9 sustainably-printed annual reports, reviewed by Park
Annual report & accounts documents have two purposes: as functional, regulatory items, and as shareholder marketing. They have a wide reach, and a long shelf life. Each one may spend 12 months in a boardroom, on a waiting area coffee table, or in the homes of investors.
Today, many annual reports reflect shareholders’ interests in sustainability. A business’s ESG activity is likely to be given pride of place in the document.
That considered, it’s surprising how few companies are choosing to communicate their sustainable values through the print itself. This seems a missed opportunity: to make modest investments, in statement pieces of creativity, which are likely to be noticed and appreciated by the report’s primary audience.
Park’s print experts sat down with nine annual reports, produced by companies which make bold public statements on their sustainable values, and investigated how effectively those values are being channeled in print.
We discovered many good examples, alongside many opportunities for improvement – both of which, we hope, will be useful to other listed firms as they prepare to sustainably print their next annual report.
All reports for financial year 2020/21 unless stated.
Aviva PLC annual report: 100% recycled paper
Aviva opted for 100% recycled paper for their report: ‘Revive Offset’, made entirely from post-consumer waste. It’s an appropriate choice for a report which also makes a strong visual statement, with strong visuals and canary yellow accents, in a nod to the company’s origins as Norwich Union.
Recycled stocks require less water to produce and boast reduced carbon consumption when compared to virgin fibre – however, it’s not a prerequisite for a sustainable print production. FSC-certified virgin fibre, from managed forests, is also considered a sustainable paper choice.
Recycled papers are also more expensive – so Aviva’s decision to use one for a long-run production, of a hefty 278 pages, must have been a calculated move.
Beyond eco-credentials, recycled stocks lend their own unique properties to a production. Typically with rougher surfaces, they lend a pleasing texture and a softening effect to the imagery, elevating the perceived quality of the product, as well as drawing attention to its sustainability.
Aviva reduced its own carbon emissions by 77% in 2020, and it has also signed up to the United Nations Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance. Along with other financial institutions, the insurer plans to reduce the carbon emissions in its investment portfolio by 60% by 2030.
GSK: FSC-certified paper, with UV varnish
Of course, recycled materials are not the only sustainable papers on the market. GSK’s report is printed on ‘Innovation Premium’, a virgin fibre FSC-certified stock.
All papers these days are made from sustainably-sourced forests, however, the mill where ‘Innovation’ is made is also a carbon-neutral factory. Its energy is sourced from biomass, with no fossil fuels used, and its carbon emissions are measured and offset.
The elaborate swirling colours on the cover are highlighted with a UV varnish, producing a raised, textured effect. This popular creative option is commonly thought to depend on oil-based inks, however, many manufacturers today have managed to remove solvents from the materials. UV varnish also poses no issue when it comes to recycling; it can be removed following the pulping process, and is normally burnt along with other residues to create energy which is then captured and re-used.
GSK’s report states an ambitious goal: not only to be carbon neutral by 2030, but also to have a net positive effect on the environment by the same deadline. With its mix of sustainable features, this production would appear to back up that aim.
Anglo American: PUR-bound annual report
Anglo American’s report tackles the elephant in the room: can you run a sustainable mining company? Throughout, the brand’s sustainability and environmental record from the past 12 months features alongside reporting on their core activities.
Anglo American’s report is PUR-bound which – like the most commonly-used binding technologies – depends on glue to hold the pages together. Glues are plastic-based, which isn’t ideal, but they produce a strong fix which is needed for documents which might undergo heavy use.
Despite the plastic content, PUR (‘polyurethane reactive’) binding is a less-bad option for a number of reasons. It’s effective at lower thicknesses, permitting up to 70% less glue to be used, and also reducing weight – which marginally reduces carbon emissions during delivery. It’s also applied at relatively low temperatures, reducing energy consumption during production by up to 50% compared to the glue used in perfect binding.
More importantly, it’s a ‘thermosetting’ plastic, which can’t be remelted once set. That means it can be easily filtered out when the paper is pulped for recycling, and safely burnt to generate carbon-neutral power.
All that said, PUR-bound documents also use EVA, another type of glue, to hold on the cover. EVA is a thermoplastic, which can be remelted. As a result, small amounts of it pass through the recycling process and makes its way into recycled paper.
Tesco annual report: thread-sewn binding
An alternative form of binding is thread-sewn binding – used in Tesco’s annual report. This process also depends on EVA glue to affix the cover, but since the pages are sewn together, far less glue is needed.
