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Sustainability – What Are Your Goals?

Sharing ideas and industry news is hugely important. We are all in this together, whether a distributor or a competitor, the more light that is shed on vital information relevant to what we do day-to-day, the better quality the message we deliver becomes. The sustainability narrative is no different, and that knowledge sharing does not stop within our industry. No matter your size, turning to global platforms to inspire as well as inform are important.  If you are beginning your sustainability journey or are interested in the bigger picture, a good starting point will be the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals. They make clear, at a global level, the work that needs to be done and the challenge that we all face.

So, What Are SDGs?

In 2015, the United Nations Member States collectively adopted a set of 17 guidelines intended to promote “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”  They were developed as a global collective strategy or action framework at a community to country level. You can find a short introduction here:

These guidelines form what is known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – essentially an urgent action plan to improve global standards of health, education and economy while reducing inequality and the damaging effects of climate change.

Let’s take a look at the SDGs more closely: 

Goal 1: End Poverty In All Its Forms Everywhere” 

What This Means: This goal seeks to end extreme global poverty (measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day) to less than 3% by 2030. 

Goal 2: “End Hunger, Achieve Food Security & Improved Nutrition & Promote Sustainable Agriculture” 

What This Means: Reconsidering the way we grow and consume food globally in order to provide nutritious food for all, while generating incomes and protecting the environment.

Goal 3: “Ensure Healthy Lives & Promote Well-Being For All At All Ages”

What This Means: Increasing life expectancy while reducing some of the common causes of death associated with child and maternal mortality. Eradicating diseases and addressing global health issues. 

Goal 4: “Ensure Inclusive & Equitable Quality Education & Promote Lifelong Learning Opportunities For All”

What This Means: Using access to education to help people escape poverty and live healthy, sustainable lives while promoting a peaceful and tolerant society. 

Goal 5: “Achieve Gender Equality & Empower All Women & Girls” 

What This Means: Ending all forms of discrimination and violence against all women and girls across the globe. 

Goal 6: “Ensure Availability & Sustainable Management Of Water & Sanitation For All” 

What This Means: Providing clean, safe water and sanitation systems for everyone. These systems will not cause any adverse effect on the environment.  

Goal 7: “Ensure Access To Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable & Modern Energy For All”  

What This Means: Giving everyone the education and the opportunity to use sustainable energy for the benefit of the people and the planet. 

Goal 8: “Promote Sustained, Inclusive & Sustainable Economic Growth, Full & Productive Employment & Decent Work For All”

What This Means: Creating decent jobs for all to improve global living standards. 

Goal 9: “Build Resilient Infrastructure, Promote Inclusive & Sustainable Industrialisation & Foster Innovation”  

What This Means: Creating investments in infrastructure including transport, sanitation, energy and technology to empower communities through sustainable development. 

Goal 10: “Reduce Inequality Within & Among Countries”

What This Means: Creating a better world by making all people equal, regardless of race, gender, income, religion or sexuality. 

Goal 11: “Make Cities & Human Settlements Inclusive, Safe, Resilient & Sustainable” 

What This Means:  Achieving sustainability by creating career and business opportunities for all, along with safe, affordable housing. 

Goal 12: “Ensure Sustainable Consumption & Production Patterns”

What This Means: Changing the way we use our resources to produce and consume goods to achieve economic growth and sustainability. 

Goal 13: “Take Urgent Action To Combat Climate Change And Its Impacts”

What This Means: Putting measures in place to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions before they become irreversible. 

Goal 14: “Conserve & Sustainably Use The Oceans, Seas & Marine Resources For Sustainable Development”

What This Means: Seek to undo the damage that has led to 40% of our oceans being heavily affected by pollution. Implement sustainable measures to reduce this impact and avoid further threat to marine biodiversity. 

Goal 15: “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” 

What This Means: Reducing the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity and the effects of climate change on land. 

Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”

What This Means: Eliminating violence and conflict across the globe so that all people can live peacefully.    

Goal 17: “Strengthen The Means Of Implementation & Revitalise The Global Partnership For Sustainable Development”

What This Means: Using strong global partnerships and cooperation to achieve the Sustainability Development. 

As well as 17 goals there are 169 targets to meet the goals and that is where it can get a little complicated …. so where do you start?

