Business inspection: Eco standard-bearer pushes into Europe

Jo Francis
Monday, August 11, 2014

The five-figure investment required to secure the EU Ecolabal was a price well worth paying.

The challenge

ISO 9001? Check. ISO 14001? Check. PEFC? Check. FSC? Check... It’s fair to say that when it comes to quality and environmental accreditations that are relevant to its business, the team at York Mailing is very much on the ball. The company’s push to improve its environmental credentials over the past few years has seen it progress to the point where, along with this impressive list of accreditations, it also boasts a 98.9% waste recycling rate.

This level of effort is understandably viewed favourably by key clients. As well as big name retail customers in the UK, the firm also has a substantial export business, so substantial in fact that it was recently lauded for its export performance with another appearance in the Sunday Times International Track 200

There was, however, something missing from York Mailing’s many badges of honour – something that would allow the firm to really compete for this export work.

“We do a lot of work for retailers in Scandinavia, and over there the EU Ecolabel is increasingly becoming a standard that is required,” explains group sales director Normal Revill. “We wanted to win more work from that market, so we decided to go for this accreditation.” 

So what exactly is this EU Ecolabel? It’s not a print- or industry-specific standard. Rather, it is an EU-wide scheme that encompasses a huge range of products and services. It spans everything from consumer products such as shampoos and cleaning detergents, to floorcoverings, textiles, and even campsites and hotels. 

The idea behind such a wide-ranging application is that the logo is instantly recognised across Europe, making it easy for both consumers and businesses to make a ‘green’ choice by opting for products that carry the mark. 

It covers the whole lifecycle of a product, which is one of the reasons why this particular accreditation has the potential to be extremely complex. “When developing EU Ecolabel criteria for products, the focus is on the stages where the product has the highest environmental impact, and this differs from product to product,” states the European Commission. 

Currently, some 37,000 different products across Europe are certified, and this is growing all the time.

In a nutshell, the overarching premise is that products carrying the Ecolabel logo produce less waste and pollution compared with those that don’t. 

The product-based aspect is an important difference – not everything that York Mailing prints will automatically qualify to carry the Ecolabel mark, as Revill explains. “You have to do it for each product, with specific checks. If anything changes, for example paper, inks or fount solution or the method of drying, that has to be logged and approved,” he says.

The method

When it came to embarking upon its Ecolabel accreditation project, York Mailing was able to call upon the services of an in-house expert. The firm’s health, safety and environment manager Paul Lewis is the group’s go-to person when it comes to ensuring all the necessary hoops have been jumped through for the firm’s raft of accreditations and qualifications, as well as workplace safety. 

However, even Lewis found that the Ecolabel represented an order of magnitude beyond anything the firm had achieved before. 

“It’s probably the most onerous thing I’ve done while working for York Mailing,” he says. “What we had to do to get the Ecolabel was go through every product we use – paper, ink, solvents, packaging, fount – absolutely everything.

“We had to work with each of our suppliers and they had to declare their product was up to Ecolabel standard. We couldn’t presume anything. For example, one of our largest paper suppliers is totally Ecolabel, whereas another has various grammages that have it, and others that don’t qualify.”

Similarly, a printed product that carries the Ecolabel has to be printed using ink that is also accredited.

Lewis reveals that the firm’s application files “were about nine inches thick” and the whole process took several months. “It was a bit like opening the Health & Safety at Work Act when I started reading all the documentation! It’s not a quick read,” he recalls.

“It took a lot of resources, time and effort involving both myself and some of my colleagues to put the application package together.”

There are 10 separate criteria involved in the Ecolabel for printed products (some with sub-criteria), and companies have to achieve every single one. 

Accreditation also requires paying an application fee and then an annual fee to maintain the licence, although this varies according to a company’s turnover. This varies from £250 to £1,000 depending on whether a business is classed as ‘micro’, ‘SME’ or ‘large’. There are discounts for applicants that have EMAS or ISO 14001. 

The process also involved York Mailing sending some 200 different printed products to Germany to be de-inked, in order to prove that the firm’s print work also complied with this element of the accreditation.

