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Archive for February 11th, 2008

Is FSC paper greener than recycled paper?

Monday, February 11th, 2008

We have had several people ask us which paper is best for green printing: paper that contains pulp sourced from FSC-certified virgin fiber or paper that is made from 100% post-consumer recycled fiber? Here are some pros and cons.

Paper that carries an FSC certification is brought to market with the representation that the source of the tree fiber that the paper is made from has been certified by an independent agency to be legal and harvested in a sustainable manner. This means that it comes from a managed tree plantation, or is selectively cut from old growth forests in a manner that allows the forest to stay healthy. It is, in any event, virgin fiber pulp sourced from trees.

In order for your green printer to place the FSC logo on FSC-certified paper, the printing company, as well as the mill, the logging company and the paper merchant, has been required to pay the Forest Stewardship Council for the right to use the logo. We have tried repeatedly to get accurate information, but so far have been unable to get a direct response from the Forest Stewardship Council about total costs. However, we believe that the cost is approximately $4000 for the initial “certification”, with an annual recurring membership cost of an additional $2000 per year.

Is FSC-certified paper better than recycled paper? We don’t think so. Unlike paper that is made from 100% post-consumer pulp, FSC-certified paper does not reduce landfill use or deforestation. The best choice for green printing is still recycled paper, soy inks and water-miscible solvents.

Here in the Triangle area of NC, which encompasses the towns of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Cary, printing companies that claim to be green number about 3. More are climbing on board all the time via FSC-certification. While this is an easy way to claim to be a “certified green printer,” we would argue that FSC-certification alone does not a green printer make. In fact, we know of no actual “green printer” certification process.

Because many large corporations are interested in protecting their brands by implementing a green marketing policy, they now require their printers to become FSC-certified. Naturally, some larger offset printing companies have gone that route. But in most cases this is all they have done to green up their act, and in fact have done so only to obtain new, or keep existing business.

If these printers have been selling the cheapest paper for years and have built their businesses on ecologically obnoxious business practices, they have created quite a large carbon footprint to overcome. We welcome everyone’s efforts and recent conversions to environmental stewardship, but hope that print buyers will support those companies that have lived the message, even when it wasn’t the easiest business strategy. These long-term green printers are likely more committed, more informed, have a more thorough understanding of the issues surrounding green printing, and can better guide their customers as they develop a green message of their own.

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