The SDG BusinessHub is a great source of information and inspiration. The hub was designed to ‘provide business with a powerful framework to translate global needs and ambitions into business solutions’.

So, Why Are SDGs Good for Business?

As well as understanding what may be driving the consumer, who ultimately we are producing products for,  SDGs are important because:

  • They instill customer trust and loyalty. There is growing evidence that consumers are increasingly mindful of a company’s ‘sustainability credentials and are prepared to vote with their wallets’;
  • Fossil fuels will be replaced by other forms of renewable energy and the more these are used, the lower costs will become;
  • Instability increases risk. Tackling these types of issues through your business or community will ultimately provide a secure supply chain and from a business standpoint, protect you more;
  • Diversity into new markets can provide a profitable investment, this could be from your choice of product to a process you adopt. These will give you additional USPs too;
  • They are topics that are being taught in schools and are questions that are being asked when recruiting. These topics are fast becoming part of our social conscious, having an answer for those questions will impact retention and recruitment which in turn will impact growth.

Further Reading

With 17 goals and 169 targets that vary from being specific to relatively generic, you can interpret them and apply them directly to your business or life without extensive research. Alternatively you can refer to the Social Progress Index that may make this challenge easier. This framework pockets areas of change into three sections and uses a scoring system based on how they are implemented.

Image result for structure of the social progress index

Do Goals Work?

In 2001 the UN agreed a set of Millennium Development Goals where the target was to halve the proportion of people globally living in poverty by 2015. The goal was to reduce global poverty from 36% to 18% by 2015. This was achieved, with the reduction being at 12% in 2015. This shows you that the world can get better. 


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Our Stance on Sustainability

Environmental sustainability is an ever-present topic here at The Pen Warehouse and we have seen a very obvious acceleration in media concern over the past six months. We have no doubt that Distributors will face significant pressure in the coming months and years to issue statements regarding their stance on the environment and we would like to help by issuing our own statement as a starting point. We are fully aware that much of Distributor’s activity is actually a reflection of what their Suppliers do and, as a leading trade supplier, we have a responsibility to equip our Distributors with answers before the questions are asked.

The following steps towards improvement will continue to evolve over time as we learn from our journey towards a more sustainable future.

We have adopted a three-step approach:

  • Research before taking action.
  • Implement change once due diligence has been finalised.
  • Publishing the truth; the good, the bad and the downright ugly.


Research is powerful. That’s why we’ve set about implementing various research methods to make sure we’re educated and equipped to provide sustainable product options, services and business choices. We want to arm our customers with the facts so that they can make the best choices, both in business and in product selection. How will we do this? 

  • Use of our in-house laboratory for internal product testing, including:-
  1. FTIR for in-depth material analysis. This device determines the composition of plastics, metals, chemicals and inks. It is a powerful device to determine safety, quality and conformance to set standards. 
  2. Writing Test Machine to make sure our pen refills perform to longevity standards. Getting more life from your pen will play into the sustainability discussion going forward, so it’s important your customer gets what they are paying for.
  3. We have installed several other testing devices including viscometers, precision balances, triple-roll mill, Laser tester, coating thickness measurement and many more which are necessary for a fully-functional laboratory.
  • Setting up a controlled compost environment to verify claims of biodegradability and compostability. At the moment, we’re putting bioplastics to the test to help people avoid incorrectly disposing of products in unsuitable environments. You can watch the live feed here. 
  • Attending various eco events such as the Westminster Energy and Environment & Transport Forum. This event will provide vital education in reducing avoidable plastic waste by way of incentives, targets and policy priorities.
  • We work with external testing houses and universities to provide certification and specialist analysis.
  • In-house product design team.
  • In-house Research Chemist, Dr. Rebecca Townsend, to manage our R&D and compliance operations.


The research that we have conducted so far and the future research we intend to carry out will equip us with the information necessary to make real and meaningful changes to the way we do business. 

Acquiring a new HQ last year allowed us to start with a clean slate, not only in terms of the layout and facilities, but also in terms of the environmental characteristics that should be adopted during the year-long refit and refurbishment.

