An MFD is designed within a so-called work centre and provides all these functions to a number of different people at the same time. By using an MFD in a central location, you could replace three or four printers, one fax machine and a copier, for example. And that would obviously reduce energy consumption significantly – as well as the size of your utility bill."
And while many corporations today regard the environment and therefore energy consumption as part of their corporate responsibility and opt for eco-labelled products (see also ‘A way through the maze’, page 22), there are some firms that appear keener than others.
Global firm HSBC embraces the challenge wholeheartedly, demanding environmentally sound products from its suppliers and making sure that its philosophy is carried through the entire organisation. Following its comprehensive carbon management plan, HSBC became the world’s first major bank to go carbon neutral in 2005.
Action plan
In terms of buying IT/office equipment, HSBC developed an environmental action plan in 2005 in order to minimise direct environmental impacts associated with any of these purchases. This action plan states that where possible, HSBC will:
• Comply with all environmental, legislative and regulatory requirements when buying goods and services;
• implement print solution principles including increasing the number of shared/efficient printers and changing over to MFDs to reduce the number of powered devices;
• ensure that HSBC purchases from responsible vendors and that sub-components are sourced accordingly;
• produce a checklist for project managers and those purchasing IT supplies on how to judge environmental matters;
• score top IT vendors and raise concerns at regular account reviews.
A global team deals with the selection of all office equipment. Matthew O’Neill, group head of distributed systems at HSBC Holdings, admits that there are huge variations in suppliers and recommends careful selection to get the best possible package, in terms of environmental credentials as well as overall running costs.
He says: "Our team uses the EPEAT [see above] scoring mechanism to assess overall environmental factors. Wherever possible, we only select vendors and equipment that meet or exceed EPEAT Silver as a baseline. Any department that wishes to purchase differently not only has to pay for the equipment, but also has to pay for the equipment to work with our systems for ongoing support. This innovative approach ensures that deviation from the standard list does not occur very often."
As O’Neill points out, any company policy is only ever as good as the staff that make it work and support it. HSBC believes that education and raising awareness among its workforce is a key component of its environmental improvement programmes.
Last summer, the firm ran a number of awareness campaigns, including the ‘Switch Off’ campaign, which targeted all staff in the company’s UK headquarters. It comprised tips such as shutting doors of unoccupied rooms to reduce heating and lighting requirements of that room; turning off PCs overnight and shutting blinds and thereby minimising passive solar gain.
Mammoth task
If the energy conservation that can be achieved from businesses are large, they are nothing short of colossal when it comes to the manufacturing community. The sheer enormity of energy used and greenhouse gases emitted in the making of products – rather than of the end product itself – is staggering.
The office products industry is no exception, with the paper and IT/electronics sector perhaps prime examples.
Vancouver, Canada-based Catalyst Paper Corporation is a major manufacturer of groundwood printing papers. It has approximately 3,800 employees with an annual capacity of 2.4 million tonnes of paper and pulp. The company’s greenhouse gas emissions are strongly related to its energy consumption. Approximately 98 percent of Catalyst’s direct emissions are derived from the combustion of natural gas and oil. Indirect emissions are produced from electricity purchased by its British Columbia mills, supplied by BC Hydro.
Catalyst is the single largest consumer of BC Hydro, one of Canada’s largest electrical utilities. With an annual energy bill of about CA$200 million ($174 million), achieving cost savings through energy efficiency had a double benefit and that was to also deliver on reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
However, Lyn Brown, Catalyst’s VP of corporate social responsibility, emphasises this is not a zero-sum trade-off for the company. She says: "As a big consumer of natural resources in British Columbia, we can save money by focusing on resource efficiency, including energy use. This meshes with our performance culture in that it involves people throughout our mills in dozens of small initiatives that add up in both financial and environmental terms."
And the results speak for themselves. Mill modernisation, cooperation with its energy supplier and the additional co-generation of electricity, better transport and supply chain management have all contributed to better energy efficiency within the company. Between 1990 and 2005, the firm had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent. Catalyst, a member of The Climate Group, an international independent non-profit organisation, was named as one of the top ten companies of the decade for reducing greenhouse gases in a list compiled by Business Week Online.
Energy conservation is just one of several environmentally-led issues – next to the reduction of packaging, waste and hazardous substances, for example – and there are plenty more examples in the OP industry that show manufacturers are not shying away from their responsibilities.
• Dell, through improvements in energy efficiency of its products, plans to avoid ten million tons of equivalent CO2 emissions by fiscal year 2008, the equivalent of removing about 1.5 million cars from use worldwide.
• HP, through a new joint initiative with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the US, pledges to reduce, by 2010, CO2 emissions from HP-owned and HP-leased facilities worldwide to 15 percent below its 2006 levels. To achieve this, WWF-US and HP will identify the best technology and practices to reduce energy use. HP will also continue to investigate and purchase cost-effective renewable energy.
• Last year, Xerox set itself a target of reducing its energy consumption by 10 percent by 2012, from a 2002 baseline. At the time, its greenhouse gas emissions totalled 446,000 metric tonnes of CO2 – 80 percent of these are associated with Xerox manufacturing sites, offices and warehouses.
Common practice
Whether it’s industry, the services sector or the end-user, the world at large is wising up to the importance of energy conservation and is beginning to address the issues. As many studies have shown, however, we’re only just skimming the surface of what’s necessary. But perhaps there’s hope that becoming energy-conscious and efficient will one day be as commonplace as recycling glass and demanding environmentally sound paper.
The clock is ticking – louder and louder.