Gathered in the first FSC General Assembly in 1993 in Canada, the group set out to create a voluntary, market-based approach to improve forest practices worldwide.
Today, FSC is headquartered in Germany and operates in more than 80 countries – in fact, wherever forests are present.
Independent certification bodies verify that FSC-certified forests conform to requirements contained within the forest management standard. This third-party verification is crucial to the integrity of the system.
Forest management certification provides assurance that forests are being managed to the highest environmental and social standards, while Chain-of-Custody (CoC) certification provides assurance that products bearing the FSC label originate from responsibly managed forests.
Now more than two decades after its founding, FSC certification is one of a growing number of ‘green’ claims bandied about by timber growers, paper mills and paper merchants, commercial printers and packaging converters, and even brand owners.
However, FSC certification is the only forest management scheme enjoying broad support from major international environmental NGOs such as WWF.
Another scheme is PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), an international organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management – as with FSC, through third-party certification.
PEFC works throughout the forest supply chain to promote good practice and ensure production that meets ecological, social and ethical standards. This eco-label allows specifiers to identify products coming from sustainably managed forests.
PEFC endorses national forest certification systems through processes tailored to local priorities and conditions. With over 30 endorsed national certification systems and more than 240 million hectares of certified forests, PEFC is said to be the certification system of choice for small forest owners.
FSC and PEFC are but two examples of forestry certification (others only rarely mentioned in South Africa include TCF and ECF).
With such schemes on one hand and the call for recycled content on the other, it’s not surprising that paper specifiers declare themselves mystified by the many eco-terms and phrases tossed around, and ask for clarification on the ‘green’ paper front. Should they focus on paper production that’s environmentally-friendly or be more concerned with recycling aspects? And what about the carbon footprint argument?
In the opinion of Papersmith’s Rob Haden-Smith the debate is akin to asking ‘How long is a piece of string?’
‘Ultimately,’ he avers, ‘it’s what’s important to a specific customer that governs his decision to specify an FSC-certified paper or a recycled paper, or a combination of both.’
Asked how we can predict the environmental attributes that will affect future paper trends, Rob replies: ‘By looking at trends in the UK, which leads South Africa by a year or two, we get a good idea of where our paper specifiers are heading.’
Five years ago, he explains, an FSC certification was the big USP (unique selling point), and several corporates went this route as a differentiator. Today, with papers that contain virgin fibre, this certification is expected. In fact, he quips, having any virgin fibre content that can’t be backed up by CoC certification is like scoring an ‘own goal’ when attempting to get a corporate (especially one listed on the JSE’s SRI index) to use a particular paper.
Five years ago, merchants argued that ‘recycled’ didn’t necessarily mean ‘environmentally friendly’, and it was more about the ‘process’ than the make-up of the paper. However, today the recycled argument is back, and stronger than ever, although those making it are doing so from a more sophisticated position.
‘Whereas four to five years ago, customers were indifferent to (and perhaps ignorant of) the breakdown between post and pre-consumer waste, and just wanted to know the total recycled percentage in any particular paper, today they’re asking more probing questions, and demanding higher contents of post-consumer waste, while still wanting whiteness to be maintained. This is a little like having your cake and eating it, but it does indicate a clear trend towards growing awareness of what the recycling issue in particular is all about,’ Rob continues.
FSC in the ascendency
Another paper expert, Gerber Paper’s Connor Birkett confirms that certain of his company’s customers – both commercial and packaging printers – are insisting on FSC certification. ‘They’re demanding a credible guarantee from the supply chain to the end user that products originate from well-managed forests, controlled sources, reclaimed materials (or a mixture of these). Being FSC certified, we’re able to maintain the FSC CoC,’ he remarks.
Asked whether FSC certification seems to be more important to printers than the paper’s recycled content, Connor answers: ‘The end use determines which factor is seen as more important. However, on the whole, FSC certification does seem to be gaining more importance than recycled content.’
Gerber Paper is solely a paper importer with two of its major FSC-certified suppliers being BillerudKorsnäs and Klabin. ‘We import a long list of papers from FSC-certified mills around the world including metallised board, folding box board, duplex board, coated art paper, bond paper, semi-chemical fluting, kraft liner, white-top kraft liner, white-top test liner, sack kraft and MG papers,’ he relates.
‘As a group, we support the environmentally-responsible use of fibres as this lowers the paper industry’s carbon footprint, and ensures the sustainability of our industry. We’re driven to promote the FSC accreditation programme as we believe in the values it enforces. Environmental impact is a key factor for us at Gerber Paper,’ Connor asserts.
