Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Personalization Is More Than Data

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

When we think personalization, we think data. But as I’ve said on here many times before, data is just that — data. It’s how you use it to create relevance and engagement that makes it personal.

This point was driven home this morning as I flipped through yesterday’s mail. I ran across an envelope that appeared to be trying to be personal but in fact was downright scary. It reminded me of my dog who thinks no matter what trick you ask him to do, rolling over is better. “Shake!” (rolls over). “Sit!” (rolls over). Rolling over is more complicated and flashy, so no matter what my master asks me to do, I’m going to roll over — and he does.

CaparellasSo we have here. Real stamps make things seem more personal, so we have a real stamp. Handwriting fonts make the addressing seem more personal, so we use handwriting font. Oh, and color helps get attention, so let’s add some of that. First-class mail gets better responses than other classes of mail, so let’s draw attention to that.

The result is, well, you can see for yourself.

  • They are using a last name I haven’t had in years.
  • The barcode is located directly above my name and address, obliterating any accidental identification as real handwriting.
  • The real stamp is undermined by the tacky “print ‘em by the hundreds of thousands” graphics on the preprinted envelopes.

I’m sure there’s more, but this is tough to look at.  The point that it drives home is that personalization isn’t real stamps, handwriting fonts, or data. It’s how those elements are used to create the sense of relevance and engagement. This has multiple elements that could be used to more powerful effect. Instead, I didn’t even open the envelope.

Are you talking to clients about the difference between data and true personalization (relevance)? If so, how?

Documenting the Value of Paper

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

The American Forest & Paper Association recently released a report entitled “Documenting the Value of Paper.” As more and more once-printed items move into the digital space, the future of printed materials remains in question. This report addresses that question by offering five distinct ways that paper enriches lives which will likely not diminish in the future. It got me thinking – maybe there is still a market for paper, and therefore and market for print… what do YOU think?

Five Dimensions presented by AF&PA (and some interesting highlights from the report):

  1. Paper informs as a learning tool. Studies show that elementary aged students actually perform better at reading comprehension when reading from paper-based books compared to e-books. Students find it easier and more helpful to employ “active” reading habits (skimming, reading subtitles first, highlighting, underlining, annotating, etc.) in paper-based books.
  2. Paper reaches customers. Direct mail is still cited as the communication channel with the highest ROI for customer contact and retention in B2C marketing, followed by email. A Nielson survey found that respondent’s top three preferences for receiving advertising were paper-based – direct mail, newspapers, and in-store printed displays. Consumers who receive a printed catalog in the mail are more likely to shop online than those who do not receive the catalog. More and more people are “opting out” of email marketing lists.  
  3. Paper is a permanent record for milestones in life. Paper is still used for official documents (birth certificates, graduation diplomas, titles to cars, etc.) Paper also preserves many of life’s meaningful personal moments – think family photos, baby books, childhood artwork, handwritten letters, greeting cards, etc.
  4. Paper is a secure form of documentation and communication. Information stored on paper is easily accessible over a long period of time and does not need to be continuously migrated to newer technologies. Online privacy of personal information and documents is a growing concern. Electronic forms of communicating are less secure than printed forms and are open to hacking, data breaches, identity theft and fraud. In many polls, people generally prefer to have a paper version of important documents.
  5. Paper is a sustainable choice. The paper industry supports sustainable forestry practices and is increasing its recovery of paper and use of recycled fiber. Recent lifecycle assessment studies show that environmental impact of paper and electronic text and communication are relatively similar.

Of course this report naturally favors supporting the role of paper and printed materials in society (it is posted on AF&PA’s website after all). Nonetheless, the information presented is based on legitimate resources and verified studies which provide an interesting literature review and summary of information that already exists. So don’t just take it from me… see for yourself!

The Great Green Debate of the Printing Industry

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Being at Graph Expo this year, I was interested to see how big of a topic environmental sustainability was. So many industry-leading printing equipment manufacturers were eager to demonstrate their environmentally responsible solutions. The industry has come under pressure in recent years as the growing trend to go “paperless” takes off. But what I was surprised to learn, and I’m hoping many others will be too, is that a number of myths exist regarding the sustainability of paper and the printing industry. Thanks to information I picked up in one booth from Two Sides (, I engaged in my own version of myth-busters and would like to share the same with you.

Myth: Making paper destroys forests.
Fact: Paper production supports sustainable forest management and depends on sustainable forest growth to provide a reliable supple of wood fiber.

Myth: Making paper is bad for the environment.
Fact: Paper is one of the few truly sustainable products because it is made from a natural resource that is renewable and recyclable. Furthermore, paper is one of the most recycled products in the world.

Myth: Making paper consumes a considerable amount of energy.
Fact: While this true, nearly 2/3 of the energy used is self-generated using renewable carbon-neutral biomass. Most U.S. pulp and paper mills are self-sufficient and some even supply excess energy to the electric utility grid.

Myth: Harvesting trees to make paper is bad.
Fact: Sustainable forest management can actually benefit people and the planet by supporting jobs and reducing development.

Myth: Electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than print and paper.
Fact: This is not necessarily true as online media also has environmental impacts which are easily underestimated. Electronic products have a lifecycle including depending on energy and managing end-of-life products which also has an environmental footprint. This seems like an especially important tidbit of information for print shop owners to share with customers.

These are just a few of the myths Two Sides debunked for me. On a whole, it seems like encouraging information for our industry and worthy of sharing on a larger scale. If you’re interested in learning more, I definitely recommend checking out the Two Sides website and learning more. They do a great job of formally researching and presenting data to support all of these claims.

Responsibility, Sustainability and Print

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Every year, technology allows companies to make more responsible decisions about the environment, and with each passing year, awareness amongst business owners and consumers seems to be rising. The American Forest and Paper Association reported that paper recovery from 2011 was up to 66.8%, which is over twice the conservation compared to 1990. Energy usage is down, Greenhouse gases are down, and all indications show that these trends will continue. What is at the core of these significant industry shifts?

Organizations are taking steps to reduce environmental impact and can make smart decisions about the supplies they do use. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international not-for-profit organization designed to reduce environmental impact. Organizations displaying the FSC logo guarantee that the product comes from responsible sources—environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable.

Additionally, modern print equipment, especially printers with “waste-free” systems and roll-to-roll printing (that starts printing the first page as soon as the roll begins) produce amazing image quality and reduce waste. Digital printing, by nature, is significantly more waste-efficient, as the chemicals and proofing associated with offset printing are reduced.

The video above illustrates the fluid process of quality management with sophisticated digital print machinery, where the documents can also come to a complete stop and restart, without any white pages in between, mid-run without having to restart the process or check and discard proofed documents.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” was a mantra that was stressed to me at an early age, and responsible printers are doing just that. Printers nationwide can rejoice in the fact that a combination of environmental responsibility and advances in technology are making a difference in the preservation of our natural resources.

As an FSC-certified company, we are not only cognizant of environmental impact, but we are also investing in technology, like the Océ ColorStream® 3500, that emphasizes the importance of waste reduction and how it impacts the sustainability of our environment.

ECO Print Awards: Dissing Digital?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

This morning at drupa, Heidelberg announced its third Heidelberg ECO Printing Award, the only international environmental award for sustainable printing in the sheetfed offset sector. The award focuses on the usual —  sustainable use of resources and energy, climate protection, and environmentally aware management practices — all of which are really, really important. Awesome.

However, as I read about the award (entries can be submitted from May 8 to November 30, 2012 and the award be presented in June 2013), I once again felt a level of frustration with the focus on traditional offset. While it’s certainly true that offset deals with environmental issues in terms of process that digital does not (press chemicals and powders, higher levels of emissions), digital provides environmental benefits that traditional offset does not. Why don’t people talk about that more?

This is a drum I’ve been banging for years, and I’m going to continue to bang it. We think about “green” printing in terms of process — substrates, chemicals, alternative energy, and so on.  But how about things like volume reduction through targeting, cleaner databases, and page reduction through personalization? These have real, tangible environmental benefits, too.

When you target using a portion of your database, when you reduce the number of pages in a mailing to only those relevant to the recipient, when you clean and streamline your database to be more effective in your 1:1 efforts,  you are reducing your environmental impact through lower consumables use, lower energy use, and reduction in the use of fossil fuels in the process of transport and mailing at the same time.

As I’ve written in  Greening Print Marketing, these are real environmental benefits. They are immediate environmental benefits. We don’t measure their impact in how much less the environment is suffering down the road. We see it immediately in fewer consumables ordered, less gas purchased, less volume going into a landfill. And while we can certainly do higher volume targeting with sheetfed, these benefits are largely digital.

When will the environmental awards start to reward targeting and personalization as part of the larger move toward sustainability? Hey, Heidelberg! It’s not to late to tweak your criteria!

Have you planned your sustainability projects for the year yet?

Monday, January 30th, 2012
You may think with the economy still in “recovery” you don’t have either the time or resources to pour into sustainability projects this year. Well, I’m here to convince you otherwise. Yes, “green has become commonplace. It’s expected to a degree, by your customers, your employees and other stakeholders who have an interest in how you do business.
So how do you prioritize? Is your mindset focused on the most important of all green attributes, that of economic sustainability?  Well here are a few simple, fast and proven ROI ideas that if you haven’t yet implemented them yet shouldn’t be put off any longer.
Facility-wide energy-efficient lighting is not just for offices anymore. Consider skylights, LED floods, fast-start ballasts and dynamic motion sensors for your production and warehousing facilities. (There’s something pretty cool about watching warehouse lamps flash on and off as employees make their way through the lanes, tracing their paths of travel).
Natural gas-enabled fleets. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a minivan, a bobtail or a semi, LNG and CNG technology (and conversion) has greatly matured in just the past few years. Infrastructure is the name of the game, and publicly accessible fueling stations are multiplying exponentially. Consider that in some markets, natural gas is half the cost of petroleum!
The Cloud migration. It’s not just for apps. Consider moving your entire infrastructure away from your facilities’ area of responsibility. The savings in technology upgrades (both hardware AND software), processing power, storage capacity, energy use, space, maintenance, knowledge and expertise are all deferred to a “higher power”. Yes, you pay for it, but the savings are proven and quantifiable.
All of the technologies mentioned here are not speculation, bleeding edge or experimental. They are real and in use by printing facilities of all sizes. The dependency is on infrastructure and support, but where feasible, the ROI is impressive. Now go get Green!

Paper Legality Laws; Coming to a Continent near You

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Over the past few years, discussions surrounding how legal paper sourcing decisions are made by print buyers have received less and less attention from the press. This doesn’t mean that the issue has melted away; it merely means normalization of the process has relegated it to the board room and to the senate committee. However that could change based on worldwide activities of a similar fashion. In other words, the race is on.

In a mere 22 months if you print on paper anywhere in the European Union (EU), there will no longer be a choice. Verified legal timber product sourcing, including pulp and paper, will become law.

Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 lays down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market – also known as the (Illegal) Timber Regulation counters the trade in illegally harvested timber and timber products through three key obligations:

1. It prohibits the placing on the EU market for the first time of illegally harvested timber and products derived from such timber;
2. It requires EU traders who place timber products on the EU market for the first time to exercise ‘due diligence';
3. Keep records of their suppliers and customers.

The Regulation covers a broad range of timber products including solid wood products, flooring, plywood, pulp and paper. Interestingly though, not included among a few other products such as rattan and bamboo are recycled products and printed papers such as books, magazines and newspapers.

The EU has chosen their battles just as the US has with the now familiar US Lacey Act. By excluding printed matter (for now) but including pulp and paper, the EU’s Timber Regulation leapfrogs Lacey in that European printers will no longer be at will to purchase paper without regard for legal harvests, specifically aimed at imports as of March 2013.

