Expanding the reach of Sustainable Ink

Thanks to amazing support from you, our readers, traffic has steadily grown to Sustainable Ink as sustainability has become a more critical issue to our future.

As a result of this momentum, I was honored to be tapped to become part of a group of “Sustainability Thought Leaders” on a new site built by Netline Corporation. Please click here to visit the site.

Here’s a description of the site’s focus: BlogNotions Sustainability delivers a diverse series of perspectives provided by thought leaders in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, the environment and related topics.

They plan to repost articles from Sustainable Ink, so you can continue to read them here.  However, I didn’t want to let any time go by without saying thank you.

Video of Panel Discussion at Columbia Business School: The Returns to Social Enterprise


I had the privilege of serving on a panel in April at Columbia Business School during Reunion weekend titled “The Returns to Social Enterprise.”  The panel was moderated by Ray Fisman, the Co-Director of the Social Enterprise Program at Columbia Business School. Please click on the image above to watch the video from our talk. 

The conversation covered trends in social enterprise, renewable energy, as well as green marketing and the issue of transparency around green claims.  There were also some excellent questions from the audience about sustainable procurement strategies.  I was really impressed with my fellow panelists, and I think the whole video is interesting.  In case you’re wondering, my portion starts around the 13-minute mark.The other panelists were:

A Negative Tipping Point for FSC Certification

Turning the page on FSC?

Over the past few years, awareness has grown about FSC-certified papers and printing.  FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, a group that works to ensure that the materials used are sourced responsibly.  Each step in the chain (i.e. from forest to printer) must be traceable.  The intent of the FSC system is to eliminate habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples and violence against people and wildlife that can accompany logging.

Although I believe this is a meaningful cause, I wanted to report to my readers that I believe that FSC certification in the commercial printing and marketing communications industry has hit a negative tipping point.  By this, I mean that the future of FSC certification in these fields is murky at best.

I base my assertion on a lot of anecdotal evidence I have seen in the field, both from printers, and especially from marketing professionals and print buyers.  Back when I started conducting green marketing seminars (and writing on Sustainable Ink) in 2007, there was growing interest in FSC, and a sense that it would become the industry standard, on the level of recycled paper.  It was on its way there, but I believe it was hurt in three major ways:

  1. Lack of awareness of what FSC means. As I mentioned before, FSC is a system designed to ensure the chain of custody of paper, from when it was a tree to its final printed form.  The fact is, many people in our industry do not know what FSC is, and therefore do not sell it.  More importantly, I have seen many research studies that show that most consumers do not know what it means and are therefore not interested in it.
  2. Lack of tangible environmental benefit versus other green attributes. When people use recycled paper, they know they are consuming less natural resources than they would if they chose virgin fibers.  Vegetable-based inks sound like they make a positive difference, as they cut down on the use of oil, and are renewable.  Papers made with renewable energy send a message that an organization wants to reduce its carbon footprint and support a green economy.  Those terms, recycled, vegetable-based, and renewable energy, all are easy to understand and therefore end consumers of print and marketing collateral feel comfortable around these terms.  If they feel comfortable around these terms and believe they know what makes them green, they will continue to ask for papers and printers that meet these standards.  FSC, on the other hand, is difficult to understand, and the green attributes may not be immediately obvious.
  3. The combination of the difficult economy and the perceived greed of the Forest Stewardship Council. It is not surprising that FSC grew dramatically in 2007 and 2008, when the broader economy was stronger, and the environmental movement was top of mind.  However, as printers fell on tough times, FSC continued to charge large annual fees from printers to allow them to maintain their individual plant certifications.  One printer told me the following: “Look, I’m a small company – we do $3-$4 million in sales per year, and when I had to sign up for FSC certification in 2008, and spend $10,000-$15,000 to make this happen, with ongoing overhead expenses, I did it.  I thought it would be a cost of doing business, and that I would lose business from eco-minded clients if I wasn’t FSC certified.  When sales fell in 2009 and 2010, I appealed to FSC to get a reduction in my fees, as I was facing the choice between paying my FSC bill or my payroll.  FSC wouldn’t budge, so I didn’t renew, as I was more interested in protecting my employees than I was in paying what I saw as an FSC tax.  I haven’t noticed a sales drop off due to this decision.”  After hearing this, I spoke to several other printers, many of whom no longer maintain their FSC certification, as they said the costs outweighed the benefits.  Some questioned the mission of FSC, with one saying it seemed to be an “overhead-heavy organization” that “charged small printers large fees to pay for their bloated staff.”  I found this large organizational chart on their website which did not contradict this assertion.

In some sense, printers have been FSC’s sales force.  Once printers became certified, they sold FSC as an incredibly valuable brand, and one that all companies that wanted to send a green message should strive to put on their printed pieces.  Now that many of these smaller printers have declined to renew, FSC has lost a powerful constituency that will not continue to spread the word about FSC.

One other constituency FSC has partially alienated is designers, due to their strict rules around usage of the term “FSC.”  Several years ago, if an organization wanted to explain their green choices with words instead of symbols, they were allowed to do so.  As an example, if they printed a brochure on Neenah Environment PC 100, one of my favorite green papers made from 100% post-consumer recycled content, at an FSC-certified printer, they could use a simple sentence like “Printed using FSC-certified 100% post consumer recycled content.”  Now FSC no longer allows this, and insists that the term “FSC” only be used along with its official logo.  FSC is clearly trying to build awareness of its brand, but this shouldn’t be the responsibility of the end user.  I have seen this rule cause designers to sacrifice the use of the “FSC” term.

