Sylvie Thomas, head of EMEA Sustainability Policies at Lexmark, on the print vendor's sustainability ambitions, quick wins for partners, and the most shocking sustainability-related stat she's heard
Are sustainability and commercial success mutually exclusive?
Both are linked, and I don't see any path in the future where we can disconnect commercial success from sustainability. It is essential to changing the way we do business, to be able to address the challenges that we, human beings, face with the increased environmental degradation. Businesses are responsible for our day-to-day convenience—from the food we eat, the spaces we live and work in, our clothes, our access to automobiles and the energy that propels them, and the form of mobility in the future. Businesses possess resources that exceed those of many nation-states, and it has compressed time and space, transcending national boundaries. However, this does not mean that only businesses can generate solutions, but sustainability has become a business imperative. As commercial success grows in alignment with deeper and stronger sustainability commitment, I trust that companies are well-positioned to bring the change we need at the scale we need it.
What is the most ambitious goal your company has set around environmental or social sustainability?
Lexmark has been in support of the circular economy and remanufacturing initiatives since its inception 30 years ago. In 1991, we began reclaiming material through our cartridge collection programme, and we have been creating post-consumer recycled plastic in our closed-loop process for 10 years already. Lexmark is now a leader in remanufacturing, and this has been an amazing experience: back in 2014, we set the goal not only to maintain our leadership position in tackling plastic resources but also to bring back remanufacturing capacities in Europe. Today, 86 per cent of Lexmark cartridges are regionally sourced which means they are produced in the region where they are consumed, creating closer connections with customers but also employment opportunities.
Moving forward, Lexmark will announce our goal soon to become carbon neutral. We are currently defining our vision at a time horizon both far enough to allow ambition and close enough to allow our translation in operational and concrete measures. This will be a very interesting journey onward.
What's the most shocking sustainability-related stat you've heard?
The unprecedented rate at which the climate crisis is accelerating and is causing a stir. The world is not ready for it. Some data are merely unbelievable, though a reality. Typically, a third of the food intended for human consumption—around 1.3 billion tons—is wasted or lost. According to Earth.Org, this is enough to feed 3 billion people. Food waste and loss account for 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. If it were a country, food waste would be the third-highest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the US.
Looking at your company's products, solutions and services, how often is sustainability now part of the conversation at an end-user level?
Most of the time, and in some countries, we get it all the time. Based on the recent survey conducted with our internal proposal desk's team, sustainability questions make up about 35% of the overall tender requirements in the last year. An increasing number of large corporations even leverage the extra-financial assessments led by organisations such as Ecovadis to run a pre-selection of their suppliers. We believe this shows how vital Sustainability is all along the value chain.
Are there any quick wins for MSPs and resellers that are looking to become more sustainable?
In Europe and the UK, all major customers and partners are currently gearing up their sustainability approach, implying both quick wins and long-term relationships.
When it comes to sustainability, print is often a missed opportunity. Lexmark devices are produced using materials derived from sustainable sources and designed to have minimal impact on the environment throughout the print lifecycle. Purchasing product with such sustainable features should be a procurement priority.
When it comes to finding the right and most sustainable IT equipment, end-users and partners should watch for robustness and durability. Since all Lexmark output devices are based on metal frame technology and are designed to easily stand a second life cycle, they are the perfect fit for a sustainability-oriented customer. The latter (target) group is growing significantly as ecologically aware.
Millennials are increasingly gaining in purchase power and moving into IT decision-maker positions hence why it might turn into the "game-changer". In collaboration with OEMs endorsing the circular economy, Channel partners can benefit from offering sustainable IT equipment.
Which IT company do you most admire for its sustainability credentials?
