In recent years, environmental responsibility has become as American as God, mom, and apple pie—at least in word, if not in deed. There hardly exists a company that does not make some type of environmental claim in the quest to be seen as green. For the most part, companies in our industry resist the urge to “greenwash” and stick pretty much to the facts.
Right now, there are three organizations which concern themselves with setting qualifications for printers to be certified as complying with certain green standards—the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). Only the latter is specific to the printing industry. The other two concern themselves with sustainable forestry practices—and right now they are feuding mightily.
The battle between the FSC and SFI is partly a turf war for recognition as the premier certification authority. It also has its roots in the makeup of SFI, which was founded by the American Forest & Paper Association, the trade association for the lumber industry. In a nutshell, SFI is being accused of greenwashing by making bogus claims about the sustainability standards it sets for certification. There is no telling how all this will shake out, but it is an indication of how serious the very idea of sustainability certification has become—which brings us to SGP.
What is SGP?
SGP is a partnership of industry associations and suppliers which independently certifies printers as having sustainable printing, manufacturing, and business practices. Supporting associations include Printing Industries of America, Flexographic Technical Association, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association, National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, Envelope Manufacturers Association, and Foil & Specialty Effects Association. Major sponsors are HP, NewPage, DuPont, Durst, and xpedx. Among other supporters are Mohawk, Flint Group, Prisco, INX, and several other print-related companies that can be found on the SGP website. Unisource recently recognized SGP certification in its own “respect” program that identifies sustainable-based printers that exclusively use papers that are renewable, recycled, and maintain reforestation attributes.
SGP’s goal is to recognize printing companies which:
- “Employ, whenever and wherever possible, materials derived from renewable resources or with low environmental impact, maximizing recycling and recover efforts with efficient utilization of renewable energy.
- “Encourage adoption of changes within the supply chain by strongly recommending the use of raw materials that do not threaten or harm future generations.
- “Educate the customer and ultimate consumer regarding the benefits of a restorative economy.”
There are details of the entire SGP certification process at its website (www.sgppartnership.org), along with a list of certified printers. For those who might think the program is limited to larger printing firms, one of the more recent printers to be certified was a Minuteman franchisee.
Is It for Me?
A quick or small commercial printer who wants to flaunt his or her green credentials certainly can go through the certification process with SGP, SFI, or FSC. While the benefits may seem obvious, many printers I have talked to think that going through the process is more trouble than it’s worth. I can’t really agree, but in reality, if only a minority of printers complete the certification process, the certifications will have more clout, since not everybody and their brother will be claiming these green badges of sustainability. That said, what can the non-certified folks do to make their case for being responsible environmental print providers?
Among the obvious steps are promoting the use of soy inks and recycled papers. Printers might also want to tout that their papers come from suppliers who support sustainability, windpower, or carbon neutrality. However, perhaps the best way to demonstrate the commitment to the environment is to educate customers about how to print responsibly.