Innovations House

  • Our entire premises now has a new double-skinned roof – effectively a roof above a roof. This has brought about significant benefits due to its level of thermal insulation. We are working on the basis that prevention is better than cure as it will be naturally warmer in Winter and cooler in Summer.
  • All office windows will be laminated with reflective foil to keep heat out in summer.
  • LED lighting throughout the entire facility. This was a significant short-term cost for a long-term environmental saving. LED lighting uses only 14% of the energy of incandescent lights for equivalent levels of luminance.
  • Fan-assisted air movement in all offices to reduce the use of air-conditioning units.
  • Gas heating throughout the factory and offices as it reduces the CO2 footprint by 30% compared with electrical heating.
  • All cardboard is compacted and sent for recycling, or reused during the production process.
  • All spent solvents are recovered by distillation in-house.
  • Exploiting the full potential of video conferencing to communicate with all remote staff, including field sales, to avoid unnecessary journeys to our HQ.
  • We use 80Kw Solar Panels on our remote warehouse. This provides surplus electricity for the grid throughout the year during times of  high electrical output and low demand. 

These steps are only some of the changes we have made already. We have several more planned, some quite significant, and we will communicate these to our Distributors as we go forward.


The truth is not about highlighting what others are not doing – the environmental stakes are far too high for that. It’s about transparency so that our Distributors are given the choice to do what they will with the facts as we see them. We are also very mindful that we are all in business to prosper, but we have to be aware that brings with it the moral hazard of accepting a convenient falsehood without question instead of searching for the inconvenient truth. Our research is showing there is certainly no end of convenient falsehoods out there when it comes to sustainability claims.

The first truth is that virtually all products and services have an adverse effect on the environment as they will, in some way, increase the unwanted production of CO2 – that nasty greenhouse gas we all want to reduce.

That’s why we’re all about making good choices when it comes to purchasing products, as opting for a high-quality item that you can reuse again and again is actually far more sustainable than recycling old products into new ones. Our stance here is clear: a well-chosen product that can be reused is the most favourable when it comes to its sustainable credentials.  This is a stance we take with our product selection, but also with the products we use in our day-to-day business. 

Take plastic recycling, for example. The process of melting used plastics down to form new products releases harmful fumes into the environment and adversely affects air quality. This process also produces carbon dioxide,  contributing to the very thing recycling aims to reduce – global warming!

To add to the problem, recycled plastics are invariably degraded by the process, a term referred to a ‘downcycling’. In other words, recycled products are not suitable for the production of quality mouldings unless a significant amount of virgin polymer is added to this mix to restore some of its chemical characteristics. What’s more, remelting recycled plastic products normally results in a totally unusable material that has to be incinerated or dumped in landfill.

Here are just a few reasons why we believe in the power of reusing and repurposing: 

  • It’s cheaper! Finding new uses for old products is a great way to save money and helps to avoid unnecessary spending on new items.
  • It’s kinder to the planet! Reusing saves energy and reduces pollution that would have been created during the recycling process.   
  • It encourages responsible, conscious buying! When you buy a product with the intention of reusing it again and again, you will naturally opt for high-quality, durable products rather than disposable or single-use items. 
  • It avoids contamination! A big issue with recycling occurs when toxins from one product work their way into new products during the reforming process. This is particularly nasty when you think of contaminants ending up in food or drink packaging.

Looking at our product materials and researching their advantages and disadvantages, here’s our list of how we see the products we use in terms of their eco-friendiness:

Packaging & Samples

We asked ourselves: “How do we reduce the amount of harmful packaging in our supply chain and, if it cannot be reduced, how do we improve its sustainability?” This led us to carry out an inventory of purchases and a review of the highest volumes of packaging used. Packing tape and pen sleeves came out as the top offenders, so we decided this would be an ideal place to begin improving our packaging from a sustainability standpoint.

Read our blog on packaging here to learn about some of the changes we’ve already made. You may find that some of these changes can be adopted by your organisation or perhaps you could suggest them to other suppliers. 

Certification, Testing, Compliance & QC

We are 14001 accredited. This is the international standard that specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system (EMS). Having this accreditation provides a stable framework that we can follow, rather than establishing environmental performance requirements solely by ourselves.

We are actively pursuing all known avenues with regard to comprehensive accreditation on our business and products and you will be kept abreast of all developments as they arise.

Donations & Giveaways

We donate any pens that don’t meet our quality control standards to local schools, the Aldershot Rotary Club, educational organisations in the Philippines and numerous charities in Africa to avoid them being sent to landfill. This is a great way for us to ensure that our product waste is being reused in an effective and beneficial way. 


Our R&D team has made sustainability a top priority and are continually researching new and improved methods to ensure the sustainability of both our products and our business.

  1. We are constantly looking into new materials, making sure that our products and packaging are as sustainable as possible. This includes verifying claims about “green materials”.
  2. Reading up on the latest developments in science and technology in the area of sustainability.
  3. Introducing new technology into production has been one of our key improvements in this area, making sure to minimise chemical and solvent waste by recycling everything that we can. 
  4. R&D has also introduced regular monitoring of our water supplies to make sure nothing we do causes harm to the environment. 

In Summary 

With eco awareness being such a hot topic, it’s unlikely that you’ve not come across the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Did you notice how ‘Reuse’ comes before ‘Recycle’? That’s because recycling should not be relied on so heavily, but instead be treated as the next port of call after consciously reducing our waste, rethinking our buying habits and reusing products on a long-term basis.    

These three words not only describe the very essence of environmentally responsible consumer behaviour, but give us guidelines for true sustainability rather than a temporary solution. 

Further Reading

If you’re keen to learn more about the importance of conscious buying and reusing, here’s some interesting reading:

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Make Sense of Sustainability

As human beings, our planet means the world to us – literally! That’s why
we need to make sure it stays around for as long as possible. But if you’ve
been pulling your hair out trying to keep up with the jargon that surrounds
sustainability, don’t panic! You’ve come to the right place to start making
sense of it all.

We understand it can be quite the challenge knowing your biodiversity from your bioaccumulation. And what exactly is the difference between carbon footprint and carbon offsetting, anyway? In order to navigate all of this new lingo, and in honour of World Kindness Day, we’ve put together a handy glossary to make sustainability a little less daunting. We’ve been using this information as an in-house tool which came about through product development and selection. There’s plenty more to add and we’d love to hear from you if you have any additions. Please email your suggestions to to become part of the discussion!

Now, let’s dive into some of the terms you’re likely to come across in your
quest for eco-consciousness in the promotions industry and beyond:

Popular Product Materials

Product Material

Sustainable Credentials

Sustainable Considerations

The Good and the Not So Good


Bioplastics are plastic-like materials made from natural sources like vegetable fats, oils, starches, straw, wood chips and sawdust.

The Good

Made from natural materials which are renewable

Does not contain toxic chemicals or compounds

Biodegradable and compostable under the correct conditions

The Not So Good

There is A LOT more research needed on this material and its sustainability credentials. A
call for evidence
was recently published by the UK government on the sustainability of bio-based and
biodegradable plastic and they are now considering the responses. At the moment, there is a question mark on whether this product is
adding to the plastic issue or helping to solve it.

Bioplastics are a product of farming and take up valuable capacity that could be used for growing much-needed food

Most types are not recyclable

Local authorities have no way of recycling bioplastic, meaning it will end up in landfill or being incinerated – causing further
release of CO₂ and pollutants into the atmosphere. We contacted our local authority on this point and they have confirmed that bioplastic cannot be recycled. Their letter can be found here

Only some types of bioplastic are compostable and those that are require industrial composting
facilities. They cannot be discarded in domestic compost bins

The use of compost can be compromised by any ink printed on the product, as this could pass into  the food chain


When recycling bioplastic pens, remove the refill and spring

Remove the ink from the product where possible

Remember that composting requires a set temperature

In the promotions industry, we have mainly seen pens and bags made of this material

Printed pens and packaging should not be placed in composting bins as the print will contaminate the compost heap and, if the compost is used as fertiliser, contaminants will enter the food chain


Organic farming promotes ecological balance and
biodiversity by not using harmful chemicals in the
growing process.

There’s a long-standing joke that organic food is what your grandparents called food! That’s because we’ve become reliant on pesticides and chemical fertilisers to grow crops on a commercial scale.

