The green issue
by Marcus Timson
It seems that news from drupa suggests sustainability is high on print’s agenda. And this is timely indeed. Because in April, without fanfare, and without anyone really even noticing it, the EU Eco label has been launched into the market, and the news is that there is a specific EU Eco label for print. But does print need a label or indeed a standard at all?
This is a debatable issue. Print is most certainly an industry in which standards have been discussed many times before. And if you take a look at other industries, you can see that they have unified themselves behind supporting one standard or certification that defines whatever is the agreed and accepted definition of 'good', 'reputable' or 'responsible' or indeed ‘sustainable’.
The discussion around quality standards in print is one I have been witness to and whilst there is no one single global or European standard, there are ISO standards and various regional and local certificates that can help buyers of print to readily isolate and source print companies of a reputable ability and quality.
I can see the point of a label for sustainability in print. Why? Because one of the major problems with sustainability, to use a climatic word, is that it is a clouded issue. And in an attempt to lift this cloud many public and private bodies around the world have tried to place a standard, kite mark or label against what is deemed to be acceptable 'sustainable', 'Eco' or 'green' print.
In Europe alone, there are multiple labels and standards that bear some relevance to print. These might have had some good intention behind them, they might have been useful at some point, but local relevance aside (Nordic Swan for example), they don't mean a lot to a buyer or a business not located within the limited national confines of a European country, or in this case the Scandinavian region.
And for a pan-European consumer brand this poses a problem. Why? Because there could be a need for a label or a standard that is specific to that industry but one that also transcends limited national boundaries.
So enter the EU Eco label. How applicable and how realistic is this to attain? And has the EU consulted the print industry? Not as far as I know, but I am happy to be corrected.
The questions still remain. Is the EU Eco label any good? And how practical is it? I don’t know, it’s too early to say.
This whole issue provokes another question. What about the misinformed or uninformed consumer? Labels in consumer purchasing do have a point. They do have a purpose. The fair trade labels provide value for the consumer in that the information and reassurance that the money made on the product returns to the community .
In print, the closest thing we have that is truly international is the FSC kite mark. The paper industry generally has got its act together through the work of organizations like Media Mundo in Germany, Ingede in Germany and Two Sides in Northern Europe and the USA.
For me, the heart of the issue with labels and standards is that when consumers pick up a piece of print, whether it is on packaging, point of purchase or promotional print, they are not actually looking at the print. What, I believe, consumers see is the design and the substrate. But this kind of ignores the fact that the print could be poorly executed using toxic processes. If consumers were more educated about printing, then our media or industry would start to position itself as a more compelling, relevant and sustainable process for generations to come.
But in order to achieve the creation of a label that actually helps print buyers, printers, manufacturers and in the long term consumers, make informed decisions, clearly leadership and unity would be required.
At the moment, the print community in Europe is too fragmented around the issue of sustainability to possibly reach a quick conclusion and solution. To some extent this is a uniquely European problem. Unity.
So what is it going to take to get print to unite in Europe? I don’t know a short answer to that, I must confess.
Perhaps this could be a discussion point at EcoPrint and this event could become a key forum for change. For good.
Marcus Timson is the Director & Co-Founder of EcoPrint Show.