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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
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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.

About the Author
Vic Barkin has 35 years of experience in the printing industry including 12 years leading Northern Arizona University's in-plant. He currently owns a consulting practice specializing in business development, workflow and technology implementation focusing on "Green printing" practices, and is an FSC senior auditor for SmartWood, as well as an SFI/PEFC auditor for PriceWaterhouse Coopers. He is also vice president of the Mountain States Printing Education Foundation, a writer for national publications (like this one) and has been a presenter at many national and regional conferences. Contact Vic at


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