‘Essentially, this commitment is communicated to our customers by offering them papers from FSC-accredited suppliers; and in so doing we’re promoting controlled forestry practices, reducing human rights violations in the forestry industry, promoting the use of renewable energy resources and the general reduction of the industry’s carbon footprint. All of this is communicated through our FSC certification,’ he insists.
Where to from here?
So what’s the next trend? We return to Papersmith’s Rob Haden-Smith for some answers to this question.
‘If UK paper merchants’ marketing successes are anything to go by, it seems there’ll be an increasing focus on carbon-neutral endorsements,’ he points out. ‘Merchants such as Robert Horne and Howard Smith Papers have had great success selling carbon-neutral papers. In most circumstances, papers sold under this tag are not produced carbon neutral, but the mills manufacturing them obtain enough carbon credits to facilitate carbon offsetting. These projects include planting trees and investing in renewable energy initiatives and infrastructure. A major benefit of this development is that most end users are familiar with the carbon-neutral eco-phrase as it spans all industries, whereas terms like FSC and PEFC are more specific to the paper and forestry industry.’
In Rob’s view, local mills are quick to highlight increases in carbon footprint that gets added when paper is imported from Europe. What they often don’t disclose is what proportion of locally-produced components (eg dyes and pulp) is imported anyway. Also, these ‘seriously environmentally good’ European grades are often so green that, even burdened with the relatively small extra carbon cost to get them here, still end up being ahead of the game compared to most (but not all) locally-produced products.
Whatever the specifics, one of the more encouraging aspects of future environmental paper trends is that there’s growing awareness and appreciation for the more complex issues behind paper manufacturing. This means that the level of public debate and the quality of decision-making by those responsible for much of our paper usage is likely to be increasingly informed by a more refined understanding of this complex issue.
‘In the end,’ reckons Rob, ‘this can only mean that better decisions are likely to be made by more people, with the environment ultimately benefiting.’
Certified label substrates
On the label substrate front, UPM Raflatac is committed to sourcing paper products from sustainably managed forests; and promotes all credible forest certification systems including FSC and PEFC.
As a result, Raflacoat Plus label paper for prime product labelling has now been replaced by PEFC Raflacoat Plus. It’s billed as retaining the same mid-gloss standards, offering high opacity and contrast to support fine print detail for branding and product decoration. It’s also available with the thin and recyclable ProLiner PP30 backing.
‘In addition,’ comments country manager, Lee Unsworth, ‘we offer Raflabrite FMC (FSC certified) and Raflacoat Fit PEFC. And almost our entire range of wine labelling substrates is FSC certified.’
As part of an ongoing process to widen its forest certified paper labelstock offer in Europe, UPM Raflatac has also introduced PEFC Raflacoat Opti as a cost-efficient option for printing digitally on HP Indigo presses, and FSC-certified phenol-free thermal papers.
The latest FSC-certified label faces – Fleur de Coton White and Fleur de Coton Ivoire – offer a high-quality textured look for wine labelling.
UPM Raflatac’s chain of custody system tracks certified material from the forest to final labelstock product, and provides third-party verification that the wood used in label materials originates from responsibly managed forests.
A printer’s view
This round-up of opinion wouldn’t be complete without a statement from the country’s leading printing conglomerate on its environmental responsibilities in general and use of FSC-certified paper stock in particular.
According to Peter Metcalfe, Paarl Media’s executive director of sales, this group was the first printing company on the African continent to be awarded FSC CoC certification. ‘We can offer our customers a range of local and international environmentally-friendly paper, bought from trusted sources,’ Peter maintains.
Asked how this contributes to Paarl Media’s stance as an environmentally-friendly printing operation, Peter replies: ‘We realise that without natural resources there would be no printing. As a corporate citizen, we acknowledge the importance of preserving natural resources for future generations and accept our responsibility towards achieving that. We’re committed to the implementation of environmentally-sound business practices to minimise our ecological impact, and as part of this we promote and encourage our customers to use FSC CoC-certified papers.’
He adds that printing responsibly with Paarl Media allows print buyers to minimise their impact on the environment without any compromise on quality.
‘Our customers can apply to include the Paarl Media FSC CoC logo on their FSC certified products to highlight to their customers, in turn, that the paper used comes from responsibly managed sources,’ Peter continues.
‘We’re currently developing an environmental ad campaign based on the FSC CoC certification, and have produced a brochure that highlights our policy of printing responsibly.’