Sustainable Universities: how University College Cork is leading the way in green printing

A panorama of the buildings of University College Cork in Ireland, set against a blue but cloudy sky.

University College Cork has been on a longstanding mission to drive sustainability across its operations. Recently faced with a printing challenge, it found support in local expert, Cantec, and its technology partner, Canon.

Nestled in the heart of one of Ireland’s most picturesque cities, University College Cork (UCC) is widely recognised as one of the most sustainable universities in the world and a global frontrunner of green initiatives across the board.

Since 2016, the university has been assessing and scrutinising all elements of campus activity to create environmental policies that are altogether realistic, ambitious and widely actionable.

It’s so far left no stone unturned, setting in motion goals that encompass everything from teaching and research approaches to the way in which its own land is managed. Crucially, they have also addressed activities which affect the day-to-day business of the university, such as waste management, travel, energy consumption and procurement.

However, while all initiatives have proved widespread successes – helping UCC to decrease its carbon emissions by a whopping 36% and its waste by 25% – not all of them have been an easy ride. Like when the university found itself with a printing challenge on its hands.

A challenge that Canon and Cantec Ireland proved crucial in addressing.

A new tender brings back a familiar face

Like many universities, UCC had long been relying on a huge fleet of printers that it was looking to optimise from both a footprint and an end-of-life perspective.

“Some of the departments were operating almost autonomously in their procurement of devices, on very different contracts with different start and finish dates,” explains Greg Tuohy, Managing Director at Cantec Ireland, local print management experts.

“All told, you’re talking about around 300 multi-function devices. And in addition to that, there are another 500 single function printers dotted around the place.”

A former student at UCC, Greg took over the running of Cantec from his father in 2011. Since then, not only has he quadrupled the business in size, he’s also very quickly set his sight on sustainability. That has meant creating an environmental team to change the company’s internal policies and aiming to switch all their vehicles to electric by 2023.

So when UCC put out a tender for the management of its printing operations on campus, Greg knew his company had a lot to offer.

“The challenge wasn’t in simply providing a better service than what they had and at a competitive price,” he recalls. “It was to know and understand the deeper purpose of UCC’s sustainability commitments and share a similar, holistic approach to social and environmental responsibility.”

Cantec’s proposal

Greg’s first-hand experience at the university played a crucial role in helping Cantec win the tender. “I knew that UCC were forward-thinking and open to the kinds of change that other institutions might find unusual,” he says.

For example, when tendering for print, most organisations look for the very newest and efficient machines, fitted with up-to-the-minute technology in order to gain the very maximum long-term value from the installation.

I knew that UCC were forward-thinking and open to the kinds of change that other institutions might find unusual.”

UCC’s priorities in efficiency and maximum value were the same, but Greg also understood that they were taking a very big and complex step in the decommissioning of their existing fleet and this needed to be offset by machines that represented the very minimum impact possible – from the minute of installation.

“I was able to make the argument that 80% of the carbon footprint produced by your average MFP (multi-function printer) is in the manufacturing and the mining of the raw materials,” says Greg. “The actual running of the machines is only 20% – representing a smaller percentage of the carbon footprint.

“So why not run them for as long as you possibly could?”

All about remanufactured devices

By starting at the source of consumption, Greg introduced the concept of ‘remanufactured’ to the team at UCC.

Not to be confused with ‘refurbished’ or ‘second hand’, remanufactured devices are bestselling machines that have reached the end of their contract with a customer (typically three to five years). They are then taken to Canon’s factory in Giessen, Germany, disassembled to the frame level, thoroughly cleaned and fully tested as they would be in a normal standardised factory process. This includes full erasure of the hard disk and updates to the latest firmware.

The rebuild of the finished product is a combination of approved existing parts and new, and it undergoes a quality control process that is identical to that of a new machine. The completed device is then resupplied into the market with the same warranties as a brand-new product.

Two white electric cars and an electric van, with three men and a woman standing with them. Behind them are the offices of Cantec Ireland.

Since working with UCC, Greg Tuohy of Cantec Ireland and his team have a new commitment to sustainability and have pledged change all company vehicles to electric by 2023.

A man in a deep red shirt and green, elbow length rubber gloves, is in an industrial setting and cleaning a section of a machine using a powerful water spray.

At Canon’s factory in Giessen, Germany, devices go through a rigorous remanufacturing and quality control process.

For UCC, such devices meant an immediate sustainability win, both in terms of circular economy and the reduced environmental impact in manufacturing.

Every day is a learning day. But the biggest influence on me has been the Energy & Utilities Manager at UCC.”

In addition to that, all machines have now been equipped with a new print management system that naturally creates efficiency and consolidates consumables. This has then led to the creation of a new sustainable print policy, the implementation of which is triggering cultural shifts at UCC.

Looking ahead

Now that the new models have been installed, what happens to the hundreds of existing machines that Cantec replaced?

“There was a plan,” explains Greg. “Any machine over four years old could be taken home by staff members, machines under four years and any available cartridges were to be donated to charity. And really old and battered machines would be recycled.”

As for Greg and Cantec, working with the sustainable requirements of his old university has been a truly eye-opening experience for him as he now sits on UCC’s sustainable print steering group.

Both organisations know that this is just a stepping stone for even more initiatives in the years to come – and recognise the huge influence that they’ve had on each other throughout the process.

“Every day is a learning day,” concludes Greg. “But the biggest influence on me has been the Energy & Utilities Manager at UCC. I was semi-environmentally conscious until I met him and he’s basically changed my life as a businessperson. He’s so prepared to come up with practical solutions and talk to people like me who are on the journey.”

Find out more about Canon’s sustainability initiatives.