Sustainability — Paper Options Not Clear Cut
Sustainability has some earmarks of a fad or buzzword that only gets paid lip service or quickly falls victim to budgetary constraints. One cause for skepticism on the part of printers may be a sense of déjà vu brought on by past experiences with the push for recycling and use of recycled papers. The initial high level of enthusiasm quickly settled into a core group of print customers with a strong environmental commitment.
Few manufacturing processes are as directly customer driven as printing, with the buyer providing some process inputs and having final say over others. Then there are the competitive pressures of today’s business environment. Lack of pricing power and thin margins keep printers focused on building efficiency and limit the latitude for business missteps.
Given these dynamics, taking a wait-and-see approach to industry trends can be the prudent course of action. Printers want to see significant and consistent customer demand before investing time and/or money in a new service or technology.
Despite the advances that have been made, recycled grades (particularly those with post-consumer waste fiber) still suffer from the perception that they are more expensive, don’t offer the same appearance as virgin grades and can be more problematic to run on-press. Whether that is a fair assessment or not is open to debate.
Recycling programs are also being challenged by municipal budgets and reports of recyclables simply ending up back in the waste stream/landfills. Single-stream collection systems are now being promoted as a more cost-effective option, but concerns are being raised about possible degradation of recovered fiber due to contamination and other damage.
Using paper sourced from sustainably managed forests provides much of the same green factor as recycled grades, while taking any questions about appearance and performance out of the equation. Continuing growth in the number of grades with chain-of-custody certification works against suppliers charging a premium for such stocks.