Joel Sharp is the founder of a Norwich-based print and design agency which has sustainability at its heart. The finalist in the Broadland and South Norfolk Business Awards 2024 shares his passion for eco-conscious printing
I’m Joel, founder of JSC Print & Design agency. We are very much focused on sustainability; our mission is to be an eco-conscious agency that encourages people to make better choices for print marketing. We mainly support businesses to make positive improvements and promote a successful transition to using recyclable products and recycled paper without sacrificing the fun side of print. This is my big passion. Right now, lots of businesses are cutting down on print; it’s usually the first to go when they are trying to crack down on their ESG policy and environmental impact. We are highly motivated to provide high quality print solutions – all whilst considering the implications for people and the planet and reaching an equilibrium. For too long consideration of the environment has been viewed as the enemy of business success, but it all goes together: people, planet, profit.
Providing advice and guidance about sustainable print making is an important and unique part of the service I offer. There are lots of misconceptions about paper products in business; I am often met with similar responses when promoting my services, as many businesses are replacing paper products with digital solutions, due to the associated wastage and costs. We are keen to promote a competitive edge where high-quality paper products are created, whilst being cost and waste conscious. Instead of enforcing a high minimum order quota, we instead offer smaller numbers with a focus on higher quality. It would be easy to oversell business cards to our customers, but this simply does not align with our mission. We instead choose to have a little bit more fun with interesting papers such as seaweed paper, seeded paper, coffee cup paper and various other recycled stocks. A great example is my business cards, one side is a black paper which is made from upcycled coffee cups. Basically, McDonalds, Costa and Starbucks send a large quantity of their cups to a UK based paper mill which then separates the plastic and the paper from the cups, re-pulps the paper down and turns it into many different coloured sheets. This is then duplexed together with a different paper the other side called Gmund Bier Bock, which is made from the by-product of beer (brewers’ spent grain).
I’ve worked in the print industry for six years now. What led me to starting the business was seeing businesses cut back on their print needs and that really upset me. Many started cutting back due to the sustainability side and wanting to print less. I felt like I had a unique passion for combining creative design with a sustainable mission, which would lend itself as the ideal solution to lots of the issues I was seeing working in the industry. I met lots of other businesses and potential clients and presented my thoughts and ideas. I was met with lots of really beneficial advice and positive feedback, so I decided to make the jump. It’s certainly not been without its challenges, but I’ve been fortunate enough to see it grow rapidly.
I’m in the lucky position to offer so many different print products, which keeps things interesting for myself and my clients. JSC is kind of like your one stop shop for all things print and design. One of my clients is GRIDSERVE – they are a great client and over the past year we have completed many projects. We have just recently done some outdoor signage for them with a PVC free material which is fully recyclable and printed with vegan ink.
I went to East Norfolk College in Gorleston. I got to the end of the second year and all my friends went to uni. I didn’t want to go to university so instead I did a University of Arts London Foundation Diploma. That’s when I really discovered my passion for graphic design. After that, I was just very lucky when I left college. A junior graphic design role popped up and I managed to get in with a local printer. They showed me the way in design, print, finishes – absolutely every part of the print world. I really learned a lot and I’m incredibly grateful for these early opportunities. I ended up job hopping quite a lot to other printers which is also when I realised that, actually, I was suited to working for myself.
I feel like it’s my duty, for the age I am at, to really focus on sustainable stuff. I think it’s just so important now, with everyone talking about plastics and the climate crisis, so I just believe as a young business owner it would only be right for me to move in the right direction in very early days of the business. Why not start off the right way? It’s at the forefront of everything.
Print, design, signage and branded merchandise – that’s my thing (and it’s the thing that wraps around my logo). Print marketing is the biggest thing we do. Obviously, we do have a lot of clients who do care about eco-friendly printing, and businesses who do it because they have to. We make print fun and experiment with different textures and stock. It gives people something to talk about. It’s great for your business to show that you’re taking the right steps forward – that’s the most important thing; why wouldn’t you? There really is no excuse. I have a thing which I’m super strict about: laminates. We push people away from printing any paper product on laminate. If I do get people asking for a laminate flyer, there are things like bio-laminates which are degradable, and some made from wood pulp. There is zero excuse. I educate people that there are alternatives out there.
We have moved in a positive direction since day one – I started the business from my bedroom with zero clients. We now have 60 clients, some of whom are on a retainer basis. When I started there was a lot of worry as there are a lot of people doing print in Norfolk and usually when a business is getting really good service, what reason would they have to move? And a lot of people weren’t getting anything printed at all because they thought it wasn’t great for the environment. However, we have lots of interesting products on offer. We’ve had great turnover in the first year and are now on track to employing our current Studio Assistant, Annie part-time by April, and I hope that by the end of summer this year we will have two employees in the studio. That is the road map. We would like to have a few bigger corporate clients as well. Never did I think this would come this far. I’ve put so much work into this and have worked all the hours under the sun.
Last year I won the Rising Star Award, which is for young talent in the print industry. That was huge for me…a big moment. The RSA is a hard one to get and there is a lot that goes into it, and now this business award is the first one JSC is down for. I’m seriously proud of how far I’ve come. You don’t realise until you stop. I really love what I do. We are starting to be recognised as well, with the nomination for the South Norfolk & Broadland District Councils Business Awards. I’m really excited for what the future holds.
Seed paper is a great product. It’s so fun, and great for print marketing – what’s not to like about paper that is already recycled and once you’re done with it you can grow something? I’ve got wildflowers in my garden that survive year on year. I can’t believe they are still kicking about but they are, these little flowers that attract bees. What is not to like about that? I mean, come on! I love all the eco papers – that’s our thing. We do various things including high end stuff, although weirdly the best-selling thing we do is business cards.
Fitness is a big hobby outside of work. I’m always in the gym or out running, that is my thing, doing park runs. I love the community atmosphere and the opportunity to clear my head. I also enjoy clay shooting and also sea fishing when the opportunity arises.
I guess the biggest plan is to grow into a business that is more than just me. We are looking at two members of staff. I’ve decided that I want to stay as an agency-based business. We just want to keep doing what we’ve been doing with the sustainability side of things. The more products become available the more products we can put in front of our clients.
Visit Joel Sharp Creative.
Featured images by Rob Dodsworth