Everything you need to know about vehicle livery and sustainability
Barnaby Smith, Mediafleet managing director ‘lifts the lid’ on sustainability in the vehicle graphics industry.
‘Sustainability’ is certainly a hot topic at the moment with many organisations, large and small, working hard to develop tangible sustainability strategies to try and help the planet and society. Plus, there is also no doubt that a sustainability policy is a differentiator leading to potentially more business won. So, in some cases, is sustainability being regarded as just a new selling tool? Are organisations actually operating a truly sustainable policy, or for some, is it a thin veneer to try and win more business and steal the march on competitors?
To answer these questions, we need to understand what we mean by ‘corporate sustainability’. The Oxford English Dictionary states it is “The property of being environmentally sustainable; the degree to which a process or enterprise is able to be maintained or continued while avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources “. So, by definition, a sustainable company is one that has zero negative impact on the environment or society. This is difficult to achieve from day one, so businesses need to be careful about misrepresentation and focus more on the step process that is a sustainability strategy.
In my opinion, in a lot of cases, it’s not so much sustainable practices, just less bad practices.
And so, the term sustainability becomes a ‘catch all’ for any initiative that lessens the environmental impact or helps with social causes.
This has led to organisations issuing sustainability strategies, incentives and policies which, under closer inspection, are not focused on the original objective of sustainability but are constructed to react to external pressure from their customers, potential customers, supply chain and the media.
To manage a business successfully, the process that makes up a successful business strategy needs two things:
- A competent team to manage the process.
- A method of measuring the outcome.
And the same is true for a sustainability strategy.
The Mediafleet sustainability strategy includes the following initiatives:
– Water Consumption
– Energy Consumption
» Sourcing renewable energy to power facilities
» Wherever possible, using sustainable materials in the manufacturing process
» Wherever possible, recycling waste materials generated on and off site
» Utilising supply chains with sustainability strategies
» Helping society through the support of ‘not for profit’ organisations such as charities and CIC’s.
I believe that any initiative that reduces the degradation of the planet is a valuable step in becoming sustainable. But how effective the initiative actually is requires measurement. That is why at Mediafleet we measure our performance in reducing waste, water and energy consumption, internally and externally. We also measure the hours donated in helping Britain’s charities and good causes.
We will be producing a yearly report as to the effectiveness of our sustainability strategy for all to see.
Mediafleet designs, manufactures and applies vehicle graphics. We have supply chain partners that help us achieve our goals and we are very proud of the long-standing relationships we have nurtured since our inception in 2002. Unlike other competitor livery providers, we have always positioned ourselves as an integral and important part of the automotive supply chain. Other livery providers regarded themselves as a livery production house leaving the fulfilment task to 3rd parties – and some still do!
There are constraints on the Mediafleet business when it comes to sustainability. For Mediafleet to produce vinyl graphics we need to buy in the raw material – the vinyl. This part of our process we cannot control, and we rely on the vinyl manufacturers to develop products that are fit for purpose and, in the case of sustainability, manufactured in manner that will not harm the planet, and is therefore sustainable. Plus, at the end of the vehicle life, in the ideal world, the vinyl should be collected and sent for green disposal or recycling.
At the time of writing, there are two types of ‘green’ vinyl available:
» NON–PVC vinyl that is NOT recyclable
» PVC based vinyl that
Mediafleet has been using Metamark products for over 20 years. Mediafleet has now teamed up with Metamark to utilise the vinyl recycling process that is MetaStream.
The MetaStream Recycling Programme is a service where the waste ‘release liner’, generated during the vinyl application, can be collected by the fitter for recycling. At the ‘vehicle end of life’, the stripped vinyl can be collected for recycling as well. The recycled material is then used for the production of traffic cones and pallets.
Mediafleet is particularly well placed to deliver this service for its customers. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, any sustainability initiative needs to be fulfilled and measured by the organisation. Waste capture during print manufacturing should not be a problem for any organisation as the in-house production team can easily collect the waste and place it in the MetaStream cages. But, in most cases, vehicle livery is applied at 3rd party sites such as dealers and converters all over the country. As Mediafleet directly employs its own fitting team with very little use of the UK’s sub-contractor network, Mediafleet can guarantee that the waste release liner will be collected and brought back to Mediafleet’s head office and placed in the MetaStream recycling cages ready for collection and recycling.
Businesses that have signed up to the MetaStream process (or any other recycling initiative) should actively check that the process is being operated correctly by the nominated livery company, especially if the vehicles are at a dealership or converter.
Unless an organisation has direct control over this collection process, there is no guarantee that the waste release liner will not end up with all the other rubbish – destined for landfill.
Currently, at the vehicles end of life, the livery is removed in most cases by the nationwide network of auction houses. At this point, control of the destination of the vinyl is lost with vinyl going straight to landfill. Mediafleet is now offering its Mediafleet MetaStream customers the opportunity for the recyclable spent vinyl to be removed by Mediafleet vinyl applicators so that it can be collected and sent for recycling. This process ‘closes the loop’ on the vinyl life cycle and creates a managed and measurable process.
As time moves on, I am confident that more vinyl products will become available that are Non-PVC and recyclable creating a much more sustainable proposition.
Sustainability or ESG?
I mentioned at the start that personally I feel the word sustainability has lost its meaning to a large extent with some companies using it as a selling tool rather than a planet and society helping initiative. It seems the boundaries of what constitutes business sustainability are blurred, making it difficult to understand whether an organisation’s work should be promoted as sustainable or downgraded to merely greenwash. That is, the company uses exaggerated claims to position itself as sustainable. According to a survey by Advanced 2021/22 Trends Report, questioning 1,078 employees, 43% thought their company was guilty of greenwash. The Green Business Bureau stated:
“The absence of clear-set criteria has meant sustainability, as a term, has been hijacked, diluted, and misunderstood. The continual re-definition of sustainability has created an environment where people are unsure about its meaning and what aspects to focus on. For instance, suddenly sustainability is about climate change, ending poverty, and achieving gender equality. This definitional dilution has meant organizations issue sustainability strategies, incentives, and policies that may not be focused on the original object of sustainability. And the rules are simple: Sustainability means taking only what you need and leaving systems capable of continued existence.”
Mediafleet falls into this trap as well as we have introduced a ‘volunteering scheme’ to help society through supporting charities etc. Is this sustainability or CSR?
My preferred option is to be measured by the metrics of ESG (Environment, Social & Governance). As the Green Business Bureau describes,
“ESG points to a specific set of criteria that remove the ambiguity surrounding the term sustainability. Larger discussions in business began with sustainability but have since evolved to include ESG performance and accountability. ESG data helps identify risk-adjusted returns and highlights relevance to capital opportunities. ESG topics are interlinked and draw attention to the multifaceted risks of social, technological, political, environmental, and economic business aspects.”
In business you have to be realistic and totally transparent. Mediafleet will move to ESG at some point but in the meantime, we will continue to develop our sustainability initiatives. We recognise that businesses have a growing need to engage with organisations that respect sustainability and is absolutely transparent about the effectiveness. That is what I have tried to do here so our customers and potential customers understand what we are doing regarding sustainability and how well we are doing it. We are not where we want to be just yet, but you can be assured that we will keep on refining our ‘green’ strategy.