The Truth about Green

Today, businesses and consumers are challenged to minimize their environmental footprint by recycling and using earth-friendly products. However, it can be confusing to identify what is actually “eco-friendly” and recyclable. It is important to understand earth-friendly options, recyclable products, and environmental initiatives employed by companies and industries in order to make educated decisions.

There are many misconceptions about sustainability in the printing industry. Contrary to popular belief, producing print materials is environmentally friendly. The carbon footprint of printing continues to decrease, as printers and paper mills are amongst the largest consumers of renewable energy. According to the 2010 American Forest & Paper Association Sustainability Report, U.S. paper mills plant more trees than they harvest, and nearly 65% of their power is generated on-site from renewable energy such as hydropower and biomass.

Statistics aside, myths, misconceptions, and knowledge gaps often cause printers, designers, and consumers to shy away from sustainable and recycled paper options. For everyone’s benefit, it is time that we debunk myths and clarify environmentally preferable paper options, once and for all.

Q: Does recycled paper perform as well as virgin paper?

A: The quality of sustainable paper solutions has improved significantly over time, and is now proven to perform just as well as virgin paper. What’s more, today’s chlorine-free bleaching methods result in recycled paper that looks just as white and bright as virgin paper without the adverse affects of bleaching with harmful chemicals.

Q: Are sustainable paper solutions more expensive?

A: Environmentally responsible paper products have aligned with conventional paper prices in recent years due to increased demand and refinements in the papermaking process. There are sustainable paper choices available for every budget level, with a variety of recycled content to meet the needs of any project.

Q: Is colored paper recyclable?

A: It is possible to recycle colored paper, including brightly colored papers. In fact, many paper recyclers receive a wide variety of paper grades, including colored and brightly colored papers on a daily basis, and do not have any challenges or problems with recycling these papers. Many recyclers will balance the amount of white versus colored papers being deinked and processed to maintain and control brightness levels of the finished recycled pulp.

Q: How can you tell if you’ve selected an environmentally preferable paper?

A: Look for certifications from organizations or paper made with recycled post-consumer fiber. This includes paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and/or by Green Seal. FSC is a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests that sets high standards to ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way. Green Seal is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment and transforming the marketplace by encouraging the purchase and use of environmentally responsible products and services. Green Seal certification verifies that the paper bearing its logo has at least 30% recycled post-consumer fiber and passes Green Seal’s rigorous standards.

Q: How do paper products earn certifications?

A: Within each certification, there are specific guidelines, steps, and criteria a company must follow in order to earn a title. FSC certification offers three types of certification: Forest Management (FM), Chain of Custody (CoC), and FSC Controlled Wood. Of the three, CoC is the most pertinent certification for our industry, as it relies on companies that manufacture, process, or trade in timber or non-timber forest products. By receiving CoC certification, a company has demonstrated to its customers that it operates responsible sourcing policies and practices, and has complied with public or private procurement policies where FSC is the preferred option.

Similar to FSC certification, a product or service must be in compliance with a rigorous set of criteria designed to achieve leadership levels in sustainability before it can be awarded Green Seal certification. Green Seal can only certify products and services that fall under the scope of its standards. The process begins with a preliminary application followed by a formal application package. Once established, Green Seal accepts applications for certification. Evaluation for compliance then takes place, ensuring that the product in question meets the environmental and performance requirements outlined in the standard. The final step in the process is to conduct an on-site audit of the manufacturing facility or service location. Once the applicant meets the requirements of the Green Seal standard, certification is awarded and the applicant is granted license to use the Green Seal Certification Mark on pre-approved materials.

Q: How long do certifications last?

A: With both FSC and Green Seal, permanent certification is not a guarantee. All products are subject to annual monitoring, and any deviation from their environmental commitment is brought directly to the manufacturer. Because of this, each certification becomes a standard and mandatory guideline to which every product adheres.

Q: What does post-consumer recycled mean?

A: Post-consumer material is an end product that has completed its life cycle as a consumer item and would otherwise have been disposed of as a solid waste. Post-consumer materials include recyclables collected in commercial and residential recycling programs, such as office paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, plastics, and metals.

Q: How much impact does recycled paper really have?

A: Using sustainable printing options makes a positive impact. A single ton of paper made with 30% recycled post-consumer fiber saves three cubic yards of landfill space, seven trees, 3,000 gallons of water, and more than 4,000 BTUs of energy. Moreso, producing recycled paper decreases air pollution by 74% and water pollution by 35%, all while creating five times the number of jobs as producing virgin paper. To personalize these statistics for your clients, there are several online eco calculators that you can use to demonstrate the impact of choosing an environmentally responsible paper for their projects.

Q: Some of my clients still think they have to pay more for earth-friendly papers. How can I make the business case for using “green” papers?

A: Education can help dispel this common myth. Some clients may not even ask for environmentally-preferable papers up front on a project because they believe that they cost more. Don’t forget to offer your clients earth-friendly papers and remind them that there is no cost difference between a paper carrying an environmental certification and one that does not.

Q: Besides certifications, are there other ways I can help make sustainable printing decisions?

A: Minimizing the use of coatings, laminates, foils, adhesives, and labels can affect the ability of a printed piece to be recycled. You can also select local or regional materials or vendors whenever possible to reduce energy transport costs.

As printers, you play a very important role in fostering the sustainability dialogue. Being responsible environmental stewards benefits our communities and the future of our industry. Employing sustainable printing solutions will be beneficial to your business, clients, and community. Do your part, and help spread the knowledge!


Kelly Kubisiak is the manager of marketing communications of Wausau Paper, a leading manufacturer of colored uncoated printing and imaging papers. For more information, visit