Sustainability of Paper — Here Today, Here Tomorrow
BY MARK SMITH
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.
COC certification is distinct from, but can dovetail with, a printer's efforts to achieve and maintain ISO 14001 certification. The latter is an international standard for a broader environmental management system. It addresses a larger scope of environmental practices, including reducing raw material usage, energy consumption and waste generation.
FSC activities are consistent with ISO protocols as they relate to the accreditation of auditors and the setting of standards, reports Michael P. Washburn, Ph.D. and vice president of forestry and marketing at the FSC-U.S. in Washington, DC. However, the process a printer must complete to achieve certification is entirely different, he says.
"FSC does not address environmental quality issues within the printing industry," Washburn points out. "We only address the forest management of sources from which the paper originates. Our chain-of-custody certification is designed to ensure solely that a printer claiming to be using FSC-certified papers actually is. The audit includes affirmation that inventory management systems are sufficient to identify 'certified' jobs as distinct from those being printed on non-certified papers."
In the case of printing, materials produced by a printer with current chain-of-custody certification and using FSC-certified papers can bear the official FSC tree logo to signal its commitment to being environmentally responsible.
The full process for obtaining COC certification starts with contracting for the services of an FSC-accredited certifier. A printer then must submit a completed application to that firm, detailing the steps it has taken to be compliant. Next, the certifier will send a qualified inspector to the site to verify that appropriate systems are in place to keep records of certified inventory and track it through production. If the site passes inspection, it is deemed certified, but is subject to annual on-site audits to maintain its certification.
As the on-site inspection implies, certification is specific to a printing plant. Multi-site operations must complete this process for each plant they'd like certified.
Pictorial Offset, in Carlstadt, NJ, is a great case study for this process. The printer was recently awarded SmartWood certification by the Rainforest Alliance and also attained recertification of its ISO 9001-2000 (quality) and ISO 14001-2004 (environmental) management system registrations.
Taking Leadership Role
According to Mac Byrd, strategic sales and marketing director, the idea of pursuing FSC certification was first suggested by a rep from one of the company's paper suppliers. However, he says the company's leadership team of Donald, Gary and Lester Samuels has always been passionate about "doing the right thing." They consider environmental stewardship to be one of the principles guiding the firm's operation, Byrd adds.
Pictorial's management trio reportedly sought SmartWood/FSC certification not just as a differentiator or a necessity to keep pace with the competition, but also because it is in keeping with their ideals. Byrd points out that the company was the first privately held printer in the world to be granted both ISO 9000 and ISO 14001 certification simultaneously.
Managing Partner Donald Samuels says, "Our certification through SmartWood demonstrates our commitment not only to the environment, but to doing everything we can to bring value to our customers. FSC certification is of great brand value to all of our customers—regardless of the amount or type of work that we do for them."
Byrd says becoming FSC certified was easy for the printer, in part because of the work it had done for ISO certification. Pictorial's manufacturing and material handling procedures were already up to those standards, he points out.
"Chain-of-custody certification is really about inventory management and tracking systems that can trace the materials back to a well-managed forest. Accurate documentation is key to the success and value of the entire program," Byrd explains.
"With the commitment of the managing partners to being as earth-friendly and environmentally responsible as possible, Pictorial already had efficient tracking and materials management procedures in place," he continues. "For other printers that want to become FSC certified, the road to success might not be as easy. The real key is top management commitment."
Once a printer has suitable procedures in place, running FSC-certified papers has little or no impact on its operations, Byrd says.
"In the beginning of the program—when few paper manufacturers and suppliers were 'on-board'—there were some premium prices associated with FSC-certified paper," he says. "But as the program has grown and been more widely embraced by all parts of the supply chain, competition has increased and the premiums have been greatly reduced.
"As anyone in the printing community knows, print buyers won't pay extraordinary premiums for a paper with features that don't bring specific value. The FSC-certified papers are getting much more competitive with the regular paper market," he observes.
According to Byrd, three pulp producers, eight paper mills and 13 paper merchants can provide FSC-certified papers. The wide range of grades now available also means that printers don't have to make sacrifices in pressroom or bindery performance to run certified papers, he says.
"As a general commercial printer, we have printed on all kinds of paper. The paper is not disruptive to our normal environmental procedures at all," Byrd reports. "Once a printer's processes are approved and the (tracking and monitoring) procedures become the norm, adherence to the program is very simple."
Gary Samuels, managing partner of operations, adds, "The real difference to us, with compliance to the standards of FSC certification through SmartWood, is the tracking of the paper and job, labeling and shipping. The paper must be tracked and documented from the time it hits the receiving dock to the time the printed piece leaves the shipping dock. Our tracking systems within our computer-integrated manufacturing systems enable us to do that efficiently and effectively."
Keeper of Certifications
Pictorial has a full-time compliance officer to manage all of its certifications and other processes—quality assurance, environmental, etc.—that are designed to bring distinctive advantages to its customers, Byrd notes. Success was not negotiable, he says, because Pictorial's leadership team, including the steering committee and all of the line managers, is committed to being FSC certified through SmartWood.
"Our FSC certification complements our other environmental initiatives," reiterates Lester Samuels, managing partner of administration. "Given our rigid adherence to processes and procedures that are required for our ISO 14001, as well as the ISO 9000 certifications, it (FSC certification) only enhances and re-emphasizes Pictorial's commitment to our customers, ourselves and our planet."
The numbers keep growing, but according to the latest list (March 2005) published by FSC-U.S., there are already more than 20 COC-certified printing sites across the country.