What is an eco
Very good question.
For some products it’s genuinely hard to tell. Marketeers can add labels, play with words and create icons. For example removing one oil-based ingredient for another could use more energy to produce; or reduce product quality. We don’t think behavior like this is very eco or sustainable, but it shows with so many ingredients and chemistry, that products are complicated, and statements are easy and often go unchallenged. We are committed to green chemistry.
Our customers want to do their bit, but they want it simple
At Graham & Brown we have always believed that the answer is to be sustainable, to give the customer the best, most efficiently produced product that will perform to their expectations with minimal impact on cost, the environment and to ultimately be recyclable. Not all of that is achievable today. The greenest product available is actually old fashioned wallpaper, but it doesn’t wear well, it’s hard to hang and is very difficult to remove.
Our customers want something better, that doesn’t cost the earth. Which is why we feel the most important thing is to be a sustainable business reducing our impact on the planet now. This will give us time to figure out the best alternatives in the coming years.
We’re making big
We manufacture products and therefore we use energy. In making 10m rolls of wallpaper per year, that’s a lot of energy. As part of the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) we have measured scope 1 & 2 greenhouse gas emissions of our Production, Warehousing, Design Centre, as well as our International Divisions in France, The Netherlands and the USA. In 2020 this figure for the UK business in Tiers 1 & 2 (these are explained in the glossary) was just over 7,000 tonnes of Carbon, which was a decrease of 219 tonnes on 2019.
Manufacturing accounted for 95.6% of our Carbon emissions. With Gas usage 67.2% Electricity 28.4%, Warehousing 2.5%, Design Centre 1.4% and Travel at 0.4%
Now we can measure our “Carbon footprint” we can manage it and set ourselves some ambitious goals and take action. The clock is ticking, and we must move quickly.
Our Carbon Reduction plan
Some technology can help us now. Some still needs time to develop. Our biggest energy consumption revolves around gas. It is something we rely on for heat within our production process and to burn off waste gases. We couldn’t convert our existing machines to renewable electricity because simply electricity is significantly more expensive than gas.
In addition to that we need to burn the volatile elements out of the oven exhaust fumes in order to emit clean air into the atmosphere. We use gas to do this and then we use the exhaust heat generated to heat our thermal oil system that heats the ovens through heat conversion. So effectively we use our energy twice. There are renewable gases available, but currently only enough availability to cover 3% of the UK market and it’s not clear if there will ever be enough. Currently the cost of such gases are three times the amount of standard gas.
Renewable gas is made through anaerobic digestion where organic matter such as animal and food waste is broken down in the absence of oxygen to make biogas and biofertilizer. It’s a relatively new technology and we continue to monitor its progress.
Our plan has to be to embrace things that won’t kill our business but helps sustain both the earth and our colleagues’ livelihoods.
The less waste
you have, the less
problems you create.
Making waste is literally a waste of time, energy and money. Improving everything we can makes marginal gains that in the end can make a big difference. We have been making incremental gains in many areas over the last 25 years
Our paper literally grows on trees.
All our trees have been from renewable sources for more than 20 years. We use around 23,000 tonnes of paper each year. That is a lot of trees. Yet all our paper pulp comes from sustainably managed forests.
It takes an average of 24 trees to make a tonne of paper, and from that we can make 1,300 rolls of wallpaper. We’ve made 299 million rolls of wallpaper this century – which means we’ve used 5.5 million trees in production since 2000. For every tree we use three more are planted, which means we have planted 16.5m this century.
Amazingly, the paper mill that supplies us is based in 10 square kilometres of forest, and as trees are used and replenished the cycle to go around the forest once takes ten years.
Even the machinery used in the forest runs on biodegradable fuel, so any leaks do not damage the ecosystem on the forest floor.
Digitally printed wallpaper
From 2022 all of our digital production (35% of the Graham & Brown brand offer) will be carbon zero. Our digital print equipment only uses electricity in the process, and all of the electricity is renewable.
Colourants and inks are recycled
In our bulk production, there is a need to produce large tubs of ink in order to print thousands of rolls of wallpaper. Whilst our colour dispensers are extremely accurate, any inks left over at the end of the process are now able to be recycled and used again meaning zero waste. Our new digital press which will come on line at the end of 2021 uses a “toner” rather than water in the inks which is better for the environment.
Just the right amount
Paper coming into the mill often needs to be coated to improve the performance of the surface for print and product durability. The layer of the coating is measured in microns (thousandths of a millimetre). This was previously done with lasers, which had a radioactive element. Graham & Brown have invested in ultrasound measuring technology that is even more accurate, reduces waste, and is safer to work with.
Avoiding waste by improving processes, means we can manage our stock efficiently. We have a hi-tech forecasting system and manage our print runs as effectively as we can. Making just enough is always the target.
Paint what you need
Almost all of our paint is made to order. This allows us to have a perfectly partnered palette of over 400 colours that match our wallpapers, without holding thousands of litres of stock of each colour that could go out of fashion, and therefore go to waste. This technique means we can refresh the palette with the colours our customers want. Our Graham & Brown paint tins are 100% recyclable and our paints are all water based.
100% of our cardboard packaging is made from recycled or managed sources. Each carton is made from a minimum 70% recycled card and 30% sustainably sourced pulp.
We are currently looking at recycled bags for use when dispatching our paint. Our paint goes into cardboard outers but we feel it best to put it in a bag in case of any spillages in transit. The next step is to make these bags recycled, and recyclable.
All our paint tins are completely recyclable once they have been cleaned. The plastic paint cans we use on our Superfresco EASY branded paint are made from a minimum 30% recycled plastic. 100% of all pallets are recycled within the G&B supply chain or collected for recycling if damaged. 100% of all cardboard and pallet shrink wrap is made from recycled materials.