The Good


Better taste

Contains high levels of antioxidants

The Not So Good

Organic farming requires more labour and higher production costs than pesticide-assisted farming, resulting in an expensive end product

It cannot produce enough food for the world’s population


Bamboo is a renewable natural product and the fastest growing plant on Earth.

The Good

Naturally pest-resistant – requires no nasty pesticides!

Requires far less water than similar plants

Regrows to adult size in 3-5 years (it can grow 2 feet in 1 day!)

Absorbs 5 times more carbon dioxide than similar plants

Produces 35% more oxygen than similar plants

Bamboo fibres that make up the natural element of processed bamboo products reduce the amount of plastic required

The Not So Good

Some bamboo products use a chemical process to convert the material into the end product

Processed bamboo products only contain bamboo fibres and the rest is made up of polymer

Processed bamboo products cannot be recycled and must be put in a landfill or incinerated

Processed bamboo products cannot be composted


If the product is made from processed bamboo and is used to store food or liquid, it should
have tests completed prior to use to ensure chemicals are not released when heated

Presently, we see products made from processed bamboo across our industry


Recycled materials are products made from discarded or no longer needed products or materials.

The Good

This product will have been made up of one or more materials from an item previously used and no longer needed

The Not So Good

Product quality or colour can be impacted

There is no universal standard for accreditation


Trusting your supply chain is key here to ensuring the products are as described

Post-consumer recycled material is the best form of recycled product


Recyclable materials can be reused in order to make new materials.

See Sustainable Considerations for “Recycled”


Plastic is made from non-renewable resources like fossil fuels to create a solid material.

The most popular plastics are:

  • PET: Polyethylene Terephthalate
  • PE-HD: High-density Polythene
  • PVC: polyvinyl chloride

PET plastic – Highly-recyclable material accepted by 94% of UK councils.

PE-HD: High-density Polythene – collected by 92% of UK councils.

PVC: polyvinyl chloride – Not generally collected from households for recycling, which could explain why PVC
use is in decline.

PE-LD: Low-density Polythene & PP: Polypropylene – Not generally collected for recycling, but mixed
plastic recycling is expected to be under way within five years.

PS: Polystyrene – Not generally collected from
households for recycling with the exception of some commercial polystyrene.

LDPE – Only recyclable at specialist facilities.

The Good


Strong & long lasting


Can be sterile

The Not So Good 


Impacts wildlife and marine life if not disposed of correctly

Takes up landfill space

Not all plastic can be recycled, so contact your local facility before attempting to recycle it

Plastic cannot be recycled an infinite number of times

Recyclability isn’t always clear or consistent


Contact your local authority

Plastic products have a long shelf life when made well

Reusable plastic products are still a great sustainable choice because they will not be thrown away, so choose wisely when buying plastic products

Wood A natural, renewable material commonly used in construction and product design. The Good 





Biodegradable in its raw state

The Not So Good

The use of wood in manufacturing contributes to deforestation, leading to loss of habitats and increased carbon emissions


Make sustainable choices by opting for FSC® certified or reclaimed wood

The EU has introduced legal measures to protect forests. Wood from outside the EU may have originated from endangered species and tends not be supported by replanting initiatives

Be aware that some wood treatments can compromise the biodegradability of the wood

Paper A versatile material made from pressed pulp fibres, commonly derived from wood sources. The Good



Usually derived from natural sources

Recycled paper production saves more energy than the production of virgin paper

The Not So Good

Directly contributes to deforestation

Toxic chemicals are used to recycle paper

When decomposing, paper releases a harmful greenhouse gas called methane

Paper production requires very large volumes of water


Always opt for paper from sustainable sources like the FSC®

Remember that paper is only recyclable when clean – it cannot be stained with grease, foodstuffs, paint or dirt

Be sure to remove any plastic wrapping from newspapers and magazines before recycling. This must be recycled separately

To determine if paper is recyclable, scrunch paper up. If it remains scrunched and doesn’t spring back, it is suitable for recycling.



Sustainable Credentials

Sustainable Considerations

The Good and the Not So Good


A substance or product that is able to decompose by
exposure to bacteria or other living organisms.

