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The ABCs of Paper Sustainability

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 08/22/2023 | 4 Minute Read

Ever heard of the FSC? How about the EPN? Or what about Green-e, SmartWay, and the CPSIA? If you know everything there is to know about sustainable printing practices, then maybe these are all familiar words and acronyms. 

But if they’re not, don’t sweat it—all you need is this guide to navigate this Alphabet Soup of important third-party sustainability validators.

You may have seen our other comprehensive guides published in collaboration with Monadnock Paper Mills on paper terms and the dictionary of print-ready design. Well, we’re back at it again, but this time, with Monadnock’s handy Field Guide for Eco-Friendly, Efficient, and Effective Print, created to help designers and brands develop paper products and packaging with the earth in mind. Containing heaps of knowledge compiled over many years, the handbook provides creatives with all the critical information they need to know to make informed, sustainable design choices.

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“As sustainability requirements have grown more sophisticated, companies of all sizes are challenged with organization-spanning assessment and communications,” explained Julie Brannen, Director of Sustainability Solutions at Monadnock Paper Mills. “So, let’s admit that it's hard to integrate sustainability principles throughout an entire organization. Often, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Here at Monadnock, we try to help people understand the right questions to ask. We help them make the case for sustainability and give them a way to understand all of the standards and legal aspects of materials and chemistries.”

The content is informative and straightforward without feeling dry or heavy, and charming illustrations by Yenpitsu Nemoto add character to the guide’s pages. The Field Guide covers many topics, including various paper types and ink options, and it even shows how companies and brands can make environmental claims that resonate with consumers. People who pick it up will have clear and concise explanations of the two organizations that set responsible forestry standards, different environmental management systems for paper, and the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), among a mountain of other terms and concepts.

Brannen emphasized that it’s vital for designers and brands to educate themselves about sustainable printing options. Seeking out a printer that operates environmentally friendly is a great step, of course, and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) have some of the more widely-recognized standards for discerning which printers suit your sustainable needs. That third-party validation from FSC or SFI can indicate that designers are on the right path.

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Still, the more they know about the process as a whole, the better. Figuring out what questions to ask and how to ask them, understanding the various choices that can lead to more eco-friendly outcomes, and not getting tripped up by these sometimes-confusing terminologies is more than just the environmentally responsible thing to do. With companies big and small setting impact reduction goals, if a designer can come in and contribute to those company-wide aims, they’ll be seen as an invaluable asset.

“We’ve published well over 100,000 guides over the years,” Brannen said. “And it’s important that we start the educative process at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. That way, you get people early to really understand all of the principles there. I don't think they're overly complex, but they’re extremely important. Every state is considering legislation about plastics and packaging waste. And that will start costing the manufacturers money. You really need to understand all of these things to be effective in business today.”

The way Monadnock sees it, there’s a financial and reputational risk in not attempting to operate and produce more sustainably. According to the 2023 Buying Green Report, 71% of consumers seek out products with sustainable packaging—and they’re willing to pay more for these products. Brannen pointed out that consumers are incredibly savvy.

"You can't fake your sustainability efforts," Brannen said. "Greenwashing is a Red Flag.”

Documents like the Field Guide for Eco-Friendly, Efficient, and Effective Print make it easier for everyone to print with the future in mind while making the best choices for clients. Brannen confessed that due to their publishing and sharing of this kind of information, Monadnock will often have companies approach them solely for guidance. 

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“We're considered a resource for a lot of people around the world to help take people on this journey, and we're proud to be leaders in information-sharing,” Brannen said. “We put people in contact with the guys at FSC that make these decisions, for example, or the soy ink people, or whoever. It’s a long list! We're able to help the design community and brands.”

“We feel that a high tide raises all boats. If you don't share your sustainability best practices, it'll take us longer to reach the end goal. We’ve been in operation for 200 years and know the importance of playing the long game.”

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As promised, here's that handy guide for acronyms around paper sustainability. Also, be sure to check out Monadnock's Field Guide for Eco-Friendly, Efficient, and Effective Print.

FSCForest Stewardship Council

EPNEnvironmental Protection Network

CPSIA - The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act 

SFI Sustainable Forestry Initiative

SGP - Sustainable Green Printing Partnership

ISO - International Organization for Standardization

QMS - Quality Management System (Monadnock operates under a third-party certified ISO 9001:2015 QMS)

PCW - Post Consumer Waste

ESG - Environmental, Social, and Governance (these are called pillars in ESG frameworks and represent the three main areas that companies are expected to report in. The goal of ESG is to capture all the non-financial risks and opportunities inherent to a company's day-to-day activities)

Go here to learn more about Monadnock Paper Mills!