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Sustainable supply chains

Companies are putting suppliers under increasing scrutiny to help reduce the environmental impact of their goods and services, with 90 per cent of emissions typically attributed to supply chains, as they set out to reach new sustainable goals. As the channel and vendors come under the microscope, Sam Johnson, Learning and Organisational Development Manager at Brother UK, explains how channel-vendor partners must rise to the opportunity to operate more sustainably 

According to the government, a third of the UK’s largest businesses are committed to the target of net-zero emissions by 2050. This comes as many more firms align themselves with the UN’s sustainable development goals, which promotes a carbon friendly, low-waste way of operating a business. 

Supply chain SMEs are typically five times more carbon intensive than their large corporate customers and unsurprisingly, these firms are being put under increasing scrutiny to reduce the environmental impact of their goods and services, given how they impact the metrics that large organisations report. 

For big businesses to meet their increasingly ambitious sustainability targets, suppliers are going to have to make big changes too or face the risk of being left behind. For the print sector, this presents both an opportunity and a challenge for channel-vendor partners. 

Together, we can develop and deliver the eco-friendly print technologies and consumables that can help to cut waste and lower energy use, which supply chain firms need to support environmental ambitions. But, as suppliers ourselves, it’s also necessary for us to make our operations as green as possible, particularly while sustainability holds increased weighting on tenders.


Where customers want to boost their green credentials, partners can guide them towards vendors and solutions that make it as easy as possible to recycle used hardware and consumables. This means every stage of the product life cycle has been considered to minimise its environmental impact, without compromising product quality.

Recycling a print cartridge only produces approximately half the carbon of making a new one and some manufacturers will provide freepost labels so used print cartridges can be returned for recycling at zero cost. In the year to March 2020, more than 159,000 toner cartridges were returned to us for recycling by UK customers, up 10 per cent on the previous 12 months. It may also be possible to source a pre-used, refurbished printer, which can reduce associated carbon emissions by 66 per cent.

Efficiency features

Needless print jobs waste time, toner, paper and power. Specifying printers that offer user-authenticated pull-printing helps customers to resolve this costly problem, holding print jobs in a secure virtual queue until the user that ‘pushed’ it to print uses their PIN code, password, ID card, mobile app or QR code to release the job. This effectively reduces the environmental impact of wasted print, but pull-printing is currently only used by 40 per cent of businesses globally.

Brother has also developed low energy standby technology to minimise power consumption to the amount used when the printer is unplugged, for example.

Boosting your sustainability 

Advising on solutions that can help companies to be more sustainable will become the sector’s bread and butter. But as big businesses scrutinise their suppliers’ sustainability, we’ll need to step up and showcase our environmental credentials in order to win lucrative contracts. 

Manufacturers need to be increasingly transparent about the environmental impact of their products at every stage of their lifecycle, from product development to sourcing raw materials and manufacturing, packaging, warehousing, transportation and disposal. 

In 2019, Brother was certified as zero waste to landfill across our UK operations. This assures customers that the Brother toners they return to us for recycling will result in absolutely zero waste. At the same time, we have stepped up our CO2 reporting to customers that recycle with us, so that the information can be fed into their own sustainability data, which can then be reported back to stakeholders. 

As a result of initiatives like these, Brother Industries joined the FTSE4Good Index, a select group of the world’s most environmentally and socially sustainable companies.

Knowing where to start in terms of boosting your sustainability can be daunting, but there’s plenty of help and guidance out there. For example, aligning operations with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) – a programme committed to complying with and upholding core principles that focus on human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption – can help ensure that every decision made in the business considers this bigger picture. 

It’s clear that a nose-to-tail approach is the only way forward in reducing emissions in the supply chain, and resellers have an opportunity to prove themselves indispensable to customers that are taking on the mission.