Green paper products are here to stay — here’s what you need to know about this eco-friendly product category.
The green trend that swept through the marketplace a handful of years ago is gone — but that’s a good thing, because in its place is an expectation of eco-friendliness.
“It’s almost gotten to the point where it’s expected; people are almost surprised when they pick up a greeting card and it doesn’t indicate some greenness,” says Darren Mark, vice president and creative director/sales and marketing director for Tree-Free Greetings.
Joni Compton, advertising coordinator at packaging products company Nashville Wraps, agrees. “Being green is certainly not a trend and has really become a movement that we believe is here to stay,” she says.
Adds Patti Stracher, vice president for the National Stationery Show: “Green has a wide appeal. It’s not talked about as much now as it was roughly five years ago, not because it’s any less important but because a lot of companies have made the choice to [process their products] in an environmentally friendly way.”
More than recycled paper
Now that so many manufacturers are going the green route, it’s up to retailers who want to support these businesses to sort out who’s more or less eco-friendly. These days, it’s not just as simple as who’s using recycled paper.
Mitch VanDuyn, founder of digital short-run printing company CatPrint, favors paper that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
“People have finally gotten the message about recycled paper, which first started in the ’70s,” explains VanDuyn. “Everybody has said they want clean, recycled content and that’s okay — it’s better than nothing — but you’re a lot better off with the FSC chain of control.”
FSC paper is typically composed of virgin tree fibers, but the wood pulp is sourced from a well-managed forest (verified by a third party) that protects the habitat of native species, prevents pollution, and plants replacement trees for those cut down. There are different kinds of FSC certification labels, but each indicates a high level of environmental and social responsibility from forest to manufacturer to merchant.
“We try very hard to use FSC paper,” VanDuyn says. “We really believe in using renewable growth forest trees. Every time you have a greeting card that was printed on a renewable growth piece of paper, that tree absorbed carbon from the atmosphere.”
At CatPrint, they ship in high-quality, reusable boxes and biodegradable cornstarch peanuts that can be washed down the sink. They also use the heat from the presses to warm their production facility in the wintertime.
“From day one, we wanted to have an eco-friendly company,” says VanDuyn, who drives an electric car. Carbon credits are bought from TerraPass, a company that offsets carbon loads by investing in projects that capture and destroy greenhouse gases or produce clean energy, such as wind. “We buy enough credits not only for our operations, but we also estimate how long the average design would take to put together, estimate the carbon load, and offset that as well,” VanDuyn adds.
The printing process
To produce its whimsical 100 percent post-consumer recycled stationery, paper goods, journals, and more, Ontario-based Ecojot sources paper from a mill in Quebec called Cascades, where they send all their leftover paper to be turned back into something new again. Ninety-three percent of the mill’s paper machines are powered with biogas, a renewable and widely available energy source that is lost when not used.
“In 2007, with the increased amount of awareness of environmentalism and the green movement, I wanted to change our raw materials from virgin fiber and glossy varnishes into a more earthy, natural look,” says Mark Gavin, founder of Ecojot.
Instead of using rubber-based or oil-based inks, Ecojot prints with vegetable-based inks. “Vegetable ink is biodegradable, so it’s safer to use,” says Daniela De Marco, director of marketing for the company. “When we’re recycling our paper, it can be processed again through the mill.”
Although focus groups have shown that people flock to Ecojot’s products because of the design and usability, as opposed to the greenness, they continue to remain committed to sustainability. “There’s more to it than just business,” Gavin says. “We do care about the world at large.”
While any nod toward green materials is a step in the right direction, many products that tout recycled papers come from afar — and while that may help the cost, it reduces the sustainability factor. “It’s hard to compete with a lot of stationery brands out there, because they manufacture products overseas,” De Marco says.
Increasingly consumers are becoming attuned to buying items that are produced close to home, which is a good thing for the environment. “Our cards are made in the USA and they’re super eco-friendly,” says Mark of Tree-Free Greetings, based in New Hampshire. “[Other] cards are made in China, which gives them a huge carbon footprint. Getting to Chicago from New England and getting to Chicago from Guangzhou, China, is [so much] farther.”
Tree-Free Greetings sources paper from a mill that uses wind power and produces processed chlorine-free paper. They print with soy-based inks and get their journals made at a family-owned bindery in New England. They order only what they need in a couple-month period so that unused materials don’t go to waste. And in an effort to be as transparent as possible, they have a “nutrition label” of sorts on the back of each product that clearly spells out what it’s composed of.
“Not only are the products beautiful, but they all tell the green story, which ultimately makes the consumer feel good when they make the purchase and makes the retailer feel good about the products they carry,” Gavin says.
Ruff House Art, too, a letterpress stationery company, distinguishes itself with locally made products, and in their case, all handmade. At the beginning of this year, they launched The Garden Seeds Collection, a 100 percent green product embedded with garden seeds that’s designed to look like a vintage seed packet. “You plant the entire card and it will grow vegetables — tomatoes, carrots, onions, those kind of things,” says Jill Morrison, owner and creative director at Kansas-based Ruff House Art. “It’s green from start to finish.”
It’s in the material
When it comes to innovative stationery, it isn’t just on paper anymore — for example, Alabama-based Night Owl Paper Goods has become known for their eco-friendly, sustainably harvested birch wood cards. Other companies make stationery out of materials such as bamboo or even cow dung.
In addition to the wood products, Night Owl produces letterpress cards on 100 percent recycled and reclaimed cotton from the textile industry.
“The paper inside all of our journals is 100 percent post-consumer recycled, and it’s pricey,” says co-owner Jennifer Tatham. “It could be a good bit less expensive if we didn’t carry that paper inside, but we’re sticking with that and know there are people out there who will pay for it.”
Even with higher price points than you might find on other paper products, Night Owl has been able to sustain growth during a slump in the economy. “I think that means people are really concerned about [buying sustainable],” Tatham says. “Maybe they’re not even really conscious of it anymore; they want to make it part of their habit. It’s just becoming more mainstream and recognized.”
Finding the perfect paper
While in the past eco-friendly stationery might have been limiting, that’s not at all the case today. “When people thought green, they used to think rudimentary, not elegant. They used to think the quality of the papers was not as refined, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth today,” says Stracher of the National Stationery Show.
At NSS, this year from May 19 to 22 at the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center in New York City, attendees can expect to see the widest range of stationery in one spot — and that includes eco-friendly stationery. “If you are a trend seeker, there’s no better place,” Stracher says. “You’re discovering companies that have never been in the market before.” The “Eco Chic” category in the Best New Product Competition at the show is also a great place to check out cutting-edge items that are “authentically and holistically environmentally produced and manufactured.”
When you’re shopping for products, wherever you are, don’t be afraid to ask questions. “If the retailer has a choice when they’re purchasing, I would talk to the designer and say, ‘Do you use certified paper? What are you doing for the environment?’ It’s easy enough to do; we’re not the only ones to do it,” VanDuyn says.
Gavin recommends looking into B Corporations, companies that meet stringent standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Unlike many regular corporations, B Corps are committed to creating a material positive impact on society and reporting publicly on social and environmental standards that are vetted by a third party. “You should support companies that are doing more than just looking for profit — at least that’s how I feel when I’m purchasing products,” De Marco says.
Then make sure that your shoppers know you have green stationery available. It may not be what drives them to the store, but it’s an added bonus that could tip the decision to buy.