There is an increased number of IT companies making tremendous progress and starting to build substantial credentials in this field. However, if I must pick up one, I'll stick to the company I've been working for, Lexmark! Lexmark has a long history of sustainability commitment. Back in 1991, at Lexmark inception, Lexmark has focused its attention on providing our customers waste management solutions, cartridges with higher yield than those in the market to reduce the resources used, and duplex capacity to reduce the footprint of the entire print system. Lexmark has continued building upon these, and there is a good reason for this. For years, Lexmark core activity was a mono-product, i.e., printer only. This is a specific profile that requires you to be the best in your place to succeed. Sustainability has been a core differentiator for us. Lexmark core centre of differentiators is built upon 3 pillars: sustainable design with long-lasting products, efficient use that supports a minimum impact on the environment and responsible reuse and recycling.
How would you assess the IT channel's record on sustainability overall?
Aside from a few committed partners, sustainability is not yet fully part of the channel priorities.
With the new regulations, particularly in Europe, the government and business leaders are accelerating actions to tackle our environmental and social impacts, and channel partners cannot be excluded from it. It's no longer just the manufacturers that are asked for their sustainability credentials. Distributors and resellers are now also requested to present their sustainability qualifications and initiatives. Indeed, the climate change problem has brought the issue to the centre of the public interest, and resellers are being required to not only help customers but demonstrate their credentials around sustainability.
Have you or your company's outlook towards environmental and social sustainability changed in the last year?
We acknowledge that the COVID-19 crisis has played an important role, for the better in many cases. It is a good thing as sustainability focus has grown in depth and width. It was high time.
Indeed, producing IT equipment uses many of our natural resources. It can't be denied that we are running out of it. Electronic equipment also generates a lot of electronic waste. In 2019, 53.6 million metrics of e-waste was reported generated worldwide. Only 17.4 per cent of this was officially documented as formally collected and recycled.
There are also rising issues/challenges for responsible business conduct in supply chains. Based on this data, we can say that there is still a lot to be done, but I believe we have been provided with an opportunity to lead and change behaviors for the better.
And finally, we should keep encouraging sustainable consumption and the use of electronics moderately and more responsibly. In that sense, the circular economy is a brilliant and pragmatic idea as it can only be effective if the whole value chain participates in it and becomes financially beneficial at each stage of this chain, including at the customer level.
The circular economy, by design, that is restorative and regenerative. By nature, it can help us build economic systems that eliminate waste, regenerate, and use all resources, including energy and materials, to their fullest. We are still at an early phase of this system, learning and applying the idea of circularity across industries, and seeing successful examples not only make this promising but show that we can now do things at scale.
Is the government doing enough to shape sustainable behaviour in the IT sector and among UK business more generally?
As in other EU countries, the majority of UK adults still feel that the government is doing too little to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Six months ago, though, the Prime Minister published his ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution, mobilising £12bn of investment and creating and supporting up to 250,000 jobs. Through the rules and regulations being implemented by the government, both business organisations and consumers are encouraged to enable faster changes in this area. This helps in creating conscious efforts from organisations to be more sustainable and to set goals for continuous improvement. A recent study of the print industry conducted by Quocirca found that 57% of IT decision-makers expect suppliers to take a leading position around sustainability by 2025. So, the decision-making process towards more sustainable choices is on its way. This may seem like ‘ticking boxes' at first, creating that behaviour patterns, but as the knowledge on sustainability matures and businesses realise that this is more than just compliance, that is when sustainability would really work. For consumers, this is creating a consciousness and a challenge to make more environmentally sound choices. Today's society has put more emphasis on green and sustainable products like never before.
What does the term ‘sustainability' encompass for you and your organisation?
At Lexmark, sustainability is part of our DNA. It means constantly striving to develop responsibly designed products, allowing planned durability and high standards across all areas of our operations. We envision that Lexmark should always be associated with respect for human rights, safe work conditions and environmentally sound business practices. Whenever we can, we want to lead the way forward, not only for our organisation but also for our customers and those with who we partner. Amongst these initiatives, one is driving specific attention to us: The Circular Economy. It will be a part of the solution to climate change, transforming how we use materials and manage land by transitioning to a circular economy. It will help address the 45% of greenhouse gas emissions.