“They all came back within standard, but you can’t do that sort of test in the UK at the moment,” adds Lewis. 

It’s worth noting that some commonly-specified coatings or finishes will not necessarily comply with the Ecolabel because of the de-inking and recyclability aspect. 

That said the standard does allow for some special finishes. According to the printed paper specification: “Coating varnishes and lamination, including polythene and/or polythene/polypropylene, may be used only for covers of books, pads, magazines and catalogues.”

Lewis also found that the work York Mailing had already undertaken in recent years to improve its environmental performance stood it in good stead when it came to the Ecolabel project. 

After a complete revamp of its press hall in 2008, the company decided to forge ahead with a number of eco initiatives, including removing alcohol and VOCs from its operations. 

“If we hadn’t already gone down that path, we would have said ‘whoa’ when looking at what was involved in the Ecolabel,” he notes. “Fortunately, best practice has been drilled into us for years.”

The result

Once every ‘i’ had been dotted and ‘t’ crossed, the packages were sent off to Oakdene Hollins for inspection. The efforts and attention to detail put into the task by Lewis and his colleagues proved well worth it, because no major amendments were required.

In September 2013, York Mailing received its Ecolabel accreditation from Defra. It was the first printer in the UK to do so, which is reflected in its pride in holding licence number 28/001 for printed paper. 

Revill estimates that gaining the licence involved a five-figure investment in terms of the fees, time and resources that went into the process.

That investment has proved worthwhile, though. “We are delighted about it,” he enthuses. “We are now compliant and winning business as a result, and we are able to enter more tenders.”

While the prime driver was York Mailing’s continental client base, Revill believes the Ecolabel will also become more important for the group’s UK customers. “We are now part-way through getting Pindar accredited as well,” he explains. “We have a number of catalogue customers who really want to have that Ecolabel badge on their books. There’s a real desire to use it and customers are excited about it.”

The Ecolabel is indeed likely to gain more traction in the UK as more and more products are certified and the symbol becomes more widely recognised. Although currently only two printing companies in the UK have the accreditation, lots of printers on the continent have put it in place already. 

For York Mailing the effort put into gaining the Ecolabel has provided a further endorsement and underpinning of its environmental credentials. “We believe it’s good for our business, and good for the environment,” concludes Revill. 

Vital statistics York Mailing

Location Elvington, near York

Inspection host Group sales director Norman Revill and health, safety and environment manager Paul Lewis

Size The York Mailing site is part of the circa £100m-turnover York Mailing Group, which includes Pindar in Scarborough and Lettershop in Leeds 

Established The firm was set up in 1999 and has adopted a policy of continual reinvestment as it has grown and developed over the years

Products The plant focuses on the high-street retail sector, producing a wide range of flyers, inserts and catalogues. Its specialities include press-finished products, and the factory can produce 4pp A4 leaflets at over 560,000 copies per hour, while spine-glued 8pp A5 products come off its presses at 320,000 copies per hour

Kit Kodak Prinergy workflow, GMG colour management, Screen CTP equipment, 64pp Manroland Lithoman with inline spine gluing, 48pp Lithoman with inline spine gluing and stitching, 32pp short-grain Lithoman with inline spine gluing and stitching

Inspection focus Gaining the EU Ecolabel accreditation

Top tips

  • York Mailing was in a good position to gain the standard because it had a strong foundation in terms of its existing environmental standards and practices. Companies not familiar with this sort of detail and level of compliance could struggle. 
  • Have a definite reason for doing it. Identify why the Ecolabel will be valuable and worthwhile for your business – what will be the benefits? “We investigated it thoroughly before we started the process, and we knew a large number of our customers and potential customers would like the Ecolabel on their products. You’ve got to have a reason for doing it,” says Revill.
  • Look into it thoroughly beforehand so you understand exactly what’s involved, including the likely requirements in terms of time and effort. See
  • Be aware that not all types of print will necessarily comply. Some printed products will not be acceptable due to recyclability issues.
  • Put in place a team of people to drive the project, with one person heading it up.


© MA Business Limited 2021. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .