Post From Yesterday on FSC Picked Up Nationally

The response to my post from yesterday, “A Negative Tipping Point for FSC Certification,” has been overwhelming.  In my 4 years of blogging, it has been far and away the most widely-read and distributed post.  Most notably, it was picked up by Ecopreneurist, a leading green business news website, which you can view here.

I have received dozens of tweets, as well as messages on Facebook and Linkedin, and virtually every comment has been supportive of my suggestion that FSC’s best days may be behind it in the printing and marketing industries.  I welcome your feedback as well!

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!

Graphic Design USA Survey on Impact of Environment on Design and Purchasing Decisions

gdusa-dark-logoGraphic Design USA Magazine published its annual survey on printing trends in the design industry this month.  The survey includes a page titled The Impact of Environment Matters On Your Design and Purchasing Decisions?”

It is very clear that environmental issues are very important to designers and end-clients alike.  Here are the key points made:

  • Cost is always a concern, as there is a perception in the marketplace that environmentally-friendly papers cost more than typical products
  • “Green” printed products are often used to support a broader organizational mission that includes sustainability
  • As long as quality is not compromised, environmentally-friendly papers are preferred

I am quite proud that my colleague, Brendan O’Hara, was featured prominently in the survey.  Brendan is a team leader at Grossman Marketing Group and manages some of our most complex print projects, and is well versed in the broad array of environmental issues facing our industry.  Here’s what Brendan had to say:

“I spec FSC, windpower, carbon neutral, soy-based inks and recycled papers a lot. We are a very ‘green-oriented’ company. Even if the customer does not specifically request these printing attributes, we offer them as a value added option.”

Here’s a link to the entire page.

Tips for selecting the right eco-friendly papers

green_papers****Guest post from David Grossman (SVP, Grossman Marketing Group)****

When getting ready to print a piece of marketing collateral, there are many ways in which you can make it more environmentally friendly.  None is more important than your paper selection.

There are a number of criteria by which you can evaluate your paper options:

  1. What percentage of post-consumer recycled content is contained in the paper?
  2. Is the paper made with 100% certified wind power?
  3. Is the paper FSC-certified (The FSC logo 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 often accompanies logging)
  4. Is the paper process and elemental chlorine free?

While all of these factors combine to determine the eco-friendliness of a paper, the single most important factor is the percentage of post-consumer content.  This indicates how much of the paper pulp comes from material that has been used by consumers, then reclaimed and reused, thereby eliminating the need for that portion of the paper to be made from virgin fiber.

Obviously the goal is 100% post-consumer waste (PCW).  This means that no trees were used to make this paper.  There are varying percentages of PCW contained in readily available commercial printing papers made by the major paper mills.  Some of my favorites, which incorporate all of the aforementioned criteria are (in order of preference):

UNCOATED PAPER (all of these papers are 100% PCW):

Monadnock Astrolite PC 100

  • This is arguably the most premium of all readily-available eco-friendly papers.  The downside is that it is generally the most expensive
  • It has gorgeous finish/printability
  • Despite being 100% PCW, it is a bright white stock

Mohawk Options PC 100

  • Very smooth finish
  • Bright white shade
  • Excellent Printability
  • The one complaint I have heard is the occasional appearance of black specks throughout the sheet.  This is a byproduct of the 100% PCW

Neenah Environment PC 100

  • It can be slightly less readily available than Astrolite or Options
  • Nice finish
  • Nice shade of white

Rolland Enviro 100

  • This paper is very affordable and performs admirably for a value sheet of paper
  • Less smooth and less bright than the previously mentioned sheets
  • Prevalent black specks
  • Good for clients who want a paper with a more obvious recycled look/feel

COATED PAPER

Sappi LOE (Lustro Offset Environmental)

  • Contains 30% PCW, which is the highest percentage available in readily-available commercial printing paper
  • Beautiful finish
  • Excellent printability

Chorus Art

  • This imported sheet of paper has 50% recycled content with 25% PCW
  • It is extremely cost-effective and performs at a level far beyond its price point
  • Good finish
  • Good printability

For comparison’s sake, a typical sheet of paper contains approximately 10% recycled content, which may or not be PCW.  Please note that I didn’t mention any papers made by New Leaf Paper, despite their high degree of PCW.  This is due to their unreliable availability, especially on the East Coast.

