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!

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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.

Interesting Survey on Green Supply Chains

Hi all – this is from Stephen Jannise, who writes a blog on the software industry.  He is hosting a survey on how a vendor”s efforts to go green can influence corporate purchasing decisions.

This survey coincides with an article he has written about five companies that are greening their supply chains. In the article, he discusses the efforts of IBM, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Patagonia, and Pepsi to reduce their respective impacts on the environment.  He also asks whether they should be doing more, what are the real motivations behind a greener supply chain, and whether consumers are aware of these efforts.

Please click here to visit his survey as well as read his article.

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 2 of 4 (Green Promotional Products)

As I wrote in June, my firm, Grossman Marketing Group, published our 100 Tips for Marketing Success earlier this year to mark our 100th anniversary.  Many of these tips involve sustainability.  I’m proud to share the second installment of the “green” tips below.  These focus on promotional products.  A special thanks to my colleague, Kerry O’Neil, for her help putting these together.

When using promotional products, please consider the use of environmentally-friendly materials, as they can help your organization make a strong impression on your constituents.

  1. Corn plastic is practically indestructible. Choosing promotional corn plastic coffee mugs is a wise decision for the office since you can be sure that if they are dropped they will not break. They are also practical, attractive and economical as well as biodegradable.
  2. Recycled grocery bags can carry twice as many items as plastic shopping bags and are easier and more comfortable to carry. In addition, they are made from strong fabric that will last for many years, keeping your brand top-of-mind.
  3. Not only is organic cotton chemical and pesticide-free, but it is also softer and more comfortable to the touch than blended cotton.
  4. Reusable mugs and bottles that are BPA-free are very popular and can help you send a responsible message. We have found that recipients of reusable water bottles significantly cut down on their bottled water consumption, thus helping the planet as well as their wallets.
  5. Consider alternative materials as a way to send a sustainable message. These include recycled fabrics, bamboo, biodegradable substrates, and solar-powered items.

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

Deloitte Report – Sustainability in Business Today: A Cross-Industry View

By Marisa Greenwald (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

Despite widespread support for sustainability reforms, lofty rhetoric from CEOs and government incentivizes for businesses to “go green,” corporate sustainability improvements have been limited.  To further probe why companies are not moving more aggressively on this front, Deloitte recently published a study that delineates corporate perspectives on sustainability based on responses from 48 companies across different industries.  The report studies these perspectives in five contexts: general sustainable practices, sustainability related to innovation, corporate responses to sustainability incentives in the stimulus package, the relevance of new skills in pursuing sustainability efforts, and future sustainability trends.  Several compelling trends emerged from this study which I thought would be worth sharing with the Sustainable Ink community.

First, it is interesting to note the challenge companies face trying to innovate through sustainability.  The study found that in the area of product innovation, 23% of companies surveyed were developing entire sustainable product lines while only 25% of all companies surveyed indicated they were pursuing efforts to make their products more sustainable.  So while a considerable portion of companies are devoting entire lines to greening efforts, only a fourth of all surveyed incorporate the sustainability factor into innovation.  A major problem companies identify when trying to create sustainable products is the tension between willingness to pay and cost.  Even though customers may want sustainable products, they are not necessarily willing to pay more for them, so companies must find ways of keeping the sustainable measures cost-neutral.

Another interesting finding from this report is the corporate reaction to sustainability incentives in the stimulus package enacted last year.  While there was an overall mild recognition of energy efficiency incentives in the legislation (5.29 on 10-point scale, with 1 being not at all familiar and 10 being very familiar), there was the largest gap in understanding between the automotive industry, 6.38, and the technology industry, 3.91.  The gap in policy awareness between the industries supports the broader idea that there is a heightened emphasis on greening in the automotive industry, where carmakers have been under considerable scrutiny and consumers have a relatively high willingness to pay for a hybrid vehicle, compared to a willingness to buy energy efficient technology products.

Overall, this report offers strong insights into corporate perspectives and decision making criteria in the context of proposed sustainability reforms.  Sustainability advocates and policymakers must continue to consider the needs of corporations who are open to pursuing stronger sustainability standards but whose aims continue to be maximizing shareholder value and maintaining profitability.

Click here to download the full report from Deloitte.

Making Apparel Transparent: Companies Team Up to Measure Sustainability of Shoes, Clothes

Source: Levi's

By Marisa Greenwald (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

We have written often at Sustainable Ink about the importance of transparency, as well as the need to account for the environmental impact throughout a product’s lifecycle.  With that in mind, we are pleased to see a positive step taken by some well-known corporations.

At next month’s Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, retailers will receive a new tool to help them pursue their sustainability goals.   A group of about 100 retailers and manufacturers, including Nike, Levi Strauss, and Target, have joined forces to develop software that makers of apparel and shoes can use to measure the environmental impact of their products and assign to each an “eco-value” similar to the Energy Star rating of appliances.

Known as the “Eco Index,” this software tool works by posing a series of questions to companies on their environmental and labor practices, including some questions directed towards the companies’ suppliers.  The software then assigns a score that represents a percentage of a perfect score.  The goal of the Eco Index is to showcase competing items in retail settings with various “eco-value” scores so consumers can easily factor sustainability considerations into their purchase decisions.  Firms like Timberland and Patagonia have publicly expressed their desire to move the conversation forward and gain consensus among similar companies so that an effective and meaningful eco index program can be implemented.

With the heavy use of chemicals and crude oil to produce and ship these items, apparel production takes a heavy environmental toll that warrants accountability.  While many consumers are increasingly motivated by sustainability concerns, it is often difficult for them to understand the environmental consequences involved in producing many of their favorite products.  If companies begin to report the environmental impact to create their products, and consumers react by choosing certain items over others on environmental grounds, companies may become even more motivated to improve their sustainability efforts.

For more information about the Eco Index, check out this article from The Wall Street Journal or this recently featured piece in Fast Company.