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 is still in the consultation phase, but is written so vaguely that if passed in its present form, is sure to create a (common) wealth of issues. For now, we have to take a wait and see approach. Taking their Bill with a grain of Aussie salt, I wouldn’t expect to see it passed anytime soon.

As a side note in its “Comments from the Government of Canada on Australia’s Draft Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011”, the Canadian government is not amused. On May 6, 2011 the Secretary of the Senate Standing Committees on Rural Affairs and Transport wrote; “In particular, Canada is concerned that the Bill may lead to a requirement (whether explicitly stated or implied) for Australian importers to conduct risk assessments (or the ‘timber industry certifiers’ to do so on their behalf) on any unprocessed or processed timber products imported into Australia. Such a requirement would be particularly onerous for complex processed products made of timber sourced from multiple suppliers…” (like paper merchants and printers).

Which brings us back to the Lacey Act and its implications in the paper and printing industry here in the US. For the time being it seems like no movement on implementation pertaining to US-based paper mills and printers is imminent. That said, with all of the activity on other continents, one has to wonder.

A Reality Check on Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment

Monday, March 7th, 2011

For the past decade, consumers have been moving many of their day-to-day activities to the Web. Millions of people have adopted communication technologies like instant messaging, e-mail, and social networks to engage with each other in a virtual way. Online shopping is more prevalent than ever, and is becoming even more diverse. Moreover, people are using the Web to manage all of their financial activities, from managing investments and checking accounts to paying bills.

With this general increased Web adoption, many analysts, journalists, and technologists have predicted that we would see a huge shift in the move to people receiving and paying bills entirely online (and thus, the reduction or elimination of paper-based bills and statements). It makes sense; consumers are moving many common activities entirely online, and organizations are looking at ways to curb costs (with paper bills and statements being an obvious target for cost reduction). Has this shift actually occurred?

Last year, InfoTrends set out to investigate current state and future opportunities in the area of Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment, commonly referred to as EBPP. In a study entitled The Future of Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment in North America, we surveyed 1,032 consumers on attitudes and adoption of electronic presentment and other online transactional activities, as well as 123 billers in areas like banking, financial services, healthcare, insurance, telecommunications, and utilities. In addition, we conducted 15 in-depth interviews with key stakeholders to get a clearer picture of the changing market dynamics of EBPP. Some key findings include:

  • Despite predictions of a massive online shift, adoption of electronic presentment by North American consumers is approximately 11% of total bills and statements. InfoTrends estimates that over 26 billion recurring bills and statements are delivered via the postal services and paid through traditional methods each year; these traditional methods result in a cost of (conservatively) over $16 billion per year in printing and postage alone.
  • While there are many driving factors for electronic presentment, it is clear that, by and large, consumers prefer to receive printed bills and statements over their electronic counterparts. The printed copy acts as a physical record back-up, as well as a physical reminder to pay a bill on time. While there are e-mail and text message equivalents to payment notifications, the printed copy still cuts through the clutter more than any other channel.
  • Cost reduction remains a top priority to drive billers and payment processors to adopt and promote the use of electronic presentment. Delivering information to multiple channels, especially in the growing mobile space, is also another top priority that is catalyzing the shift to electronic presentment.
  • There are notable differences in adoption of EBPP by billers depending on the industry. Financial and telco organizations have the greatest level of electronic presentment adoption, while healthcare has not taken to EBPP as quickly. We find that these differences can be dependent on the demographics of the customer base, as well as regulations in certain markets and marketing initiatives companies may be pursuing.
  • In spite of the printed copy’s solid standing in general, consumers between the ages of 18 and 24 are more likely than other demographics to receive and pay bills by electronic means exclusively. Many in this age group are comfortable performing many other activities natively and exclusively online, and also may be influenced by other factors, such as environmental impact perception of turning off paper-based communications.

What does all of this mean? For billers and payment processors, it means flexibility. Organizations need to provide consumers with the ability to receive communications in the preferred medium. That means offering a holistic set of communication preferences to customers that include print, Web, e-mail, mobile text messaging, mobile Web access, and mobile application access. This variety of options need to be delivered with a great customer experience across each channel.  Not only can all of these channels be leveraged to provide straight transactional information to the consumer; they can be used as a customer touchpoint for educational, informational, and promotional purposes.

Even though electronic presentment only currently comprises 11% of all bills and statements, InfoTrends predicts that adoption will increase and reach 22% of total bills and statements in North American by 2014. As noted, the 18 to 24 age group has the most significant adoption of electronic presentment; as that group matures, it is likely that they will only become more comfortable with electronic delivery and payment. Furthermore, banking and financial services institutions in particular have been making a more concerted push over the past few years to get customers to switch to electronic presentment. Again, these efforts are f0cused largely at cost reduction, although promotions to get consumers to switch to electronic presentment have included messaging around being environmentally friendly.

While many institutions are using sweepstakes, incentives, and other promotions to get people to move to electronic presentment, some have begun charging fees to customers to receive printed statements, which we feel could be a factor in speeding up EBPP adoption. Nevertheless, there remains a negative perception by consumers of companies instituting these fees, so they will have to battle that perception to have this shift take hold. There are also new “digital mail” services popping up like Pitney Bowes’ Volly, Hearst Corporation’s Manilla, doxo, Zumbox, and others. These services, while in their infancy, offer the chance for consumers to consolidate and manage all their bills electronically in a centralized interface, which may also play a factor in shifting consumers to adopting electronic presentment.

As consumers diversify the channels they use to interact with businesses, those businesses need to be proactive in delivering flexible access to that information from print through mobile and more. While billers and payment processors are focused on reducing costs with electronic presentment and print suppression, they need to strike a balance with customer preferences and demands. There is still a significant base that prefers printed and mailed  communications, and that base cannot be ignored. If you’re interested in learning more about the full EBPP report, please contact Matt Swain.