In this day and age, where environmental awareness has been significantly elevated, it is key to make decisions with sustainability in mind.  There is no choice that has more of an environmental impact on your printing than paper selection.

WSJ: Interesting report on eco-logos and green marketing

Courtesy Wall Street Journal.  Illustration by Michael Witte.

Courtesy Wall Street Journal. Illustration by Michael Witte.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting report in Thursday’s issue titled: “As Eco-Seals Proliferate, So Do Doubts.” The article discusses how a number of unregulated organizations that purport to verify “green” product claims have sprouted up, which only makes buying these products even more confusing for businesses and consumers.

Here are the two main points that the writer makes:

1) The U.S. Government may need to oversee the creation of Federal green marketing standards, similar to what the U.S. Department of Agriculture has done with organic foods.

2) Eco-seals that are verified by reputable third-party organizations are more reliable.  One example the writer provides is a Canadian-based organization, Ecologo.

I couldn’t agree more.  I have been pushing my industry and my clients to be transparent about green marketing claims, especially because consumers are smart and see through “fuzzy” and unsubstantiated claims that organizations make.  This is why when a client uses eco-friendly papers in their marketing programs and wants to explain the environmental benefits derived from these choices, they should not use a paper company’s calculator to arrive at these statistics.  Rather, they should use the paper calculator created by Environmental Defense, a leading non-profit dedicated to the environment.  I have written about this resource a number of times over the past several years.

I also believe that the Federal government should step in and begin to regulate green product claims.  I know this will be a difficult process, as it would be impossible to apply the same standards across all industries.  Nevertheless, it is important to start now, as it will help companies and individual consumers to better navigate the increasingly-complicated product landscape.

Here’s a link to the full article.

Key findings from Direct Marketing Going Green panel

875191As I wrote before, I was on a panel titled “DM Going Green – Separating Fact and Fiction” on January 13.  The session, which was organized by the New England Direct Marketing Association, was interesting and the conversation was lively.

Floyd Kemske, who serves as Editor of NEDMA News and Creative Director at Amergent, wrote up a nice summary from the event.  As it is not online yet, I’m pleased to include select portions of the piece below:

****From NEDMA News****
The session, moderated by Mariah Hunt, Senior Production Manager at Digitas, featured four practitioners from the front lines of the campaign for industry sustainability.

Each panelist provided a unique perspective on sustainability, its achievability, and its benefits. Ben Grossman, Director, Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group , for example, has been instrumental in developing a model program for his company, which offsets 100% of its energy use through an organization called Renewable Choice Energy. This allows Grossman Marketing’s customers to credibly claim they make their printed collateral with certified wind power. In addition, Grossman has replaced petroleum-based window material in its window envelopes with corn-based material, which is both compostable and recyclable. Although the corn-based windows cost more, Grossman said, the company absorbs the premium so its customers pay the same as if they’d bought the petroleum-based ones.

According to Grossman, the company’s sustainability practices confer benefits in terms of increased sales, reduced costs, and more productive recruitment. But he advised the audience that sustainability isn’t something you can just say you do. “Customers are smart,” he said, “and they are conversant with the issues. They can discern a real commitment.” Transparency is important, he said. “Give people a way to dig down and investigate.” If you work at it and you are sincere, he said, you can use sustainability as a competitive advantage.

Mary McCormick, Senior Account Manager, Neenah Paper Inc., said her company was committed to manufacturing products with high post-consumer waste content, FSC-certification, and reduced carbon footprint. Before delving into some of the technical aspects of sustainable paper manufacture, she may have confirmed Grossman’s assertion about competitive advantage when she noted that the invitation for President Obama’s inauguration was printed on Neenah paper, chosen because of the company’s sustainability practices.

FSC certification, which is the premier paper certification standard, guarantees a chain of custody for pulp products from the harvest site to the finished product. It doesn’t simply guarantee sustainability. It also addresses social issues (e.g., rights of indigenous peoples) and forest recovery as well. Neenah’s website offers a calculator you can use to find the environmental savings you will achieve by using FSC papers. Neenah has also developed no-new-tree papers, including one manufactured from sugar cane bagasse.

The panel presentations were followed by a lively discussion in which some members of the audience sought proof that sustainability practices could increase sales. None of the panelists could cite such proof, but Ben Grossman stepped up and said that if anyone in the room wanted to conduct a test to determine whether a legitimate green logo would boost response to a mailing, his company was willing to subsidize it. There’s a man who backs up his belief in sustainability!