Surviving the Sustainability Maze
Remember the good old days when life used to be simple and relaxed? I am not talking about farming a few centuries ago, but about the printing industry—and, more specifically, paper.
No one questioned your paper choice on an ecological basis 20 years ago. There was virgin paper and virgin paper, and that was that. Then came the recycling wave (not the first surge in the ’70s, when you could hardly print on recycled papers, but the ’90s wave). Then there was a “real” choice—virgin or recycled—and often at a premium price.
But, all this still seems like the good old days compared to the choices we have today. Virgin, recycled, post-consumer, FSC- and SFI-certified...It’s enough to make your head spin.
Even though many paper mills have been talking about these issues for a while, overall, there is still a lot of confusion. And, if you think you are confused, meet your clients—the designers and print buyers who want to “do the right thing,” either from their own environmental concerns or because their companies have an environmental policy.
Build on trust. Webster’s definition of a client is a person that you guide, care and protect.
A recent survey by a prominent U.S. design magazine showed that more than 80 percent of designers like to think they are in charge of the paper decision. But you and I know, that when it comes down to it, they rely on you—the printer—to help them make these choices...choices that are good for the environment and make their design look outstanding.
They rely on you to know it all. Advising your clients will not only establish you as the expert, it will help you gain your client’s trust, and trust is what long-term relationships are built on.
Lead the way. Put aside the long-lasting feud between designers and printers, and respect your clients for who they are. Designers are not hired because they know printing processes inside and out, but because of their vision, their creativity and their ability to solve communication problems for their clients.
Help them find the way through an often confusing sustainability maze, and you will find that it is so much easier to work with educated clients. Educated clients understand that not every job can be delivered yesterday. Educated clients understand your process and how much work goes into the printing side of it.
Let’s start by clearing up some of the most common confusions:
Virgin vs. recycled. Paper manufacturing largely depends on fiber. Even though there are some niche markets based on tree-free fibers, the majority of printing papers depend on tree fibers. But mills have a choice in the fibers they use. We know that recycled fibers, overall, are more environmentally friendly and, thus, preferable to use. But pay attention. More than once, I have seen paper specifiers spec a sheet that was called out as 100 percent recycled, assuming this automatically meant 100 percent post-consumer waste (PCW).
We all know that it is better to have facts than to assume anything. We want to know how much PCW is really used to make a sheet. Don’t wait until your client asks or after the job has been printed. Have the facts ready ahead of time. As the quality of recycled papers has increased dramatically over the last few years, you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a virgin and a recycled sheet. And, with more and more recycled papers being sold, their prices have come down dramatically to compete head-to-head with virgin papers.
Focus on sustainability. As wonderful as recycled options are, we cannot recycle indefinitely. There just is not enough recycled fiber to go around and, subsequently, virgin fibers will remain an important part of the papermaking process.
But we are not just specifying any virgin sheet. Several independent organizations (FSC, SFI, PECF), each with their own focus on sustainability, have made it their aim to ensure that trees are grown, forested and transported in the most environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways. All of them have their own level of certification, a guarantee to you and your clients that the mill’s claim is a viable one. To achieve these certifications, mills have to undergo stringent testing. Needless to say, this process takes several months and does not come cheap. Besides the certification process, the actual pulp is more expensive, too. This is why you will see increased pricing for most of these certified papers.
Your clients are budget-conscious. Explain to them from the outset what they can expect and, in turn, they will be happy to have solid reasoning/information that they can pass on to their clients.
Certifiable chlorine free. ECF, PCF, TCF...Until recently, any claims as to the bleaching process of a paper were...well, a gentlemen’s agreement. There was no governing or environmental organization that would double check if a claim made was actually substantiated. The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) is filling this void. With Neenah Paper as the first mill to obtain certification, others are sure to follow.
You might feel inundated with all these certifications, but they are here to ensure that you and your customer get what you pay for—that any claims made are rightful, and that you truly do your bit for the environment.
Using the right labels. “Do I have to apply in order to use a recycled logo on the back of my printed piece?” This was only one of many “basic” questions we received from hundreds in a recent survey of the readers of our e-newsletter, revealing that there is still a cause for confusion on various levels. Possibly the biggest uncertainty is around the use of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logos.
Recycled, Green Seal, Green-e: These are the easy ones, and you do not need any special permission to use them. When it comes to FSC, it’s a different story. The FSC is possibly the most stringent organization when it comes to their certification and use of logos, but also the most recognized forest stewardship authority around the world.
From the original tree to the paper mill, to the paper merchant to, yes, you (the printer), many hands are involved to produce and get the final paper product on-press. Given this long supply chain, the FSC has set forth strict mechanisms to ensure that every link in this chain adheres to their standards—the chain- of-custody. If only one link in this chain is not certified, you cannot use the logo on the printed piece.
Every bit helps. But don’t give up. Even if their desirable logo is not within reach, make sure to include a “printed on...” sentence on the back of the piece. And, in some cases where FSC certification is not available (i.e., cotton or synthetic papers), it is currently the best way to spread the word.
So, help your clients, guide and protect them, and show them you care. There is a lot of confusion out there, but you can help. With more than 1,800 recycled papers and 600 FSC-certified papers to choose from—and more added every day—your clients don’t have to be afraid that they’ll be constrained in their options, and they’ll feel good about making a smart choice for their project and for the planet. PI
About the Author
Sabine Lenz is the founder of PaperSpecs, the first interactive paper guide specifically designed for the design/print industry. For 15-plus years, she has been a graphic designer in Germany, Australia and the United States. Lenz worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. Seeing designers struggle to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Lenz to create PaperSpecs and publish a weekly e-newsletter, PaperTalks. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Sabine Lenz is the founder of PaperSpecs.com, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.
Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.
Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge.