More Certified Paper Stuff? Really??
By Vic Barkin on August 16th, 2010
As if you need more banter about FSC, SFI and PEFC, here comes yet another slew of mindless babble about paper certification. First however, I must digress.
I always tell my clients to look at the forests in which they live and find a grove over 100 years old. Although this is a generalization, for the most part, we screwed things up with our early logging practices when the supply was “limitless”. That said, this is now our collective legacy and our responsibility. No offence, but many of you have no concept of what our forests looked like before we got here. What’s occurring now in under-developed nations world-wide happened here a hundred or more years ago. Ok, now back to the drivel at hand.
What most people don’t realize is that there are two types of “certified” virgin fibers that can go into our paper. First is from managed (read third-party audited) forests. Second is what we’ll generically call verified responsible procurement, where the forests themselves are not audited, but the wood is confirmed to have been legally sourced, and basic environmental, social and local economic criterion are met.
Now listen very carefully; both go through a certification process of one type or another. Both are considered “certified” and both can be included in a Chain of Custody (CoC) certified product, because both can be traced back to their origin. Got it? Good!
Although there are philosophical differences between FSC, SFI and PEFC as to what constitutes good forest management, the purpose of this writing is not to discuss the merits of one certification system over the other, but simply to state that any management system is better than no management at all.
Let’s be brutally honest. If you are currently certified to anything, chances are it’s because you were told you had to be. Your clientele’s marketing and public relations folks are in the business of positive image and profitability (or at least accountability). Credibility and transparency are key components of that. Oddly enough they are also the main tenants of responsible sourcing and of CoC.
Look at a CoC label like you do the UL or CE label on your electronics. It’s a guarantee, a promise. To your customers it means that you voluntarily have someone looking over your shoulder as a partner to give them the assurance that, odd as it may sound; certified paper is actually verified to have been used in their certified product.
Did you know there are many papers out there that are available as either CoC certified or not depending on whether credits (based on equivalent Forest Management (FM) certified purchase volumes) have been applied? And that the non-FM certified portion still comes from certified procurement sources? Is it a perfect process? No, but until enough land is third-party audited to any kind of FM standard, it’s the best we have. Bottom line is that (and listen carefully) none of the fiber that goes into any CoC certified product comes from unknown or illegal sources.
Ok, back to the banter. So once again, there is FM-certified wood and there is responsibly procured wood. FSC’s responsible sourcing program is called FSC Controlled Wood (FSC CW). SFI’s version is called SFI Fiber Sourcing. The difference between the two is philosophical at best, although I know others would argue that.
Among other things, the FSC has made the decision not to sell FSC CW as a labeled product to end-users, but only as a component as an FSC Mixed CoC product. Although there is no such thing as a Controlled Wood label, when you buy brand of paper that is available as FSC certified upon request, but what you’re purchasing isn’t, the fiber is actually equivalent to the volume of FSC CW. The SFI on the other hand allows for the sale of Fiber Sourcing-labeled products to end-users, but this is not CoC certified (I’m sure that’s clear as mud).
One thing must be understood. If clients request CoC certified rather than simply certified paper, then SFI Fiber Sourcing products are not an option. Only SFI CoC, PEFC CoC or FSC CoC are. Case-in-point; Sears Holdings instituted just such a paper purchasing policy in November 2009. Many other private-sector, government and institutional organizations have also implemented similar policies. Just Google “paper purchasing policy” and see what pops up. Some say “certified” others say “CoC certified”.
So with all of this confusion what is the definition of “certified”? The (triple) bottom line is that even SFI Fiber Sourcing/FSC Controlled Wood certification goes through an in-depth risk analysis which includes among other things the reputations of the providers, the level of corruption in the region, as well as other aggravating factors.
High risk situations trigger third-party audits even under certified sourcing programs. As an example, based on historical environmental and human rights violations, this past April (the month), APRIL (Asia Paper Resources International Limited) had their FSC Controlled Wood certification suspended. Remember, this was not a CoC certification that was revoked, but simply a responsible procurement certification. What does that tell you about the bigger issues out there?
And finally as many of you know, pending expected legislation is the elephant in the room; the 110 year-old Lacey Act. Under the Lacey paper and print amendment it will be “unlawful to import, export, transport, sell receive, acquire or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any plant taken or traded in violation of the laws of a US State or most foreign laws”. The reality is that Lacey as it pertains to paper and printing goes back under consideration on September 1, 2010.
Although not yet, eventually, it will become law, and when it does, any paper product is subject to at the very least confiscation upon even the accusation that the paper was illegally sourced. The scary part is that even if your supplier’s supplier is charged, you and your customers technically become confiscation-liable. And although CoC certified paper and to a slightly lesser degree, certified responsibly procured paper is not the end-all, it goes a long way in establishing “due care”. So in effect, oddly enough right now it is not illegal to purchase paper sourced illegally, but it soon will be.
If your customers are satisfied with your word, and they don’t require a licensed CoC (or Fiber Sourcing) brand to be printed on their material, then fine. But if they do require their suppliers to be certified everybody’s on a level playing field anyway. If you don’t believe me, go buy your next computer without a UL or CE label.