I’ve always believed in environmental responsibility. But do we need to be policed by outside organizations that have siphoned off millions of dollars from our industry? I’m talking about FSC, SFI and PEFC – three major environmental certifications that printers have been using for over 10 years. Exactly how do they benefit our industry? When the drive to become more sustainable began about a decade ago, most printers were on board. I too wanted to show my customers that I really cared, so the company I founded in Montreal was certified by all three groups. However, I wasn’t sure our industry really understood what these organizations were doing. I learned afterwards that it was only about the chain of custody of the tree/paper – nothing else environmental. We could have been heating our plant with coal and it wouldn’t have made a difference!
I also didn’t understand why the printer had to be audited in the first place. Traditionally, we would buy paper from a merchant, who in turn bought it from a paper mill in pre-packed boxes. From what I understood, FSC, SFI and PEFC wanted to make sure a printer didn’t mix up its paper on the production floor – which was somewhat ridiculous, as all our orders are custom and we never mix them up. Plus, none of the organizations even asked what we did with the paper post-production – such as finishing with a UV coating, lamination, hot-foil stamping, etc. – which would eliminate any real environmental value. I was quickly becoming of the opinion that all this was simply a “money grab.”
In the beginning, FSC and others were everywhere and companies were asking for it, but not if it was going to be more expensive. I remember printers lining up for it. Everyone wanted a certification logo on their products just because of the times and marketing value. And of course, we were all afraid to lose a client. The fact is that today, very few customers are even asking for these certifications or the logos to appear on the products they buy. It’s more of, “oh, that’s nice.”
Dollars and sense
I delved into the costs of certification and found that printers today pay about $3,500 to $4,000 annually to be certified by each organization – that’s $10,500 a year to be certified by all three groups. With about 27,000 printing companies in North America, if only 25% of them (6,750) are certified by one organization, that’s about $27,000,000 leaving our industry! If we multiplied that by all three organizations, that’s $81,000,000 annually out of the pockets of hard-working printers! Where does all this money go? I have asked many times, but have never received a satisfactory answer. I’m guessing that the auditors involved receive at least 50% for their services. So my burning questions are still: How are they helping our industry and whom are they helping? Look at this way. If you produce 10 FSC, SFI or PEFC projects, regardless of size, that’ll work out to $400 a project in extra costs.
Plus, did you know that the large printing corporations with multiple plants don’t have to certify every plant every year to keep their certification? Why does a smaller company have to? How do we compete with that? This is just another reason why this entire certification process simply doesn’t make sense. For now, the SGP Partnership (http://sgppartnership.org/) might be the best option if you’re really concerned about your environmental impact. This is the only third-party certification for the printing industry focusing the entire print facility and its operations – not just products going out the door. On top of that, the cost is substantially less, with an audit every two years costing about $1,250.
Finally, I believe we should police our own industry with an even better – and most of all affordable – sustainability program. We should come together and promote printing’s sustainability in our own way. Then we should go and sell it to our customers and potential clients based on our experience and trusted expertise. What do you think? I welcome your feedback.