A signatory to the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) plastics pact, Tesco has agreed to be at the forefront of fundamentally changing the way we produce, recycle and reuse plastic materials.
Tesco’s strategy regarding plastic is centred on ‘four R’s: ‘remove it where we can, reduce where we can’t, reuse more, recycle what’s left’.
One binding options allows for plastic and glues to be removed entirely. ‘Half-Canadian binding’ uses only metal wire which can easily be recycled. This is what Park used on the Petra Diamonds Ltd. 2019 Annual Report.
Half-Canadian binding comes at a higher cost, but as a highly-noticeable and unusual feature, it draws more attention to the report as a sustainable production.
Johnson Matthey, featuring a laminated cover
Johnson Matthey (JM), a chemicals company, is a world-leader in sustainable technologies, focusing its research on issues such as air pollution, decarbonising production lines and reimagining supply chains.
It would be interesting to know whether the matt laminate is made from standard plastics or a biodegradable ‘biofilm’. The imprint on the inside back cover does say that it was produced by a carbon-neutral printer, but neither this report, nor the more recent 2021 report, specify which materials were used in the production.
Laminates confer a number of practical benefits. They lend a high-quality feel and a wipe-clean surface, so they’re well suited to company reception areas, where such documents become may be exposed to heavy use.
They are, however, something of a sustainability stumbling block, being plastic-based. Biofilms, also based on plastic, have chemicals added which makes the molecules more easily digested by microorganisms. As a result, they biodegrade in three years, compared to 50+ for a standard laminate to break down.
This process depends, however, on the document ending in landfill when no longer used; more likely it will be pulped for paper recycling, and the plastic residue from the biofilm burnt for energy generation.
That, coupled with the fact that they are twice as expensive (albeit only around £100 extra on a run of 2,000 copies), means that few publishers have yet moved on to biofilms.
RELX: printed carbon neutrally
In some cases, the company’s branding may present a sustainability challenge.
Laminates are common on productions which have large areas of black or dark colours, since these are more prone to marking and to showing up damage.
One solution might have been to print the cover in a different colour, but it seems unrealistic for brands to altogether discount dark colours as an option. Anyone familiar with RELX will recognise black backgrounds as a familiar part of their branding. Bright orange accents and white text bring to mind mainframe severs and greenscreens.
It’s worth noting, however, that RELX’s report has other eco-merits. The imprint in the back cover states that it’s printed on 100% recycled Revive Silk, in a carbon-neutral facility. This is true to RELX’s commitment to only use 100% recycled papers within its business, and to reduce its net carbon emissions by 64% over the past decade.
At Park, we give customers the opportunity to make their productions carbon neutral by supporting the sustainability initiative of their choice.
In this production for Standard Chartered, the client chose to offset the carbon in their production with Park’s carbon credits supplier, ClimatePartner. End-users can scan the QR code, and learn about the eco-initiatives which the bank chose to support with the proceeds from its carbon offsets.
Rank Group 2021 – a Park production
Produced by Park for the past 4 years, Rank Group sets out to print an annual report with an element of fun. This year’s edition bears a 6pp fold-out front cover bearing key stats and bright visuals.
Rank’s report is printed on 100% recycled ‘Revive’ stock, also used in Aviva’s production, with 150gsm chosen for the text stock and weighty 300gsm for the cover, which is also gloss-laminated.
Inside, the report bears a creative feature which comes at no environmental expense at all: it was printed in a six-colour process, with cool grey and orange (Pantones 11 and 158) used for splashes of Rank’s brand colours throughout.
Park’s facility runs entirely on energy sourced from offshore wind, and our in-house recycling operation ensures 99% of any waste associated with production is recycled.
Reckitt 2019: eco-values through minimalist design
It doesn’t necessarily take creative effects to produce a standout production; Reckitt achieves this instead through bold print design.
The paper is untreated inside and out – which may leave the pages more prone to marking, but means that the only chemical or plastic used in the production was the glue for the binding, minimizing the associated energy usage and carbon emissions. With the bold splash of magenta for the cover it’s a striking aesthetic for an annual report.
Inside, the cover opens to reveal ‘Our purpose… Our fight’ with some copy on the company’s efforts to work towards a ‘cleaner and healthier world’.
Certain sustainable features can still be identified. The product is PUR-bound which, as mentioned above, uses a relatively small about of plastic glue, which can be filtered out of the paper when it’s recycled.