Important Advice to all FSC Certified Printers

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Recently, the Forest Stewardship Council released their revised FSC-DIR-40-004 document, containing a series of advice notes which every certified printer (and converter, and merchant, and broker) “should have” received through their certifying body (CB). Included in this document is Advice Note ADVICE-40-004-03 which deals with the ability for printers to FSC-Label certain classifications of paper.

A synopsis of the official background for ADVICE-40-004-03 which is contained in FSC-DIR-40-004 and is titled: “Reduced labelling threshold of 50% for chip and fibre based products” states in effect that when the new Chain of Custody standard was approved in November 2007, a labeling exemption threshold of 50% (certified material, the balance being “controlled”) for chip and fibre based products under a percentage (or transfer) system was maintained by means of an Advice Note. (All solid wood products such as or made from lumber, plywood or veneer had to implement a 70% minimum at that time which is still in force today).

The FSC would have loved to enforce the conformance for all chip and fiber products which includes all paper and paperboard to the 70% minimum back in 2007, but the mills pushed back and reduced labeling threshold was born. This advice note now the latest twist added to the existing requirement as a way to definitively force the mills to conform with the intended 70% minimum within five years (their other option being to move to a Credit System).

The official advice note can seem quite cryptic:

  1. FSC certificate holders may request authorization from their certification bodies to continue labelling chip and fibre products based on a reduced labelling threshold of 50% until 31 December 2015
  2.  Authorization shall only be granted for those product groups with chip and fibre components registered as being commercially produced based on a labelling threshold of 50% before 01 April 2011.
  3. Certificate holders operating a transfer system that have not registered their product groups can also label products based on a labelling threshold of 50% in case they are able to demonstrate to their Certification Body that the material they receive has already been registered by a previous company or the material was received with an FSC on-product label.
    a. In the first case, sales and delivery documents issued by the supplier shall include the additional claim “registered” (e.g. “FSC Mixed 50% registered”);
    b. In the second case, the certificate holder shall retain evidence that the product was received with an on-product FSC label (e.g. packaging or product sample).
  4. Certificate holders interested in the product registration shall submit the following documentation to their Certification Body until 31 March 2011:
    a. A list of product groups with products labelled on the basis of a 50% threshold, using the template provided in Annex A of this Directive;
    b. Copies of sales invoices for the registered products in each listed product group as evidence that they have been commercially produced.
  5. Certification bodies shall upload the approved registration form into the FSC database following the procedures to make it publicly available. No new product groups can be added to this list after 31 March 2011.
  6. Product groups registered by certification bodies according to this advice shall be in compliance with a labelling threshold of 70% as of 01 January 2016.

NOTE: Companies that do not comply with the requirements of this advice are not eligible to label FSC products based on a 50% threshold as of 01 April 2011, and therefore shall apply a labelling threshold of 70% from this date onwards.

“So what does this mean to me?” is a natural question that every FSC certified printer should be asking their CB if they don’t know already.

Let me put it in real-life terms most printers can understand. The majority of paper mills use the Credit System which effectively renders a product the equivalent of 100% certified. This advice note does not pertain to any inputs purchased from these mills or their merchants which are received with a claim of “FSC Mixed Credit”.

There are however a handful of paper mills using the Percentage System for calculating certified content for their products. Generally speaking, none historically have been consistently sold at a minimum 70% level, which necessitates conformance with this requirement in order to maintain the status quo for the next five years. (Most on the market today range between 50% and 60% certified material, sold for example as “FSC Mixed 50%”).

This “transitory” exemption allows for paper that contains at least 50% certified fiber (but less than 70%) to still be eligible for the FSC label up until January 1, 2016. The way the advice is worded in item 3 (above), you the printer are dependent on your supplier’s complete conformance. As long as your supplier either passes along the phrase “Registered” as part of the FSC Mixed XX% claim and/or; the product is received by you as an FSC labeled input; the product remains eligible for you to apply the FSC label. You may however have to provide evidence to your CB in order to gain labeling approval, which becomes another hoop to jump through.

Things to take into consideration are that first, there is a note within the advice note which states: “The exemption detailed in this advice is specifically related to the eligibility for labelling FSC products and not to the eligibility of producing or selling products with an FSC claim on invoices.” Therefore because not all merchants may apply for this exemption because it technically doesn’t affect them, the product could be rendered ineligible if sold by them without them registering and without an FSC label (FSC labels, even for paper in cartons, are an option, not a requirement).

The easier way is to register for the exemption with your CB. This is a one-time deal and should be a very simple process for most printers. The information required is to simply furnish your Product Group as defined on your Product Group Schedule for FSC Mixed Products (i.e.;FSC Mixed Printed Materials) on the form (which should have been) provided by your CB along with an X in the appropriate space denoting “Use of the labelling threshold of 50% until 31/12/2015” along with a few copies of invoices for said Product Groups that you have sold (i.e.;FSC Mixed Printed Materials).

Do it now and save yourself a headache in the future.

Vic Barkin

Key elements of sustainable paper procurement: Part 2

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Last week’s blog focused on four key elements of sustainable paper procurement.  Below are the remaining tips.  For an excellent resource document see the WBCSD / WRI Guide on Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products.


Good pulp and paper mill performance reduces the footprint of paper (clean production)

Paper manufacturing is a key part of the environmental life-cycle of papermaking because it uses raw materials and resources including fiber, energy, and water, and also generates emissions to air, water and landfills.  The operational “eco-efficiency” of pulp and paper mills varies from one site to the next, based on local regulations and how mills have used best-available-techniques.  The age of the mill and the amount of investments made to upgrade technology and equipment will often drive environmental performance.  For example, final mill effluent quality and chemical use can be influenced by bleaching method used (e.g. elemental chlorine free (ECF), enhanced ECF with pre-bleaching steps, total chlorine free or TCF, hydrogen peroxide, etc.).  Greenhouse gas emissions are influenced by switching to renewable energy sources instead of using fossil fuels.  Achievable levels are well defined in the EU BREF Document for companies using best-available-techniques.

