Collaboration Station

In today's Industry People, we meet Arthur Stitt of Calverts, an East London-based printer and full-service agency whose cooperative business model and focus on sustainability sets them apart from the crowd...

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Tell us about what you do at Calverts...
I’m sales and marketing director at Calverts. I also manage digital projects, and run workshops for graphic designers.

What's the company history, and how has Calverts grown and developed over the years?
Calverts started in 1977 as a small offset printer in Clerkenwell. We were early innovators of what’s become known as sustainable printing. Over the years, we’ve invested in the latest digital presses, and a large offset litho press to meet the demands of our clients. We also have an in-house design team working on print, branding, and digital media. Currently we’re based near Shoreditch, a stone’s throw from the City of London. We’re one of the last full service communications agencies this close to central London.

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Arthur in action at Calverts

Tell us about the team at Calverts—how many of you are there, in what roles, and how do you work together? 
We have 12 owner/directors, all with an equal share in the business, an equal vote in how it’s run, and equal pay. Decisions are made by consensus in our weekly or monthly meetings.
Calverts is a cooperative—how did this ethos develop, and why was the company set up this way?
Calverts founders believed in self-help, secure employment, and ethical business. The co-operative business model was the best fit for those values.
What are the practical implications of being a cooperative, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of running a business this way? 

Everyone who works here is invested in the business. It’s a very inclusive, collaborative environment. Sometimes it might bit longer to make strategic decisions than it would do in a more hierarchical business, however those decisions have usually turned out to be the right ones.

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Work in progress...

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Work in progress...

What kind of clients do you work with, and has this changed at all in recent years?
We’ve always worked with designers, charities, housing associations, local authorities, and environmental groups. In recent years, architects, arts organisations, and galleries have come to us looking for promotional materials on unusual papers and finishes. Being geographically close to our clients is crucial when producing a beautiful book, for example. We can meet face-to-face. It’s a much more sensory experience than trying to discuss colour and texture over email or phone.  
Sustainability is a key area of focus for Calverts. How do you promote this through the way that you work, and the things you create?
We recognise that what we do has an environmental impact. We measure that impact; the kit that we use, the utilities that power it, and the materials involved. We then set targets to reduce the impact. Day-to-day this means using a wide range of recycled/FSC papers, and biodegradable inks, then generating detailed environmental information which can be used by our clients to meet their own environmental targets.

However, the environment is just one aspect of sustainability. A successful, sustainable business needs to work with local communities, build meaningful relationships with clients and attract and keep good workers.

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Workers Wild West, litho A4 newspaper

What are the most important steps a designer can take to make their printed projects more sustainable?
Come to one of our free workshops, where we cover all this and more.
What's the most unusual commission you've ever received?
We once designed and produced a huge soup can, which was filled with letters of protest against Westminster Council's plan to ban soup runs in central London.
Do you think the creative industry as a whole has become more environmentally-conscious in recent years, and how can we improve on this further?
Yes and no. While there is more emphasis on being an environmentally-conscious designer, budgets and deadlines are tighter than they once were which can lead to comprising the end result.  I also think young graphic designers are learning more about digital design than print design. There’s a knowledge gap when it comes to what is possible in print. Hopefully that’s where we come in!
What are your ambitions for the coming year?
Calverts will be 40 in November. We’ll be having a big party. My ambition is to make it through that.

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The giant soup can in situ.

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