The GoodBiodegradable products reduce carbon dioxide levels and greenhouse gas emissions

Break down naturally and don’t release harmful compounds when doing so

The Not So Good

Depend on certain weather conditions to break down properly

Do not decompose in water, so they won’t solve the issue of marine pollution


Remember they must be disposed of very specifically


A natural process in which microorganisms, bacteria and
fungi break down organic matter into a nutrient-rich

The Good

Creates a natural, organic fertiliser

Reduces landfill waste

Improves soil health

The Not So Good

Not all compostable products are suitable for domestic compost bins

Compostable items cannot be placed with your standard recycling


Widely Recycled: can be recycled at 75% or more of UK

Check Locally: recyclable at 20-75% of UK facilities

Not Yet Recycled: Recycled by less than 20% of UK

The act of converting waste materials into new products to avoid sending the waste to landfill.

The Good

Recycling ensures a secure supply chain by processing non-biodegradable plastics that are already in circulation and turning them into new products

Conserves valuable non-renewable resources

Reduces landfill waste

The Not So Good

Some areas do not have access to recycling facilities or simply can’t afford them, so are forced to use landfills as a cheaper alternative

Recycling and manufacturing products from recycled materials uses energy


Not all products that you might assume are recyclable are actually recyclable, so always check the symbols carefully

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy works by harnessing power from
renewable resources like sunlight, wind, rain, and tides so that we’re not relying on depleting or
damaging sources.

The GoodSustainable and abundant

Takes advantage of power that would otherwise go to waste

Low-maintenance systems

The Not So Good

Can result in air pollution

Requires a lot of energy to produce

Can be dependent on seasons

Popular Accreditations


What the Accreditation Stands For


Forest Stewardship Council

Any product that is FSC® Certified has met the
environmental and social requirements of the council.
This makes FSC® paper and card a great option for
sustainability, as the organisation ensures that all
wood harvested for use is replaced to protect against
deforestation. Choosing FSC® products also guarantees
that certain sections of forests and woodlands are left
completely intact to protect wildlife and their
habitats. All products can be traced from store to

Fair Trade

The symbol of a person triumphantly raising one hand in
the air means better pay and trading standards for
producers in developing countries.


ISO14001 is the international standard that specifies
requirements for an effective environmental management
system (EMS). It provides a framework that an
organisation can follow, rather than establishing
environmental performance requirements.

Eco Terms

So, now that we’ve brushed up on our products and processes, let’s take a
closer look at some general eco terms and what they really mean:

Biodiversity: Biodiversity is the level and variation of life in a
particular environment. High biodiversity means that plant and animal life
is thriving, while low biodiversity suggests that only a small amount of
natural life is supported.

Bioaccumulation: This super-sciency sounding term is what we call the
accumulation of materials within an organism. Over time, chemicals and
pesticides build up in certain organisms – often at a much faster rate than
the organism can get rid of those substances…

Carbon Emissions: Carbon emissions are released when fossil fuels are
burnt, causing harmful greenhouse gasses to be released into the

Carbon Footprint: Carbon footprint is determined by the amount of carbon
dioxide a person, product or organisation emits.

Climate Change: Climate change is a change in climate patterns caused by an increase in carbon dioxide. This has a knock-on effect on the environment and causes global temperatures to rise, leading to the shrinking of glaciers and disruptions to natural habitats.

Watch this no-nonsense video for a straightforward and simple explanation
of climate change:

Corporate Responsibility: In terms of sustainability, corporate
responsibility refers to the self-regulated goals of a company or
organisation to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt sustainable
business practices.

Deforestation: This refers to the removal of trees from forest areas to
make room for other things that certainly aren’t forests… When
deforestation occurs, habitats are lost, and greenhouse gases are

Eco: ‘Eco’ has become an umbrella term for anything that is beneficial for
the environment. It also refers to any product or practice that is less
harmful than non-eco alternatives.

Global Warming: This describes the warming up of the planet over time as a result of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon dioxide.

Greenhouse Effect: Gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap heat from the Sun, causing the Earth to get hotter. This process is similar to the
heat-trapping phenomenon experienced with actual greenhouses (N.B. actual greenhouses are not the cause of the issue, so don’t go hurling bricks into your neighbour’s garden in a bid to reduce the Greenhouse Effect!)

Greenwashing: This relatively new term that suggests that an
environmental claim is misleading and has just been made in order to make
the manufacturer appear to care about the planet.