Environmental management systems, such as described in the ISO 14001 standard and the EU Eco-Management Scheme (EMAS), allow more efficient management of activities and processes to reduce environmental impacts.  Companies can become certified to ISO 14001 and EMAS to demonstrate continuous improvement in environmental management and performance.

A low carbon footprint is a good sign

Given that climate change is a critical global environmental issue, more and more companies are developing energy and climate strategies, and calculating the carbon inventories of their products and supply chains.  The carbon footprint of paper can be defined as greenhouse gas emissions emitted to the atmosphere during the entire life-cycle of paper production and distribution.   The major contributor to the carbon footprint of paper is carbon dioxide (CO2) generated from combustion of fossil fuels (i.e. coal, oil, gasoline, diesel, natural gas).  However, disposing of paper in landfill sites, and subsequent breakdown and production of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) can also add to the carbon footprint.  This is another reason why paper recycling is beneficial for the environment.  A review of the literature and personal experience shows that pulp and paper mill sites that use a high percentage of renewable energy such as biomass and “green” power from the grid can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of their paper products.  Time Inc. commissioned a carbon study of some of their magazines that can be accessed here.

Other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of paper include:

  • Promoting sustainable forestry as a way of deterring deforestation, and ensuring that forests continue taking up carbon and mitigating climate change.
  • Efficient use of wood raw material.
  • Energy efficiency of operations and logistics.
  • Waste reduction and recycling.

Social responsibility is a key part of sustainability

Voluntary reporting initiatives like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index rank companies based on their social, environmental and financial performance.  A good standing on the DJSI can help companies demonstrate sustainability leadership.  Given that health and safety issues are a top priority in the industry, many companies have certified their occupational health & safety management system under the OHSAS 18001 standard.   More detail on social responsibility indicators can be obtained by consulting the web sites of the ILO, the UN, AA1000, and SA8000.

Look for eco-labels that cover the product life cycle

Eco-labels are a sign of environmental commitment and performance.  The most well know of these labels is the Mobius Loop indicating recycled fiber content or recyclability of products.  However, besides the sustainable forest management labels (FSC, SFI, PEFC) discussed in part 1 of this topic there are labels that cover more elements of the paper life cycle.  These include the EU Eco-label, the Ecologo, and the Green Seal.  Of these three, the EU Eco-label and Ecologo appear to be the most thorough in their coverage of environmental elements.

Environmental claims can also be made as long as they are factual and verifiable.  For example:  “This paper was manufactured at a mill facility that has an ISO 14001 certified environmental management system”.  Claiming that single elements (like recycled fiber use) lower the footprint of the product can be seen as a form of “greenwashing” and can be avoided by following recommendations for environmental marketing such outlined in the Seven Sins of Greenwashing.

Check for open and transparent reporting

Open and transparent environmental reporting is a sign of sustainability leadership.  Annual environmental or sustainability reports should be available on web sites.  A growing number of companies report according to the standard guidelines published by the Global Reporting Initiative and undertake third-party independent verification of reports to ad credibility.  Finally, sustainability information can be reported on a voluntary basis to outside organizations (e.g. DJSI, Carbon Disclosure Project that will rank companies based on their performance and reporting.

The bottom line is that sustainable paper procurement is not as simple as most people would like and it goes much beyond buying recycled paper.  Your choices and your environmental footprint will depend on how engaged and educated you become about the topic.


Phil Riebel is a senior sustainability advisor to the forest, paper and print sector.  He has 23 years of international experience in the sector including senior management positions in industry and consulting. Phil also owns and manages 200 acres of sustainable forest.  He can be reached at

Key elements of sustainable paper procurement: Part 1

Friday, February 18th, 2011

The environmental impacts of forestry and pulp and paper operations have been extensively investigated, reported and in certain cases exaggerated and dramatized for maximum impact, including images of clear-cut areas of forest, mill sites emitting wastewater and air emissions.  But, there is a positive side to communicate as well. Over the last three decades, the pulp and paper industry has come a long way in terms of environmental and social responsibility. In Europe and North America forestry practices and pulp and paper mill environmental performance have improved dramatically. Emissions to air, water and landfills are now a fraction of what they were 30 years ago. These positive changes have been due in part to more strict environmental regulations and major investments by leaders in the industry such as modern mills using best-available-technology (B-A-T) .

However, environmental performance is dependent on individual companies and the regions where operations are located. The strictest level of environmental enforcement is typically seen in developed nations and the least strict in developing nations. The same goes for use of B-A-T. For example, large multi-national companies may have relatively modern mill operations throughout the world whereas small or medium sized pulp and paper producers based in developing countries may still be running old technology and be faced with less regulation. One thing is clear: there has been a more significant focus on the sustainability of paper products in recent years. More paper buyers are now evaluating the environmental and social responsibility of their paper suppliers to minimize risks and develop business relationships with producers who are engaged in sustainability.

Below are some basic tips that help define “sustainable paper” based on procurement policies I have had the opportunity to review and key guidance documents such as the WBCSD / WRI Guide on Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products.

 1. Reduce impacts over the life cycle of paper.  

Paper has environmental impacts at all stages of its life cycle: raw material procurement including forest management, manufacturing of pulp and paper, paper distribution, transportation, recovery and disposal. The goal of sustainable production should be to lower the environmental impact, or the overall environmental footprint, of paper products over their life cycle. Reporting tools such as EPAT , Paper Profile , and the WWF Paper Scorecard  assess product performance across a wide range of indicators such as percentage of certified fibre from sustainable managed forests, recycled fibre use, water and energy use, emissions to air and water, solid waste to landfill, greenhouse gas emissions, social responsibility, certifications and reporting.

 2. Show regulatory compliance.

Most people expect companies to be in full compliance with environmental regulations. When problems happen, pulp and paper producers should show how they reacted and how they will prevent re-occurrence. Openness and transparency maintains credibility and good business relationships.

