Approved by the European Commission, the EU Ecolabel has big potential, though scepticism lingers. Take-up, however, will likely be client-driven
Print’s glut of greening continues. If EMAS, ISO 14001, FSC and PEFC weren’t enough to keep your average sustainably minded printer occupied, along comes another label, this time courtesy of the EU, in order to help them prove their environmental credentials.
The voluntary EU Ecolabel for printed paper products was approved by the European Commission in August, eight years after negotiations started, with aims including cutting the use of some harmful chemicals and providing a mark of the low environmental impact that is recognised by consumers.
The Ecolabel is already available for products and services ranging from televisions to tourist accommodation, as well as copying and graphic papers. This has proven most popular in Italy, which has issued more than half of Ecolabel awards (the UK accounts for 9%).
But it would be fair to say the new label hasn’t exactly caught the UK print industry’s imagination – yet. Several printers and print buyers contacted by PrintWeek were unaware it had been approved. And the reaction from those who had heard the news wasn’t exactly one of unconstrained joy.
One concern is that the label will be applied to individual products, which must meet a range of criteria (see 30-second briefing), and not to a firm’s overall processes, as is the case with general environmental management standards such as ISO 14001. This could mean significant costs for printers producing a wide variety of tailored jobs for clients.
Based on current UK fees for other Ecolabel categories, applicants can expect to pay £250-£500 per product assessed (with a 20% discount for firms with ISO 14001 and/or EMAS accreditation). This is in addition to annual licence fees of £250-£1,000 per company, depending on the size of the organisation.
Despite these costs, Ecolabel certification might have knock-on financial benefits for printers, says Intergraf secretary general Beatrice Klose, whose organisation represents national printing federations across Europe: "Some member states might encourage use of the Ecolabel through the application of lower environmental taxation."
The EU Ecolabel has been compared with the Nordic Ecolabel, which is also voluntary and has been awarded to more than 400 printing companies. A crucial difference is that the Nordic award applies to companies and products, and not just products, unlike the EU Ecolabel.
According to Pureprint marketing director Richard Owers, The EU Ecolabel’s focus on individual products has already deterred his company from seeking accreditation.
"It doesn’t seem we can apply it to our business because we are producing bespoke print on a daily basis," says Owers. "It will apply better to a business producing products consistently in the same way."
Clare Taylor, an environmental consultant working in the printing industry, agrees that the label will "probably suit people doing a lot of consistent things". But she points out that limitations could remain, since products must be printed on papers that bear an EU Ecolabel. "There’s not a large range of that available," she says.
Arjowiggins and UPM are among the major paper companies focusing on Ecolabel accreditation. Arjo’s Ecolabel products include the Cocoon range of coated and uncoated paper. ArjoWiggins national key account manager Julian Long says that demand is growing, particularly as government departments increasingly require papers bearing the Ecolabel.
Klose says public authorities could also stimulate demand for the printed paper products Ecolabel. "They may decide to purchase printed material bearing the trademark Ecolabel flower," she says. "Although they are not allowed to refer to any ecolabel (including the EU Ecolabel) in public tenders, public authorities may take the Ecolabel as reference for their technical specifications. Printers with public authorities as customers might be required to offer eco-labelled products."
Lindsay Atkinson, operations director at BGP Group, says new standards can quickly become popular among public bodies tendering for contracts through YPO, the public-sector procurement service.
BPIF director of membership Dale Wallis says that, ultimately, uptake of the Ecolabel is likely to be driven by customers. "If printers can get some more business and new business from this, they will go for it. However, there will be a cost to printers and they won’t be able to pass it on," he says.
Taylor suggests that the attitudes of end consumers will also be important. "Print’s customers will want it if their customers do," she says. "For example, FSC has quite high awareness [among the public]."
This has been a factor in the success of the Nordic Ecolabel, whose ‘Nordic Swan’ trademark was recognised by 94% of people surveyed in the Nordic countries in 2010. Meanwhile, 40% of European respondents surveyed in April 2009 by Eurobarometer, the EC’s research body, were aware of the EU Ecolabel, and 47% said they tended to pay attention to ecological labelling.
With awareness of the Ecolabel running at those levels, it may be too early to dismiss its potential in the print industry, even if its applications are likely to be limited.
- Printers will be able to have individual products assessed against the EU Ecolabel, but it is not a general environmental management standard such as ISO 14001
- To gain approval, products must be printed on paper bearing the EU Ecolabel, as well as meet other criteria relating to the entire product lifecycle, such as the types of consumables used, recyclability, emissions, waste management and energy use. Any parts of the product that are sub-contracted to another supplier must also fulfil the accreditation requirements
- The printed paper category comprises any printed paper products consisting of at least 90% by weight of paper, paperboard or paper-based substrates, or at least 80% by weight for books, catalogues, pads, booklets or forms
- The label does not apply to envelopes or printed paper products for packaging and wrapping, but an EU Converted Paper product group has also been established with the aim of all "products of the paper-family" being revised around 2016
- UK enquires about the EU Ecolabel are managed by TUV NEL. Contact its helpline on 01355 593930 or email@example.com
- For more information on the Ecolabel criteria and application process, visit www.ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel/products-groups-and-criteria.html. The application pack for the printed papers category will be published there once it is available
- The UK guide for Ecolabel applicants is at www.ecolabel.defra.gov.uk/apply.htm
Does the sector have too many green standards and labels?
"There are not necessarily too many labels and standards, but some print buyers don’t know what they all mean - it’s not generally part of their role to do so. Standards tend to be very specific: for example, PEFC and FSC only tell you about fibre used to make paper. It would be hard to create a standard or label that embraces everything. ISO 14001 is often requested by clients. Used properly it is an effective way of achieving high performance levels, and demands continual improvement, but it does not set a standard to reach."
Operations director, BGP Group
"If you think back a number of years ago, there might have been ISO 9000, but how many are there now? You could think there are too many but if you don’t comply you might not get the job. We make sure we cover everything; if we don’t, some clients might favour some standards and some might favour others. FSC is a massive one; for most tenders we quote for, if you don’t have FSC you will lose out at the first hurdle."
Secretary general, Intergraf
"Printers are making efforts to reduce their footprints and demand tools to communicate their efforts. However, the increasing number of standards – product-specific and site-specific - leads to confusion for end users but also for printers themselves. This comes from the numerous criteria on which a standard can be based (raw material, chemicals, energy consumption, etc) and which do not relate to the same environmental information. Moreover, the escalation of available labels may lead to their individual depreciation."