CP’s Paper Sustainability Rating System

It is common for clients who are under financial pressure to ask us if there is any way to print their job any cheaper. Followed by; "Do you have any less expensive paper that you can use?" In those situations, I used to turn to one of our favorite paper salesmen who drove a Prius and had a scruffy beard like half the CSRs at Community Printers. I would ask him if he had anything that he could give me a deal on.

Typically he would suggest a coated sheet that had no recycled content that came from overseas, Indonesia specifically. The paper was sold under a private label. It tended to be 10-15% less than most other coated papers.  Most paper companies have a similar "fighting grade". I figured that if  I was competing with other printers using a  similar papers that I would not have a chance to get the job if I didn't take advantage of the least expensive sheet on the market. It would print ok...nothing to get excited about. If the client didn't care about recycled content, should CP loose the job over it?

One day, I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about an Indonesian company called "Asia Pulp and Paper"  (APP), one of the largest paper companies in the world and how they were responsible for clear cutting an area in Indonesia the size of Delaware. It turned out that inexpensive paper that I was buying from that nice guy driving the Prius came from APP. My friend in the Prius didn't know much about APP other than the fact that they sold a cheap sheet that allowed him to be competitive with other really cheap papers on the market. I felt terrible. Is this how easy it is to be part of the problem? Did I set aside my values for a few bucks?

I joke that on Judgement Day I will be met at the pearly gates by a line of trees. I will have to answer to them whether I really did enough to save them. I will be able to tell them that I worked at a collective in Santa Cruz and used a lot of recycled paper and even paid for tree re-planting efforts. I don't know if that answer is going to be satisfactory.

Creating this rating system has helped to define who we are:Community Printers realized that it was up to us to draw a line defining our standards for sustainability. We decided to grade the papers available to us on a series of criteria that we thought were important; recycled content, FSC certification, country of origin (distance to market), etc., and give numeric scores to each of the criteria that we value. For Community Printers to use a sheet, it needed to have a minimum sustainability rating. We would compare within price grades looking for the "greenest" sheet in each category.

  • For our customers, it communicates to them how we think about our resources. It informs them about their purchasing decisions and it makes complex choices a little easier to understand.
  • For our paper vendors, it shows them what it will take to get our business. We were amazed at the impact this little spreadsheet had on the companies that call on us. They started to transform their paper offerings and their price structures to earn our business. find a domain .  When a vendor realized that he did not have a paper in the grade that we needed with a "sustainability score" that met our criteria, vendors would offer us a better grade at the same price so as not to be locked out of our business.
  • For Community Printers staff, the spreadsheet helped get us all on the same page. While all of the job planners have a commitment to sustainable sourcing, it turned out that we all had slightly different views about what that meant and what criteria we valued most as a company.

There are commodity grade papers that are made and sold in huge quantities. There are also boutique types of paper that satisfy niche markets. Our goal is to have green options for all the commodity grades of paper and not just the boutique applications.

Even though we live in an era of much hype about sustainability, most of the papers sold globally do not have any recycled content and some of it does come from the destruction of first growth forests.

If we are being pragmatic that means sometimes its better to get a client who has never used recycled paper to use a 30% PCW sheet rather than scaring them off with the most expensive 100% PCW paper. Most print buyers want to do the right thing but if we ask them what PCW content they want and whether the want FSC paper and whether green e energy certification means anything to them that they glaze over with the complex array of choices. We believe that people choose to come to Community Printers because of our  expertise so we have put together a set of  house sheets that we are proud to use from a quality and sustainability perspective. Are they the "greenest" papers on the market? Not always but we are continually moving the needle.

For those who can spend a little more, we have very high PCW content papers available as well. Choosing  "uber green" papers doesn't have to break the bank if you are willing to consider other sustainability steps at the same time. For instance if you were considering using a non recycled 100# book for  your brochure, for the same price you can get a 80% PCW paper in a lighter weight of  paper.

Whenever there is a recession and everyone's budgets get real tight, it gets a little harder to maintain the commitment to using paper from sustainable sources. This recession feels a little different though. While it is tough to do the right thing, people keep engaging us with questions and requests for more environmentally friendly print solutions. Its not just our non-profit and public sector clients either. Our business clients have been developing sustainability goals as well. In some ways our corporate clients have been more committed to stay the course and seek out sustainable print solutions.  It is refreshing that so many people are looking for answers.

To see our criteria for comparing papers from a sustainability perspective click here.

I joke that on Judgement Day I will be met at the pearly gates by a line of trees. I will have to answer to them whether I really did enough to save them. I will be able to tell them that I worked at a collective in Santa Cruz and used a lot of recycled paper and even paid for tree re-planting efforts. I don't know if that answer is going to be satisfactory.

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