Sustainable: And just like that, we’ve come full circle in our discussion
of sustainability jargon. The word itself means maintaining something at a
certain level, so in terms of the Earth, we want to make sure we are using
processes and materials that we can continue to use over a long period of
time in order to cause as little damage to the environment as possible.

In Summary

We hope this article helps to demystify some of the jargon around
sustainability, and we encourage you to share this information with your
friends and family so that we can all understand the change we’re working
towards that little bit better.

Further Reading

Want to put your knowledge of eco symbols to the test? Check out these
interesting articles to learn more:

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Holding Our Top Packaging Offenders Accountable

Examining sustainability within your business is not a task to be taken lightly. Solar panels, LED lighting, shredding of paper and cardboard for recycling, waste separation and compacting have long been part of our standard operating procedures across all sites. However, the waste and recycling discussion around the products we offer and how they are packaged ramped up as a result of our 2019 product selection process. With hundreds of products laid out on our boardroom table, our attention was eventually drawn to the floor, now barely visible because of discarded plastic sleeves, bubble wrap and plastic packaging tape.

Our objective or ‘challenge’ became clear; ‘how do we reduce the amount of harmful packaging in our supply chain and if it cannot be reduced, how do we improve its sustainability?’ As part of this process, we adopted six steps to precipitate change towards a more sustainable future.

Through stages 1. to 4., the following packaging consumables were identified as the items that needed to change immediately:

MaterialProductSustainability Issue 
Polypropylene TapeWould need to be removed from boxes before going into recycling plant. Production of tape has a large carbon footprint compared to alternatives.
Polyethylene Sample bags, pen sleeves, mailing bags and strapping The sheer volume would mean even if sent to a recycling plant, the time for the product to breakdown would be hundreds of years. Recycling plants are over subscribed and this is adding to the problem.
AdhesiveTapeThe glue makes the product difficult to breakdown.

In our quest to narrow down alternative packaging materials, we were left with two potentially viable choices: bioplastics and paper. Our Head of R&D and Materials Research Chemist, Dr. Rebecca Townsend, is leading the charge on our sustainability journey and has been busy researching and testing materials. Dr. Townsend gives her commentary, by way of this article.

It’s a very useful read and not without its surprises.

Top offenders! 

After an inventory of purchases and a review of the highest volumes used, packaging tape and pen sleeves came out on top. So, that is where we started our mission to improve our packaging from a sustainability standpoint.

We get through about nine million cellophane pen sleeves each year.  Sleeving is an essential part of the quality process as they protect the pen’s finish and print during packing and transit. With quality remaining a paramount consideration, we set about finding an alternative to cellophane.

We set the bar high because the replacement material not only had to be fully biodegradable and recyclable, it also had to be a material that would be readily accepted as recyclable waste by local authorities. Further to Dr. Townsend’s research, bioplastic was ruled out completely and we were left with the only viable alternative: paper. What could be more simple than a paper pen sleeve? In reality, it’s taken almost a year to find a suitable manufacturing partner that was able to provide biodegradable water-based glue and was also prepared to make the format and size of sleeve we required at very low cost. We have now finally arrived at the point where we can offer paper pen sleeves as an alternative to cellophane and we hope that, by our example, other suppliers in our industry will follow suit. In the interest of the environment, we are making our pen sleeves available for purchase by distributors wishing to ethically sleeve pens from other suppliers.

We also determined that our annual Polypropylene packing tape consumption each year is a massive 360km long – equivalent to the distance from London to Amsterdam.  Rather than using plastic tape to secure our cartons (which must be removed from the cardboard before being placed in a recycling facility), we’ve decided to switch to a more sustainable gummed kraft paper tape option. This tape will serve as a biodegradable alternative to traditional plastic tape and can be fully recycled by local authorities and industrial recycling plants together with the cardboard after use.

Plastic packaging tape can take in excess of four-hundred years to break down in landfill. Because recycling plants tend not to remove tape from cartons, it all ends up unnecessarily clogging up these landfill sites. Kraft paper tape is also stronger than plastic tape and consequently requires less per carton. It’s certainly more aesthetically pleasing than plastic tape as the kraft tape blends in with the box. The real beauty, however, is that it sends a powerful message about your stance on the environment to your customer.

