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FSC Certification Means Green Cred to Clients

(January 2009) posted on Thu Jan 29, 2009

Requirements, costs and other nifty FSC information.


By Anya Rao

If you haven’t already been asked by a customer about your shop’s green efforts, you likely will be queried on the topic soon. You can tell those environmentally minded customers about any recycling programs you have or water-based inks you use, but having an official certification notation adjacent to your company logo can go a long way to reassure your clients.

One option is the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC, fscus.org) certification. Specifically, printers can seek FSC chain-of-custody certification, which traces the processing and distribution stages of wood/paper materials from certified forests. Those forests are managed with the FSC standards of social, environmental, and economic impact. FSC-certified materials must be kept separate from other materials in your facility, and detailed logs of the circulation of all materials must be kept for five years. An annual audit confirms that FSC-approved practices remain in place.

Road to assessment
The heart of the FSC-certification process is basic inventory control, according to Rutherford, New Jersey-based independent certifier SGS North America (us.sgs.com). If your company already has formalized operating procedures, you will likely need to simply adapt them to the specific FSC standards. If you don’t already have a formal inventory-control process, you will need to implement one according to FSC procedure.

In the past, mostly commercial/offset printers have been applying for FSC certification, but now some wide-format companies are seeking the recognition as well.

Great Big Color (greatbigcolor.com) in Denver, Colorado, for instance, chose to seek FSC certification because it carries a lot of clout, said Mick McLaughlin, the company’s administrative officer. He likens the certification to the Good Housekeeping Seal for consumer products.

McLaughlin found the audit to be a challenging process for Great Big Color. "We had to rearrange our whole plant," he says. "The certification requires you to isolate FSC-certified materials in their own designated areas. If you use a partial roll or palette, you must know where every square foot of material comes from, what was printed on it, and where it all goes."

Despite the effort and time expended to obtain the audit-which Great Big Color completed six months ago-McLaughlin says his company is confident the certification will be worth it in terms of bringing in customers. He says the company also believes green initiatives will take on an even larger role as Democrats-with a platform including a stronger focus on environmental issues-take the reins in Washington, D.C.

"Also, we feel like this is part of being a good citizen," McLaughlin says.

Graphics provider LAgraphico (lagraphico.com), based in Burbank, California, decided to apply for certification a few years ago when the company received several requests from its larger customers (mostly from the entertainment and gaming industries) for environmentally friendly products.

"FSC coincides with what we do and how we want to present ourselves and our products," says Paul DePatie, vice president of operations.

FSC impacts some of the wide-format work LAgraphico does-for example, the material used in bus shelter graphics-and all of the company’s offset/catalog printing.

DePatie said the FSC certification process was fairly simple and straightforward to incorporate into LAgraphico’s existing organizational system.

To obtain FSC certification, you must first contact FSC-accredited, third-party, independent certifiers. The list of certifiers can be found online at fscus.org/certifiers. FSC literature suggests that you get quotes from two certifiers, because the costs can vary. Once you choose a certifier and submit an application, your company will receive an on-site assessment. The certifier will assess the documentation and inventory control of the products you receive to confirm that they come from FSC-certified forests and are isolated from any other non-FSC-certified products.

Before the audit begins
Mark Evers, Northeast region business development manager for certifier SGS North America, says the total cost to obtain the certification through SGS is roughly $15,500, which is spread out over the five-year period of the certification. Before the audit begins, Evers recommends that print providers confirm that their paper/wood product suppliers are FSC certified. He also suggests that shops do the following:

*designate a location and/or inventory management system for FSC products in your shop;

*track orders from start to finish;

*create written procedures for handling FSC materials and identify a person responsible for maintaining guidelines;

*train employees on procedures; and

*address how any outsourcing will be handled while still maintaining FSC guidelines


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