We are still investigating ways to improve the shrink wrap on our wallpaper. In 2005 we launched our first ECO wallpaper, it was printed with waterbased inks on sustainable paper, and also featured a corn starch wrap that would biodegrade as compost. Unfortunately, it tended to biodegrade on the shelf. Our search for a solution continues.
Moving products from us to you
Our products are physical. We can’t Bluetooth it to you, you can’t download our paint from the cloud. Getting our product to where we want it to be involves transport – we work with logistic partners who are signed up to the UN Sustainable Development Goal on reducing emissions. Our local logistics providers use electric vehicles through DPD, which will deliver 70% first and last mile by clean (Electric Vehicle) solutions by 2025.
When wallpaper is hung, it comes into contact with water, in the form of the paste, glues and adhesives used to hang it. It therefore must be constructed in such a way that it doesn’t dissolve when in contact with water, known as “Wet Strength” so it can be hung easily, and has durability properties once in place.
This leaves us with a dilemma that we need to work to resolve. Paper recycling relies on remnants of the paper being completely water soluble to break it down to pulp. Of course wallpaper removed from a wall; even paste the wall wallpaper, can have plaster remnants or may have been painted which further complicates things. More work is needed to make it curb-side recyclable – but we have begun this process.
TEAMS over Travel
Graham & Brown had been using Skype and Teams internally for some years to share business learnings and meet “face to face” with colleagues in different time zones. After the pandemic the volume of video calls, not only internally but externally grew dramatically. People couldn’t drive to local sites for meetings, or travel to retail partners but instead “dialed-in”. External contact points grew, projects moved quickly and people felt more connected through a higher frequency of contact. It also saw a 78% fall in our emissions created by business travel. While it’s great to see each other in person, video conferencing has to become the norm not the exception to reduce travel.
The pandemic saw an 83% drop in CO2 emissions from flying and a 71% drop from company car emissions. Business travel does only account for 0.35% of our carbon emissions, but managing every aspect is important.
Our shuttle van used between sites is now a plug-in hybrid vehicle and a charging point has been installed to join the multiple charging points for e-vehicles on our Dutch site. As an international business less than 3% of product produced by Graham & Brown and distributed within our global supply chain is delivered via airfreight, this is an area we continue to monitor.
The clock is
Our Research & Development teams are constantly looking at the makeup of our products to find the best materials to use, whilst our engineering team are constantly looking for efficiencies and the application of new technologies. This takes time.
Some technology that will help us isn’t ready to introduce to manufacturing right now, some solutions are not currently commercially viable, and many other things that could help are merely conceptual ideas at this time that we are investigating. We need to buy ourselves some time and some head space. We have decided that carbon offsetting is the solution for us while we find new ways to improve further.
When one considers that deforestation of the Amazon is running at 20,000 square miles a year; or 55 square miles a day, then our requirement of planting or protecting 0.07 square miles (18 Hectares) per year may seem like a finger in the dyke – but it is making a difference. It means there is space for new trees and protection for endangered habitats in our world, and it means we are doing our bit.
Clearly the biggest issues facing us are global – but Graham and Brown has always acted locally in the community too, not just from an environmental point of view – we won our first environmental award in 1974 for clean waterways – but also in regard to the well being of our colleagues, and the wider communities at our bases in Blackburn, Middenmeer, Lille and New Jersey.
As head of a long standing and respected Blackburn based business, Andrew Graham MBE had been conscious for some time that he was in a special place to support the local community, many of whom suffered deprivation and social challenges. Businessman Bill Holroyd had launched a youth charity and persuaded Andrew to visit the Bolton branch to see the work that was going on.
“The visit had a massive impact on me,” says Andrew, who subsequently agreed to be the founding Chairman of the Blackburn Youth Zone. He worked tirelessly to get enough local business support to create an outstanding youth centre offering the best facilities. “To any patron, I’d always tell them that the important part is their commitment to the project, not just their financial donation,” explains Andrew. “This project is here for the long term.” Today, the centre supports 1000 young people a week and offers a range of after school activities for young people aged 5-19 years old, from boxing to art and dance.
As part of our 75th celebration we launched a campaign with all colleagues in the business to raise £75,000 for charities that our team chose and felt passionate about. 2021 saw multiple initiatives and events that saw our teams take on walks, fun runs, sky dives, rope bridges, head shaving and even brewing of a charity beer in France. The company also celebrated its rich history and archives (We guess a kind of recycling!) by launching a ‘through the decades’ collection- a limited edition series of designs, with all profits going to charity.
2022 Carbon Budget
|CARBON NEUTRAL||SUSTAINABLE PAPER||WATER BASED INKS|
|India Mill, Blackburn Tier 1 and 2||6,925||2,008||4,917|
|Sourced Wallpaper (Tier 3)||1,113||672|
|Total Estimated CO2 emissions||8,196||5,747|
|Excluded: Tier 3|
Measuring the Process
In 2020 our last full year review, our carbon footprint for our Tier 1 and Tier 2 UK operations were at 7,081 Tonnes of CO2. As of September 2021, our electricity will be provided completely from renewable sources, which we estimate will reduce our Carbon footprint by 29%.
We have chosen to offset our current carbon footprint while we look at innovative ways of reducing the energy and emissions we use and produce whilst maintaining a quality product.
To this end we have decided to include our International Offices and distribution in Tiers 1 and 2 and also to include the emissions of the small amount of third party produced wallpaper we use under IGI figures so that we can honestly say we have become Carbon Neutral on all our wallpapers from 2022.
We plan to offset approximately 6,000 Tonnes of CO2 in 2022 and review our progress quarterly.