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SUSTAINABILITY of Paper -- Here Today, Here Tomorrow

May 2005
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

The knock against operating a business in a socially responsible way is that everyone's for it. . .until it means paying higher prices for goods and services. The printing industry has gone through several rounds of environmental initiatives, most of which have been curtailed by price competition in the marketplace. EPA-mandated process changes have been about the only ones with real staying power, such as limits on VOC emissions by web offset printers.

Paper usage is a ready target because it calls to mind images of clear-cut forests and overflowing garbage barges or trucks destined for a dwindling number of landfill sites.

Some years ago, recycling efforts—both in terms of using stocks with recovered fibers and capturing printed materials from the waste stream—were launched with great enthusiasm, but they have since struggled in the face of budgetary constraints. Recovery of waste fiber generated within a printing plant has been the exception, since it's easier to capture and reuse.

Many of the goals and ideals behind that recycling movement have now been melded into the more workable concept of "sustainability"—although purists may balk at that characterization. The idea is to moderate the ultimate goal from leaving nature pristine and untouched to capitalizing on natural resources in a responsible way and in harmony with their continued existence.

For products derived from trees, sustainability initiatives are rooted in the U.S. chapter of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). "FSC" is just the start of the acronyms and jargon that inevitably are associated with a formalized process, especially one that is international in scope.

Set of Standards

The nonprofit organization sets standards that are intended to ensure that "forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable way," according to its charter. Wood products themselves are referred to as FSC-certified, but for a distributor/user of those products it is more accurate to say that the firm has achieved "chain-of-custody" (COC) certification. Certified paper doesn't have to include recycled fiber, but it is a common feature.

FSC works through independent certification organizations that it accredits to carry out assessments of forest management to determine if standards have been met. These organizations also verify that companies claiming to sell FSC-certified products have put systems in place to track their supply back to certified sources—which is COC certification. This method of operation is why many of the already certified printers promote themselves as certified under the SmartWood program of the Rainforest Alliance, one of the accredited certifiers.
 

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