It is time to shout about the steps the industry has taken

Marcus Timson
Friday, September 28, 2012

With recent research finding that only 7% of respondents felt print was conveying its sustainable message to buyers, it's clear the sector is failing to address the perception that print is not as sustainable as other methods of marketing and communications.

So could an eco-label for print – one that truly helps buyers make an informed choice about the authenticity of a product – be a good idea and help to change these perceptions? Some people like labels, as they make it easier for them to make ‘informed’ purchases. Others feel aggrieved by the notion of remote bureaucrats trying to influence purchasing decisions.

There are over 30 print-related eco-labels in Europe alone. Yet the ‘breakthrough moment’ where any one of these 30 labels is demanded by print buyers or consumers is yet to come. When it comes to eco-labels, there is often a collective sigh across the print industry. While the EU Ecolabel is making a valiant and well-intended attempt to educate and encourage everyone (consumers) to think more about print when looking at a product, I’m not sure it will receive the universal blessing of the print industry itself.

Eco-labels in print face a challenge because consumers generally don’t think about the printing process when they purchase products at the supermarket. Consumers simply see the package and believe that it is good for the environment if it has an FSC/Fair Trade or PEFC Kitemark. However, the company that produced the print could still be using processes that damage the environment. So while an eco-label might help, will the printing company really be ‘eco’? Also – just having access to FSC or PEFC paper sources doesn’t make print companies sustainable. It’s much more than that.

The industry lacks a standard environmental accreditation process or ‘full chain of custody’ for its final printed products so it has no clear way to disclose its sustainability performance. But I’m not convinced this label will help achieve this. Surely, a more strategic approach for sustainability from across the industry will have greater impact.

The paper industry has proved that responsible production and consumption can actually protect the environment. It has worked hard over decades to adopt formal and rigorous industry standards. This has helped the sector move from being seen as the ‘destroyer’ of the forests; it is now viewed as the custodian of those same forests. This needs to be replicated throughout all the other sectors in the industry. Eco-labels could be a part of this, but in of themselves they are not the solution.

Despite the admirable work done by many industry associations and groups, the sustainability landscape is still confused. EcoPrint hopes to dispel myths and aggregate information, insight, challenges and best practice. In our view, it’s the start of creating a practical solution.

At the EcoPrint Europe show in Berlin this week (26-27 September), we asked: Are standards relevant to the print industry and do we need an Ecolabel? Visit www.ecoprintshow.com for more information on the event.

– Marcus Timson, Director of EcoPrint 2012

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