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!

Green Tips for Marketing Success: Part 3 of 4 (Green Design)

Here’s the third of four installments of our green marketing tips.  These originally appeared in our our 100 Tips for Marketing Success, which we published earlier this year to mark our 100th anniversary.  The two tips below focus on green design.

Sustainability can help drive the design process. Where possible we help our clients create marketing pieces that require fewer natural resources to produce.

  1. When designing a piece, always consider how the item will be produced. When sustainability is important, use colors that work well with vegetable-based inks on recycled paper.
  2. By designing a lighter, smaller piece, you can save energy, freight costs, as well as reduce the amount of paper used. This can also help keep postage costs down if the piece is being mailed.

A leading industry publication. Graphic Design USA (GDUSA), featured our design group, Studio G, for its sustainability expertise late last year.  Here’s a link to the collection of agencies included.  Here’s a link to download the profile of Grossman Marketing Group that GDUSA published.

To download the complete set of 100 tips, please click here.

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.

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.

Direct Mail Insight: Green Envelopes and the Big Picture

bigstockphoto_Mail_Box_With_Letters_2482928Last month, Target Marketing Magazine published an article on trends surrounding environmentally-friendly envelopes – I was on vacation at the time so I didn’t get a chance to pass it along then.  Here’s a link to the article.

As I’ve written on a number of occasions, “green” envelopes are an important part of an organization’s marketing and communications efforts (we have already sold more than a quarter billion envelopes made with 100% certified wind power over the past couple years).  In fact, they are often the first component of a direct mail piece that a recipient sees, and it is important to take that opportunity to send a values-laden message through the materials/inks/energy that are used to produce the piece.

Obviously, using green practices for direct mail should be just one of the many sustainable business practices that organizations employ – otherwise they could be accused of greenwashing.  However, given recent developments in technology, mailers can make their pieces more environmentally-friendly without adding much, if any, cost, which removes the most critical barrier to adoption.  Research has demonstrated that consumers want to buy products from companies that do business in an environmentally-responsible manner.  Marketing collateral is one way for organizations to demonstrate this commitment.

Here’s a link to the full article.

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.

Excellent Green Design Newsletter

header1Graphic Design USA, a news magazine for graphic designers and creative professionals, publishes two e-newsletters per month.  One of them is entirely focused on green design issues.  Here’s a link to the latest issue. The newsletter is free and features a wide range of interesting news snippets about paper, industry trends, etc.  It’s worth a quick read every month.  Here’s a link to past issues as well as a sign-up form at the bottom of the page.  Enjoy!

Best practices in green printing: using printed collateral to support your organizational mission

My firm does a fair amount of work for SkyFuel, a solar energy company headquartered in New Mexico.  SkyFuel is a cutting-edge clean technology provider that has been recognized for their pioneering work in the renewable energy space.

SkyFuel needs to disseminate their ideas in printed form at trade shows, investor presentations and other industry events.  When they publish such literature, we have partnered with them to help make these pieces as green as possible, while always watching the bottom line.  For their uncoated items (business cards, letterhead, etc), we use a specific paper from the Mohawk Options line that is 100% post-consumer recycled.

Image courtesy of SkyFuel

Lately, when printing brochures for their various products as well as posters for a recent launch event, the client wanted to use coated paper, especially since the pieces contained images of the sun, so having the paper shine in the light was important.  We worked with the SkyFuel team to choose a stock made by New Leaf Paper that has the highest degree of post-consumer content of any paper on the market.  On all of their coated pieces, the following copy is included in a prominent position: “Printed on New Leaf paper that is FSC-certified and made with 60% post-consumer recycled fiber and processed chlorine free.  Energy used is 100% certified renewable or offset with “green tags.”

SkyFuel is an example of a best-practice leader in their field that leverages printed collateral to support their organizational mission to be good stewards of the environment.  Experience has shown that when a company couples a deep commitment to the environment with marketing pieces that underscore this mission, their message resonates most effectively with key constituents.  SkyFuel also is very transparent about the environmental benefits of their various printed pieces, which makes the green attributes even more tangible for the reader.