FSC is a worthwhile organization, and serves a good cause.  However, I believe its lack of obvious green benefits relative to other green elements like recycled paper is hurting adoption.  More than that, however, are the large fees charged to FSC’s sales army (printers) during this recession.  Those, coupled with strict rules around design, are a sign that FSC may have overplayed its hand in the marketing communications industry, and its best days are behind it.

Green Tips for Marketing Success: Part 4 of 4 (Green Printing)

As I have written about on several occasions, my firm, Grossman Marketing Group, put together our 100 Tips for Marketing Success this year to mark our 100th anniversary.  21 of the 100 tips involve sustainability, and were broken into four categories: 1) General Sustainability, 2) Green Promotional Products, 3) Green Design, 4) Green Printing.  I am pleased to share the green printing tips below:

Let your colleagues, customers, donors and other constituents know that you are fully committed to environmental stewardship by using some of the following best practices in green printing.

  1. Encourage your constituents to either share or recycle the printed piece. Sustainability is more than the materials you use—it also involves the lifecycle of your item.
  2. Consider using chlorine-free paper. The best papers to use are bleached using an oxygen-based process, thus avoiding the creation of chlorine-related pollution.
  3. Use vegetable-based inks when possible. Not only are they generally refined in the United States, but they also reduce our use of petroleum, the majority of which comes from foreign sources.
  4. Consider papers with a high degree of post-consumer content, as they require fewer resources (energy, water, etc.) to produce.
  5. When using eco-friendly papers, make sure to explain the environmental benefits derived from these choices. These calculations should come from a third-party source rather than a calculation from an industry source. For a great example, please see www.papercalculator.org.
  6. Use renewable energy (like wind or solar power) in the production process. It is good for the environment and resonates well with the vast majority of Americans.
  7. You can make your collateral more environmentally-friendly without sacrificing quality or adding cost! For example, our house sheet of coated stock is 55% recycled with 30% post-consumer waste, and will not cost your organization any more than the non-recycled alternative!

I hope you have enjoyed reading these suggestions.  To download the full set of 100 tips, please click here. Many thanks for your interest!

Unique Environmental Approach to Al Gore Mailing

Front and back of Al Gore mailing.

Front and back of Al Gore mailing.

My firm recently produced envelopes for a mailing on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for Nexus Direct, a full-service direct marketing agency located in Virginia Beach, VA.

This fundraising appeal, comprised of 1.9 million pieces, was signed by former Vice President Al Gore. In keeping with his unwavering commitment to fighting global warming, the envelopes that were used were produced using environmentally-sound practices, most notably recycled paper, containing 30% post-consumer waste, and 100% certified wind power.

Eco-statistics for Al Gore Mailing

The back of the envelope featured statistics on the following savings: trees, pounds of solid waste, pounds of greenhouse gases, gallons of wastewater and BTUs of energy.


Please click here to view the mailing
,
which features all relevant eco-logos and a union label, as well as a full environmental report of the savings realized by using the above-mentioned practices. The statistics are from the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator, which I have written about on numerous occasions as being an excellent resource, especially due to its independent and transparent nature.

Report on New England clean energy firms

necec-logoI had the opportunity to hear Nick d’Arbeloff, president of the New England Clean Energy Council, give a talk on Thursday, April 23, titled: “The Case for Energy Transformation: Climate Change, Energy Security, and Global Fossil Fuel Supply.”

d’Arbeloff extensively discussed the causes of global warming and the need for more sustainable energy supplies.  Near the end of his presentation, he highlighted some of New England’s leading clean energy firms, in a wide range of categories.  I thought this list was highly-targeted, and wanted to share it below, along with links to the various firms’ websites:

  1. A123 Systems – batteries
  2. Aircuity – energy efficiency
  3. Aspen Aerogels – advanced insulation
  4. EnerNOC - demand response for utilities
  5. Evergreen Solar – vertically integrated solar PV
  6. FloDesign Wind Turbine – turbine technology
  7. General Compression – energy storage (nacelle technology)
  8. GreenFuel - algae-based biofuel
  9. Konarka - thin film solar
  10. Mascoma - cellulostic ethanol
  11. ORPC - marine turbine techology
  12. Protonex - Fuel cells
  13. Qteros - cellulostic ethanol
  14. Ze-gen – waste-to-energy

d’Arbeloff concluded by explaining that despite the dire environmental trends (coupled with unstable energy prices and finite fossil fuel supplies), there will be a bright “green” future.  He said this will be made possible, first, by the right policy, which will unleash innovation and free markets to solve our energy problems.

The event was hosted by Goodwin Procter LLP, and organized by my high school, BB&N.  A special thanks to my friend, Jonathan Shapira, author of the Cleantech Investing in Israel blog, for making it happen.

EPA Revises Green Power Partnership Program Requirement

gpp_logo180I was glad to see that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised its Green Power Partnership program requirements last weekThe Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program that encourages the use of renewable energy in the United States.

My firm was chosen to be a Green Power Partner in 2008 because we offset 100% of our energy with Green-e certified wind power – we have continued the initiative and have gotten a number of our suppliers to join our consortium (we work with Renewable Choice Energy).
Below are the notable changes:

  1. Minimum purchase percentages have risen for an organization to be able to be included in the program
  2. Program requires purchase of new renewable energy, rather than from existing sources.  As the announcement stated, “The Partnership’s primary objective is to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. power sector by increasing renewable energy supply.”
  3. Window for making an initial green power purchase has tightened – new partners will only have 6 months (rather than the previously-allowed 12) to make an initial purchase.  I like this change because companies won’t be able to market their involvement in the program without making the necessary investment in renewable energy…if it were up to me, I would shorten the window even further.

These are encouraging changes, as participating companies will now have to make more substantial investments in new energy sources in a shorter timeframe, helping to weed out the types of companies that join to make the minimum investment possible for the purposes of greenwashing.