The isla Print Roundtable: what did we learn?

"Events are a microcosm of what the world has to do. We all have to do our part," Antony Ryder, Director, Rocket Graphics Ltd.

isla’s first Print Roundtable of the year provided a wealth of insight into some of the common print pain points and solutions surrounding sustainability. All stimulated healthy debate between members of isla’s Print Working Group (PWG) and print buyers, with plenty of areas of consensus.

Below we look at some of the key takeaways that could continue to shape the print sustainability landscape in 2023 and beyond.

1. We need to challenge, challenge, challenge

Conducting business as usual without critical thinking into how our operations and wider value-chain relationships plug into wider sustainability goals is no longer acceptable. 

Attendees argued that we should challenge:

  • Ways of working: Are we making room for innovation or just defaulting to what has worked in the past, without examining the impact it will have on the environment? Adrian Nesci, Production and Creative Studio Manager, Nteractive, argued that we must move away from behaviours such as ordering extra display items (e.g. boards) ‘just in case’ without thinking of the product end of life and environmental impact of this decision.
  • Each other: “Committing to having the conversation on sustainability on as regular a basis as possible, and getting the team to follow suit, means it will become more normalised,” says Jake Tidds, Event Manager, AOK Events.
  • Greenwashing: We need to interrogate eco-friendly products and processes in exactly the same way as ‘traditional’ iterations. Beyond green claims and certifications do these products actually deliver better on performance, durability and a lower carbon footprint when you take into account the manufacturing and production process as a whole? As an example, can eco-friendly products maintain quality on large-scale print runs in the same way as something like PVC, questioned Matt Phipps, Director of Live, MacroArt.

2. Digital signage can’t be ignored

Venues and event agencies are increasingly using alternatives to print signage to direct the flow of movement around events. From hired digital displays to human signage, as demonstrated with Factory 42’s delivery of The Green Planet AR Experience. What does this mean for print?

“We can’t function without print, but need to be clever about how we’re buying,” says Head of Graphics Production at George P. Johnson (GPJ’s) and PWG Project Lead Laura Fell. We need to start working with creatives and buyers to come up with solutions that fit within the circular economy.”

Lewis Walters, Director, Priority Graphics, suggested the following question sequence to meet the above, saying: “Where is it going? Who is it servicing? And is it going to be reused?.”

3. Education continues to remain a barrier to progress

When asked what stops you from producing a more sustainable print job? attendees expressed their appetite to push the boundaries of sustainability in print, but argued that a lack of a framework on how this could be done was holding them back. Sam Trevenna, Co-Founder & Director, Goose Live Events, suggested that this is where specialist training is needed. “Please can we have a print 101 [isla has 101 training on sustainability] to upskill our staff and so our colleagues can have a two-way conversation?” she enquired. This request for a dedicated module on sustainable-print planning was duly noted by our Community Lead Ellie Ashton-Melia.

The education piece also extends to clients. Attendees argued that where a client makes last-minute changes to artwork it would be great to show the environmental impact of print reruns. This feeds into point 5.

4. We need to foster trust to make change happen

How can higher levels of trust be established between print buyers and print suppliers? There were several solutions put forward by attendees.

  • Stewart Green, Associate Director, Xquisite and isla Advisory Board Member and PWG member suggests meeting suppliers where they’re at, quite literally. “Go and visit your supplier and let us lift the hood, warts and all,” he says.
  • Jermaine Parkin, Client Services, Collaborate Global Ltd, argued that drilling down on organisational values “will allow us to talk authentically”. The link between authenticity and trust is a well established one.

5. We want more industry-wide markers of quality and environmental impact

Beyond trust, several in the room also argued that benchmarking of quality and environmental impact for print processes and print products is key. Nteractive’s Adrian Nesci questioned: “Is there a B Corp style stamp that shows that we meet the standard?”. Xquisite’s Stewart Green answered that he hopes to push for such a standard in his capacity as a member of both the isla PWG and isla Advisory Board.

GPJ’s Laura Fell argued that: “data has to be the benchmark for improvement”. A sentiment shared by Vicky Gomez Gibson, Project Director at SWM Partners Ltd, who outlined that measurement will need to form a key part of industry standardisation. “I want to be able to use data to measure what would make a better print job,” she says.

6. We are making progress, but we need more time

“Suppliers weren’t able to offer sustainable choices 12 months ago,” says Antony Ryder, Director, Rocket Graphics Limited. “But we are trying to get our ducks in a row”. MacroArt’s Matt Phipps argued that this is where venues could come in and support suppliers, something that is flagged in isla’s free guide Sustainability in Practice: A Pathway for Venues. From venues he argued that print suppliers “would like to see a pathway, with a timeline, that doesn’t ask for too much too quickly”.

For more information on isla or the PWG email

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