Years ago when I worked in a creative agency, I had a GREAT relationship with my printer. My contact was highly experienced and never in a rush, so he always took the time to talk through options which was very valuable.
But as our agency moved towards a more climate-aware model, I'd find myself needing to have increasingly uncomfortable conversations with him about his suppliers, his processes, his policies and so on.
One of their competitive advantages (or so I thought) was that they ran a 24-hour printing service, so if you needed something done overnight they could usually make it happen. What I found out later it was actually something they started doing to help them stay afloat.
He told me very openly that he had do do things like source lower-cost, lower quality supplies from overseas just to win work, and have his team work long hours to ensure the printers never stopped running. Almost everything they sourced, from paper to ink to staples, was sourced overseas because of the price. Knowing about the overworked team made me very uncomfortable.
As we discussed it, he just couldn't see past the way they were doing things. He liked the idea of being more climate-positive, but couldn't realistically see a way to achieve that. It was hard, it felt invasive.
This is what auditing your supply chain can look like. Your suppliers' impact becomes your impact.
For our printer, being a supplier to dozens of creative agencies like ours meant their negative impact was amplified with every client they took on, not to mention the already overworked team were likely copping the brunt of it.
I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, but it was a hard lesson on what being climate-conscious really means. It's fundamentally changing the way you do business, and it can make for some difficult conversations.
Ultimately I moved on from that role so whether the agency stayed with that printer I'm not sure. What I do remember though was how torn I felt - I knew that we couldn't stay with them because of the misalignment in values... but also knew they needed clients to stay with them.
I could have pushed down my urge to ask about those things and continued using their service, happily unaware of the misalignment, but it just doesn't work that way. Once you're aware of climate impact, it becomes a thing you can't ignore.
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