By: Sarah Scudder


Environmental sustainability has become an important topic among sourcing professionals over the past few years. A recent Google search using the term “sustainable procurement” returned just under 28,000 results, and that included only results for the past year. Searches using the terms “sustainable purchasing” and “sustainable sourcing” produced a similar number of results.

The growing interest of business leaders in environmental sustainability is easy to understand. Consumers have become more aware that the production of the products they purchase and use has repercussions on the environment, and they are increasingly demanding that companies providing those products minimize environmental impacts.

Business leaders are also recognizing that the environmental reputation of their company is strongly affected by their suppliers’ practices. And the reality is, a company’s supply chain usually has much more impact on the environment than the company’s internal operations. Recent research by McKinsey & Company found that the typical consumer packaged goods (CPG) company’s supply chain accounts for more than 80% of total greenhouse emissions, and more than 90% of the total environmental impact on air, land, water, biodiversity and geological resources.

These circumstances are causing business leaders to become more intent on working with suppliers that use sound environmental practices, and the job of selecting such suppliers and monitoring the environmental performance of the supply chain falls primarily on the shoulders of sourcing professionals.

For understandable reasons, sourcing professionals first focused their sustainable procurement efforts on direct spend categories. But applying sustainable procurement to indirect spending can also enhance a company’s reputation for environmental sustainability.

In Search of “Green” Printing

Printed materials are a significant category of indirect spending for many large and mid-size companies. This category typically covers a broad range of diverse products and involves purchases from numerous suppliers. The number of suppliers providing printed materials can make it challenging to evaluate the environmental practices of suppliers on a case-by-case basis.

Fortunately, there are several independent organizations that provide environmental certifications for firms in the printing industry. These certifications differ in purpose and scope, but they all provide an easy way to establish the environmental “credentials” of print suppliers. Sourcing professionals can use these certifications as criteria for choosing among competing suppliers, or they can require companies to possess one or more of these certifications in order to be classified as an approved supplier.
Below is a brief description of four of the more widely-recognized environmental certifications available to printing firms. This list is not exhaustive, but it does include the certifications that sourcing professionals are most likely to encounter.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization that provides two types of certifications – Forest Management and Chain-of-Custody. The FSC Forest Management certification is obtained by forest owners and managers and confirms that a specific area of forest is being managed in an environmentally sustainable manner. The FSC Chain-of-Custody certification traces the path of products from forests through the supply chain. In the case of printed materials, FSC certification means that the products were printed on paper that was produced from FSC-certified forests. An FSC-certified printer is entitled to print the FSC logo on products produced using FSC-certified paper.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)

SFI has promulgated three sets of standards – a Forest Management Standard, a Fiber Sourcing Standard, and a Chain-of-Custody Standard. The SFI Chain-of-Custody Standard is similar to FSC’s in that it is a system for tracking forest fiber content through production and manufacturing to end products. An SFI-certified printer is entitled to print the SFI Chain-of-Custody label on products that meet SFI standards.

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)

PEFC is a global alliance of national forest certification systems. It provides a Chain of Custody certification similar to those offered by FSC and SFI.

Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP)

The FSC, SFI and PEFC certifications all focus on the sustainable management of forests, and in the case of printed materials, the chain-of-custody certifications they provide will confirm that the paper used in a printed product was made from trees grown in forests that are managed in a sustainable manner. The certification provided by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership is significantly broader. The standards promulgated by SGP and used in its certification process cover practices relating to energy and other resource consumption, waste reduction and greenhouse gas emissions, among others. Therefore, SGP certification indicates that a printing company is using a range of business practices that support environmental sustainability.
From all indications, there is a growing belief among consumers and business leaders that climate change is real and that business enterprises have a duty to minimize the impacts of their operations on the environment. In addition, there’s a growing tendency among consumers to hold large enterprises responsible for the environmental and social behaviors of their suppliers.
These circumstances are leading many companies to include sustainability criteria in their sourcing policies. The environmental certifications issued by FSC, SFI, PEFC, and SGP give companies one mechanism for determining how “green” their print suppliers are.

This article first appeared in Future of Sourcing here.

How To Get Started

Setup a free 30-minute consultation with an RSN print and packaging expert.