3. Promote sustainable forest management and biodiversity.

One way to prove sustainable forest management is for pulp and paper producers to certify forest land and their fiber tracing system using standards such as PEFC , SFI, and FSC . Additional initiatives can include the implementation of a biodiversity strategy or having policies against forest conversion and old-growth forest protection, to name a few. When paper products are labelled with the PEFC, SFI or FSC logos it is a sign of responsible forest management.

4. Recycle and use recycled fiber sustainably.

Recycling paper is very good practice, but sustainable use of recycled fibre means using it at the right locations and in the right paper grades based on economic and environmental considerations. In general, it makes more sense to use recycled fiber in lower end grades such as cartonboard and paperboard products (ex: packaging) than in graphic papers like magazine and catalog grades. Today, over 80% of recovered paper globally is used in packaging grades because the manufacture of these grades does not typically involve de-inking and / or bleaching (i.e. less cost and environmental impacts). Newsprint and tissue paper is also a large user of recycled fiber.

Other factors to consider are transportation distance of the recovered paper (i.e. usually near areas of large population density) and paper quality needs. In many cases, wood fiber may be a more sustainable choice providing a better balance between economic and environmental considerations. In the papermaking process, wood fiber can be recycled an estimated 4 to 7 times, after which the fiber breaks down and becomes waste. In other words, recovered paper is not an infinite source of raw material. To make the global fiber cycle work, a continual input of 35 to 65% of fresh wood fiber is needed depending on the grade of paper manufactured. If no wood fibre were used then degradation through recycling would result in the world running out of paper in within a period 6 to 18 months depending on the paper grade. Visit to read more on this topic.

Whether you purchase wood based or recycled paper, engagement in recycling of all paper products should be part of your life and your business. Stay tuned for “Part 2″ next week where I present the remaining tips on identifying sustainable paper.

Phil Riebel is a senior sustainability advisor to the forest, paper and print sector. He has 23 years of international experience in the sector including senior management positions in industry and consulting. Phil also owns and manages 200 acres of sustainable forest. He can be reached at

The Business of Sustainability for Paper and Print

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Guess what? Being “green” and being “sustainable” are not the same thing.  Sustainability includes three elements, or three “pillars”: environmental responsibility, social responsibility and financial responsibility.  Sustainability takes into account the realities of our economy and our society.  In other words, it means that organizations or individuals should operate in a financially sound framework but also be socially and financially responsible in their activities and operations.

Think of the “environment” or being “green” as just one of the three pillars, and don’t dismiss the other two.  For example, a company may have a good environmental record but they may be faced with difficult social issues in some regions, like human rights abuse and a high incidence of workplace accidents, as an example.  Likewise, the financial status of the company may be of concern.  Corporate sustainability is about how organizations are able to effectively balance social, environmental and financial responsibility.

Sustainability is an endless journey of continuous improvement.  Profitability can always improve and so can air emissions, water and energy use, workplace safety, and so on.  Some companies are further ahead on this journey than others.

A few years ago I was involved with a study that attempted to identify the key traits of corporate sustainability leaders.  Here is what we found:

  • Visible and active commitment from the top-down.  Is the CEO talking about sustainability?
  • Engagement that brings external knowledge into the company, and/or effect positive change (ex: partnerships with non-profit environmental organizations).
  • A set of sustainability principles that lay the framework for the sustainability program.
  • Short-term and long-term sustainability targets (a visible commitment to future performance is key).
  • Demonstrating continuous improvement.
  • Addressing performance across the life cycle of products, processes and activities.
  • Innovating, learning by doing, being prepared to try new things.
  • Sharing, learning, influencing, setting standards.
  • Transparent and credible communications that inform and teach (less “bragging”).

Some of the above signs should be visible on a company web site.  Below are some additional features that show engagement in sustainability:

  • Large publicly-owned corporations who have been identified as sustainability leaders are typically part of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index , FTSE4Good Index , and Global 100
  • An annual sustainability report covering environmental, social and financial elements, written based on GRI guidelines (Global Reporting Initiative) guidelines
  • Recognitions or awards related to sustainability, or environmental and social responsibility.
  • Certifications and eco-labels such as:
    • Sustainable forest management certifications and eco-labels, ex: PEFCSFI , FSC
    • Environmental management certifications, ex: ISO 14001 standard , EMAS
    • Eco-labels that cover the product life-cycle. ex: EU Eco-label , Ecologo, SA8000
    • Certification for social accountability OHSAS 18001  for occupational health and safety management.
  • Voluntary reporting for key initiatives like the Carbon Disclosure Project

In 2010 the following companies ranked among the top on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes:

Companies are usually selected for the following reasons:

  • Above-average environmental performance due to modern pulp and paper mill assets, i.e. lower emissions to air, water, landfills, energy-efficiency, lower carbon footprint.
  • Above-average financial performance due to low production costs and availability of raw materials at a competitive cost.
  • Well developed social responsibility and philanthropic programs.

To find out more about corporate engagement in sustainability people need to look beyond the environmental marketing that companies are doing.  Environmental advertising, claims and eco-labels only represent a small portion of corporate sustainability.  Company web sites should be reviewed to see how open transparent companies are when reporting of environmental and social performance. The sustainability of the companies you do business with affects your own sustainability measures and your reputation.

