Justifying Paper Certification
Many in-plant managers have asked themselves, “Why should my in-plant have to be certified? I use FSC papers; isn’t that enough?” Here’s your answer.April 2011 By Vic Nathan Barkin
I TRAVEL for a living it seems. Invariably in a plane or at a hotel I'll get into the typical "So what do you do?" conversation with another fellow road warrior. My answer has been boiled down to a classic "elevator speech" (a.k.a., the 30-second enlightenment).
"I'm a consultant in the wood and paper industry, primarily dealing with chain-of-custody certification, which tracks trees and reclaimed material from their source all the way to the end user through transparent, credible, third-party auditing systems. FSC, the Forest Stewardship Council, and SFI, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, both offer labeling systems where certified organizations are licensed to apply trademarks to their products and advertising. Anything made from wood or wood fiber, like paper, can be certified to ensure that the material used came from legal, ethical and responsibly managed sources."
In my own little world I figure everyone gets this, but the answer I receive most often is "Really? I didn't know there were systems like that. That's pretty cool!" So that's the gist of this article. Paper certification is just plain "cool" (just kidding). The real gist of this article is to answer the question "Why should I have to be certified?"
The simple reverse-psychology answer is "You don't." I know there is quite a bit of cynicism about chain-of-custody (CoC) paper certification systems in the first place, but oddly enough there is also a general lack of awareness of what certified paper is, or is not. Let me set the record a bit straighter for those of you who fall into either the unaware (I'll be nice and not use the word ignorant) or cynical (I'll be nice again and not use the word belligerent) camps.
The objection most often raised goes something like this: "Why should I be forced to pay thousands of dollars per year just to slap a logo on my printing? Isn't the fact that I can tell my customers that I use certified paper good enough?"
The simple answer is yes—but if that's your perspective, the argument I can make is that the same could be said to justify not spending money on a variety of things that are "necessary" or are considered a "cost of doing business." There are, however, ways to reduce costs significantly, which I'll discuss shortly.
First, you need to be aware, no matter what your political views are, that there are illegal, unethical and unsustainable forestry practices occurring worldwide on a massive scale including, to a certain degree, in North America. Print buyers in all vertical segments of our society are aware of this, including yours I'll bet. Purchasing professionals are all about responsible sourcing as their industry adapts to growing pressures for accountability. Check out the Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) at responsiblepurchasing.org. Look at their member list as well as their paper purchasing guide.
What Does Being Certified Get Me?
Certification ensures that your in-plant's processes have been verified and validated by an accredited third-party certifying body though the independent auditing of systems to established standards. It also allows you to be able to "brand" a product with a graphic identity label controlled through licensing agreements and third-party approval (just like a sports team or university logo) that is recognized and accepted in the marketplace. All of this comes down to two things: credibility and transparency. If it wasn't so, why would so many organizations require certified products, certified vendors and/or certified labeling, when in many cases it does cost more?
Spreading the Word
More awareness brings more demand. The old saying goes "lead, follow or get out of the way." When I hear that "there is no demand" for the FSC or SFI label from a printer, in-plant or not, my response is "...yet."
During my consulting and auditing travels I also experience discouraged certified organizations on a limited basis who tell me they've had little or no certified activity. My first question is "have you told anybody?" Almost invariably there was no marketing effort, no announcement (maybe a small initial one), no sales or marketing training (other than a "Hey! We're certified!"), no Web site promotion, no visibility. Somebody just decided they needed to get certified and the world would magically hear about it and beat a path to their door. Didn't happen.
So what's the answer? I'm not saying that every in-plant should be CoC certified. Not by a long shot. Yes, be sure everything you use is certified to something (FSC, SFI or PEFC). Promote it, talk about it, endorse it, specify it and above all, understand that it means something. You're doing your part to combat illegal, unethical and unsustainable forestry practices. If you produce marketing materials for your organization, look at your competitors' materials. Are they labeling products? If so, why? And why not you? What benefits are derived from making such a simple statement as applying an FSC or SFI label?
All things being equal, it's been proven repeatedly, the offering with a green tinge wins. What's your parent organization's position on sustainability? Do you know? Do you embrace it? Are you involved? If not, shouldn't you be? Don't wait for the knock at your door that asks what you're doing to foster your enterprise from an environmental and socially responsible perspective. Being CoC certified may just be the easiest way to increase your department's value to upper management.
Two Things to Consider
If your annual printing revenue exceeds $5 million, I seriously urge you to get certified to FSC or SFI CoC standards (or both) depending on your market needs and current paper usage. Most likely your parent organization is already considering going down this road in its purchasing department. The cost of a single-site certificate will vary based on the certifying body you choose, and based on its value proposition. For instance, FSC certification through SmartWood also renders the organization Rainforest Alliance Certified, which carries the additional benefit of using the RAC "froggie-logo" seal.
Another point, if you have multiple sites "owned" by one legal entity such as a university system, a multi-site certificate can be employed to share costs under an internal central office coordinating function.
If your annual printing revenue is less than $5 million, then consider joining a group. PIA formed an FSC group that offers FSC certification to members of select PIA affiliates; initial membership was quoted at $1,695 per year when PIA announced this. There is no reason that IPMA, ACUP or other in-plant organizations couldn't do the same on a regional or national basis. For more information about this concept, see my Digital Nirvana blog. By the way, this concept also extends to SFI certification.
So in the end, for members under a group (or multi-site) certificate, the pricing objections, if nothing else, become less of an issue, the administration and coordination for individual in-plants diminishes and the networking opportunities for best marketing practices within the group become a viable asset. What's not to like?