It’s also in keeping with the brand refresh: a modern, uncoated production which skews away from a corporate aesthetic, and towards the look and feel of an independent magazine.
Kingfisher 2019: a sustainability-led production
Annual reports, in their content and makeup, can often reflect investors’ changing priorities as market conditions shift. 2020-21 saw budgets fall due to the pandemic, and this has been reflected in some more recent productions; companies have relied instead on content to channel their eco-positioning.
2019, however, saw some highly creative sustainable productions. The 2019 of the Kingfisher Annual Report, printed by Park, gave pride of place to the document’s sustainable values in a 6pp turnout cover.
The production was a showcase for sustainable materials:
- cover: GF Smith’s 100% recycled Nomad Rough Grey 350gsm, with a pleasing texture which is immediately recognizable as being different from your everyday virgin-fibre stocks
- review & governance pages: Revive 100% Natural 115gsm, uncoated
- accounts: Fedrigoni’s Woodstock 80gsm, an 80% recycled material, in ‘Cipria’ (a rose colour)
Kingfisher’s 2019 report also contains a tip you can implement for free: the inside front cover bears a printer’s imprint, showing the materials used and other sustainability information about the production.
Other reports in this article do feature an imprint, but they all put it on the inside back cover, or one of the back pages. Kingfisher also includes a small one at the back, but by giving this information pride of place at the front, the company demonstrates its commitment to sustainability the moment the reader picks up the report.
As businesses bounce back from covid, and as sustainability moves yet further up the agenda, eco-investors seem likely to be on the march once more. Productions such as this, therefore, would appear to be a savvy move.
Printing a sustainable and effective annual report
Many of the reports featured in this article reflect a challenge commonplace to many print productions. Your requirements – for the message, the brand aesthetic, and how the product is to be used – may involve trade-offs, and may naturally point to print options which are more or less sustainable.
It’s not surprising to see recycled paper in a number of these reports. For clients in some industries, such as fashion and fine art, recycled paper must be carefully managed since the surface is usually rougher – whereas you’d normally choose gloss or silk for maximum colour accuracy. For annual reports, that’s less of a concern, and so it’s an easy choice to make.
Some choices, particularly of ways to protect documents, are less sustainable, yet understandable. Laminates offer the best protection to covers from damage during the binding process, and subsequent handling during distribution and by the reader. There’s also the possibility of using aqueous coatings which don’t depend on plastics or oils. Applied on press during printing, and drying instantly, they’re a fast and affordable way to provide some level of protection, however, they are not as robust as laminates, and being water-based, the surfaces aren’t wipe-clean.
That said: the example of Reckitt and Kingfisher do both demonstrate that it’s possible to produce a report with virtually no plastic other than the binding glue – and while the untreated, recycled pages may be somewhat more prone to marking, the companies have seen this as a worthwhile tradeoff for documents which instantly communicate their sustainability positioning.
As sustainability creeps further up the agenda at corporations, one would expect steadily more listed firms to follow suit – and possibly to lean towards more creative productions.
Features such as specialist or mixed papers, sections with shorter or narrower pages, or foiling and die-cutting can all be achieved without plastics, and with negligible implications for recycling. As Reckitt’s report demonstrates, this can even be achieved through simple, standout print design.
In this day and age, every piece of brand communication has the potential to be a double-edged sword – not least your annual report. A highly visible and tangible brand asset, issued to one of your most valuable audiences, it could either be a showpiece for your eco-values or, potentially, raise awkward questions amongst eco-investors.
Expect, therefore, to see more creative, sustainably-printed annual reports printed in the coming years.
Sustainable Annual Report & Accounts Printing with Park
Engage your stakeholders, shareholders and investors with stylish, sustainable comms
Park is an experienced corporate printer, with a wide portfolio in annual report & accounts, other shareholder comms and B2B marketing.
Park offers carbon-neutral printing, in association with ClimatePartner. Learn more on our sustainable printing page.
Park carries the ISO 14001 environmental certification, and ISO 27001 certification for information security. Secure physical premises, encrypted file transfers and regular testing make for total peace of mind.
Typesetting, ESEF tagging, proofing, printing, binding, mailing and distribution are all conducted under one roof at our London facility close to Canary Wharf, enabling timely delivery within tight deadlines, and an outstanding, professional finish every time.
To find out more about printing annual reports and accounts with Park, click here.