 Editors Note: We’re pleased to welcome Phil Riebel to TheDigitalNirvana. Phil is a senior sustainability advisor to the forest, paper and print sector.  He has 23 years of international experience in the sector including senior management positions in industry and consulting.  Phil also owns and manages 200 acres of sustainable forest.  He can be reached at

How Responsible Sourcing Will Impact Printers in 2011

Friday, January 21st, 2011

If you were in the storefront printing industry in the early-to-mid Eighties, the sign “We Accept Disks” means something to you. It was the beginning of the digital and “desktop” printing revolution. “We Accept Disks”. It meant you had a PC and/or maybe a MAC, and would accept customer floppys in order to print out copies to paste up and shoot to a neg or output an analog poly plate, or maybe run copies (not files) on your copier. But it didn’t mean there was any compatibility with what your clients were bringing in. All you knew was that you had to do it because everybody else was.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. This is not going to be a crystal ball article. The rhetoric surrounding “green”, “sustainability” and “corporate social responsibility” has cooled a bit. This means we are now in the normalization phase. Between 2005 and 2008, literally everything gained a greenish tinge. It’s the same with every standard business practice bubble. First there were the early adopters, and then market acceptance comes along. This is typically followed by market saturation, and finally normalization. Many shops claimed to be a “Green Printer”. Maybe you got FSC certified, increased your recycling efforts, switched to low VOC chemistry or replaced or upgraded offset equipment, or implemented higher efficiency digital.

2009 capped the trend by becoming the year of the “green printing trade show”. Again, everything had a greenish tinge to it. It didn’t matter what the product or service was. It was either “green” or “sustainable”. Then the inevitable happened. The Six (or Seven) Sins of Greenwashing hit the print industry airwaves and uncertainty about the message and its credibility crept in. Trade shows in 2010 had a diminished green presence. Not that it completely disappeared; Green now has earned a secured place in Print’s message. Now the FTC is releasing new green claim guidelines.

So here we are in 2011. Responsible sourcing/procurement is fast becoming the driving realization that encompasses everything green and sustainable. Business Green offers 11 (as in 2011) things to look for in the next 12 months. Number 7 is “Ethical consumer spending will keep rising”. To quote a portion of the Business Green statement: “Every indication suggests this market will grow substantially this year even as other areas of the economy falter. It is time to stop treating green industries as a niche and appreciate them for the robust and fast-growing success stories they are”.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means to the printing industry.

Paper is most likely to be thought of first. Chain of Custody certification, whether it’s FSC, SFI or PEFC puts third-part verification of at the very least legal and ethical sourcing. The credibility of the certifying bodies, who themselves are validated by independent accreditation organizations provides transparency as well as credibility. Supplies, whether for offset, digital, or for infrastructure (janitorial, facilities) also have their certification and third-party certifying body counterparts.

Green computing is going to have a large presence this year as the IT industry takes sustainable computing mainstream. The Climate Savers Computing Initiative is a nonprofit group of consumers, businesses and conservation organizations dedicated to promoting smart technologies that can improve the power efficiency and reduce the energy consumption of computers.

Formalized waste-stream reduction strategies have become profit centers for many organizations. Harmon Recycling, a division of Georgia Pacific is one of many organizations offering full-service programs to both manufacturing and office environments. Everything that can be recycled should, including strapping, containers of all types and other shipping material. In short, a zero manufacturing and office waste program is more of a reality now than ever as the reclamation industry matures.

A life cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life cycle analysis, ecobalance, and cradle-to-grave analysis) is a technique used by organizations to assess each and every impact associated with all the stages of a particular process from raw material sourcing through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). LCA’s can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental, social and economic concerns which can validate both responsible sourcing and responsible disposal methodology.

Then there are all the other infrastructure improvements that also have their ethical, responsible and or sustainable components. This includes everything from buildings, HVAC, lighting, logistics and production equipment, to transportation and facilities management operations.

The end-game is that professional purchasers are embracing responsible sourcing. Organizations like The National Association of State Procurement Officials, the Responsible Purchasing Network, and The International Society of Sustainability Professionals are serious about responsible sourcing and many options are considered in choosing suppliers, based at least in part on their ethical sourcing policies. Don’t be caught out in the cold because you cannot quantify and provide objective evidence pertaining to where your raw materials, products and services came from, and where your waste and by-products are going.

Responsible sourcing is the new green.

Vic Barkin

An Economic View from a Different Perspective

Monday, December 6th, 2010

For this post, I’m offering my own unscientific perspectives based on a unique window I get to peek into through – my experience actively consulting with or for organizations of all sizes and in all sectors of the industry. This includes everyone from pulp and paper mills to paper merchants to printers to print brokers and finally, print buyers.

My travels take me from coast to coast and north to south here in North America working with over 100 clients in 200 locations per year. From ten-employee in-plants to billion dollar corporations, there are common themes that seem from my perspective to permeate every facet of the paper and print-space.

Necessity may be the Mother of invention, but it’s also the Mother of reduction, the Mother of consolidation and ultimately, the Mother of efficiency. The past few years of recessionary behavior has proven to be a Petri dish of sorts that prove this hypothesis.

Common to every nearly enterprise is the realization that certain functions have had to be reduced or eliminated in order to survive. On the M&A level this means economy of scale and centralization of management, marketing, accounting and human resource functions. Within the same organization, lower level elimination of redundant or non-value added positions has become the norm. I’ve walked in the door of many a facility where “ring the bell/buzzer/phone” for front desk service is now in force where before, the duty of the receptionist was just that; to receive.

If there is a front desk person it is frequently a CSR or AR/AP employee whose new workspace happens to be visibly at the front door of the establishment. The same goes with many other positions where value is perceived as being intangible and can therefore be eliminated and delegated internally to the wearers of many hats who are any enterprise’s new survivor class.

The other trend I’ve seen is that along with staff reduction coinciding with the amount of work coming through the door, where say a full 3 shift operation has been forced down to 2, a new and interesting problem has arisen. When the workload is steady, which is a lowered expectation these days, the available labor pool is being tailored to be able to handle the volume, however now there seems to be more of an optimistic trend among print buyers and advertisers.

It’s what I call the “loosening of the purse-strings syndrome.” As the economy and consumer confidence levels elevate slightly, print buyers are a bit more confident and optimistic. Over the past six to twelve months, my clients, generically now have the problem of not having labor available for those spikes in volume when they occur. In a way this is a good problem to have, since they now feel like they have weathered the economic storm and are now emerging as a more efficient enterprise through all their tribulations.