The use of gummed tape combined with the reuse of cardboard boxes and the shredding of non confidential waste for void filling in cartons helps us to cut back on our overall waste.

This is just the start of our changes. Paper and card sample packaging options are nearly ready for launch and we are working with our packaging partners in the UK to find local sustainable alternatives for strapping and other materials used during our production process.

What more can be done in the supply chain? 

ASK your suppliers. We have written to ours in the Far East and they are actively making the switch to gummed tape, which means we do not have to remove the standard plastic tape when recycling or reusing.

RESEARCH alternatives. We found this the most time consuming aspect of the project. However the following exhibitions and events will prove to aid any investigation process you undertake:

  • 16-17 September 2020 – Recycling & Waste Management Exhibition RWM is the UK’s largest trade show for recycling and waste management, providing the biggest platform for the latest innovations shaping the sustainability sector.
  • 6 May 2020 – National Sustainability Expo Visit the National Sustainability Expo where representatives from pharmaceutical, food, aviation, retail, hospitality, food, construction, manufacturing, IT, logistics and supply chain and energy sectors will deliver compelling case studies that will help you create a sustainable business of your own or adapt your current business model.
  • 5 December 2019 – BusinessGreen Technology Festival BusinessGreen inaugural Technology Festival is a celebration of the way green technology is transforming the global economy and leading the way for a healthier and cleaner future.

JOIN the conversation, contact with any suggestions, questions or comments you have. We would love to hear from you!

blog Image for Development of the Paper Pen Sleeve

Development of the Paper Pen Sleeve

At Pen Warehouse, we are part of an industry which uses plastics abundantly, particularly when protecting samples in transit to distributors and end users. Many of these plastics are recyclable, but it’s shocking to know that in 2018 it was revealed that only 9% of the plastic produced at the time of the study had been recycled, with 79% accumulating in landfills1.

As a leading supplier of promotional materials, what better way to use our influence than to aid in the reduction of the catastrophic environmental impact these plastics are causing? One year ago, Pen Warehouse started a mission to investigate alternative materials to plastic that we could use for pen sleeves (one of our biggest areas of packaging plastic usage). We set out looking at every conceivable material and narrowed it down to two, bioplastics and paper.


This material is touted as the holy grail of plastics for the following reasons:

  • Some bioplastics are compostable
  • Potential to lower the carbon footprint2
  • Production is more energy efficient – using less energy than conventional plastics2

Although there are many positives to using bioplastics, our R&D Team, led by Dr Rebecca Townsend has been following the trend for these materials for some time, flagging some major concerns:

  • Whilst bioplastics are potentially recyclable most authorities have not yet established a means of doing so resulting in the large majority ending up in the normal waste stream.
  • Most bioplastics which are marked as compostable are only able to be composted under specific conditions at industrial facilities.
  • Some bioplastics are marked as home compostable; however many UK households do not have their own compost heaps and local councils do not generally allow bioplastics to be placed in food waste bins.
  • Bioplastic is only potentially compostable if it is unprinted. Print contaminates a compost heap and carries the risk of poisonous compounds from the ink entering the food chain.
  • Several bioplastics are grown from crops which makes them sustainable. However, fertilisers and pesticides needed for such crops are not always environmentally friendly and, in some locations, deforestation has also taken place in order to provide growing space.

It is now being considered that bioplastics are another example of “greenwashing”3. As a result of this, we have decided that using bioplastics as a suitable material for packaging would be counterproductive as it could be much worse in the long term than our current plastics.


Many of the advantages of paper are well known:

  •  Paper is recyclable
  •  Paper can be put into domestic recycling waste
  • Paper degrades in normal landfill conditions.
  • Paper is universally accepted as an environmentally friendly material and as such sends an unambiguous message to the consumer.  Particularly when it comes from a sustainable source.

Our biggest hurdle in developing a suitably sized paper sleeve for pens and pencils was actually finding a willing partner that would adapt their machinery to producing such a limited product range. Additionally, it required investments in environmentally friendly adhesives and high-speed motion control to truly benefit from economies of scale. After much work and cost we now believe we have a commercially viable solution to bring an end to the use of cellophane sleeves for pens, pencils and a wide range of promotional items.