In some markets an interesting phenomenon is taking place. Where similar facilities with similar capabilities and equipment have either survived or failed, there is a glut of skilled labor. In some cases these spikes are handled by employees working for more than one company-  not that this hasn’t always happened to some degree. It just seems that now there are a lot more skilled operators willing and/or able to be engaged on-call. The problem here is that this is usually more of a mature labor pool, so with regard to longevity, an arrangement such as this is not self-sustaining. No one seems to want to be so optimistic as to ramp back up to former levels, so this conundrum will continue for the foreseeable future.

I don’t pretend to be an economist. I’ll leave that job to Dr. Joe. That said, I do ask the same basic questions wherever I go. How’s business? Have you had layoffs or reductions in the past year and if so, by how much? Have things stabilized? Are you bringing staff back on? Are your customers a bit more optimistic? Are you?

Of course the answers vary, but on average they are: tolerable; yes; yes; yes; yes; yes. It is encouraging if anything, that there is a pervasive optimism out there. In my book optimism equals confidence. Confidence equals risk-taking, albeit cautiously, risk-taking equals spending. Spending of course raises the economic tide overall, and a rising tide lifts all boats.

So ultimately in the printing industry, especially in the areas of growth such as digital printing and integrated media, I’d like to believe that because of all this spending on infrastructure, equipment and new labor, i.e. emerging skill sets, are about to take a quantum leap based on the demand for printing in our brave new world. A renaissance if you will.

To move forward and be the cause of change, mills, merchants, printers and brokers must again refocus their marketing efforts on a now more optimistic print-buying public, who will have a bit more money to spend as long as they are convinced of the ROI once they have been educated, again, by their vendors of the benefits of print.

So, in the end, you can talk about GDP, unemployment, print shipments and the calculated risks of either doing or not doing something to change the game all day long. All I’m saying to sum this all up is that anecdotally, we seem to collectively be climbing out of a casualty-ridden hole, a bit wiser, a bit stronger, but non-the-less gun-shy. In many cases the casualties have been necessary. It got rid of some of the low-ballers to hopefully create a more level playing field where the survivors can compete fairly on a level playing field, charge a fair price and continue to continue on now that the ball is rolling again.

What do you think?

Vic Barkin

ISO versus the FTC on Post Consumer Waste

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Ever heard this one before? A print buyer sends the specs for a job specifying “recycled paper”.

We’re talking about recycled “content” here, which is simply any percentage of the paper made from fiber (paper) that has been diverted from a waste stream. This is further broken down into pre- and post-consumer waste components. Commonly, but not always, it’s only the post-consumer portion that’s reported on invoices or printed on the piece its self.

Now, especially since the FTC’s proposals for their new Green Guides have hit the streets, many potentially-effected entities are waiting for the storm concerning the definition of post-consumer waste. This may not seem like a big thing, but it is.

It’s more important than ever now to define “recycled content”. For instance, did you know that under the FTC’s current as well as their proposed guideline, a specific edition of printed matter, say a magazine issue, can be considered either pre-or post-consumer waste depending on where it lives when it’s recycled?

Post-consumer reclaimed/recycled/recovered waste/fiber (PCW or PCRF) definitions are going to become a touchy issue in the coming months. Once the FTC codifies their definition, it will become the de facto standard, and no matter which way the wind blows, the FTC will wind up continuing to put their definition at odds with the interests of others.

The current FTC Guides provide that marketers may make a recycled content claim from materials which have been reclaimed either during the manufacturing process (pre-consumer) or after consumer use (post-consumer). This sounds pretty straight-forward.

Furthermore, the FTC aligns their definition of PCW with that of the EPA’s: “Fiber such as paper, paperboard, and fibrous materials from retail stores, office buildings, homes, and so forth, after they have passed through their end-use as a consumer item; all paper, paperboard, and fibrous materials that enter and are collected from municipal solid waste.”

ISO 14021 however defines post-consumer as: “Material generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of the product, which can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This includes returns of material from the distribution chain.” A definite difference of opinion.

When it comes to paper certification schemes, under current standards, both FSC and SFI subscribe to the FTC/EPA definitions (SFI actually requires alignment with the FTC rulings no matter what), however PEFC adheres to the ISO definition. That’s where the fun begins.

In response to the new FTC draft, many mills, recyclers and other groups have commented on the wisdom of the ISO definition noting that the FTC Guides should incorporate those definitions of post-consumer recycled content because competing definitions currently cause consumer confusion.

The reality can be summed up to intent. Is the intent that all material in its finished form has an equal recycled value no matter whether it has reached the end user/point of intended use or not? One can certainly argue that a publication which is remaindered (i.e.; never distributed) being exactly the same product as one that was read by the end-user, has exactly the same value in the recovery stream.

We don’t know as of yet which way the FTC will decide to go, but one thing is certain. Somebody’s not going to be happy. If the Guides are published as proposed, does it mean that merchants and printers need to watch all imports for the stated PCW content because they adhere to the ISO definition? Or will international mills have to adjust their PCW standards for exports to the US? It does present an interesting conundrum.

If FTC does adopt the ISO definition what happens to the FSC standards? Will they lower them to fit? Probably not, partially because of one interesting development; FSC released new trademark standards this past spring. The recycled mobius which used to convey the PCW content now conveys all recycled content. I find this a highly interesting development in conveying the message that reclaimed materials as a whole are equally valued.

As a final comment and case study, NewLeaf Reincarnation Matte was first released as a 50% pre and 50% post-consumer waste product (now 60% PCW). Under FSC standards both then and now, in order to use an FSC Recycled label there had to be at least 85% PCW, which meant that although 100% recycled, the FSC Mixed label with a 50% in the mobius had to be used for this product. Now under the new standard, though it’s still an FSC Mixed product, the mobius can state 100%. As Arte Johnson used to say, “Verrry Interesting…”