Spring 2010
The Write Choice By Heather Johnson Durocher

Green paper feeds the growing demand for eco-friendly stationery. See how design and green are working in tandem to create waves in a category you can’t afford to ignore.

No, it’s not a contradiction in terms. ‘Green’ and ‘paper’ do go together. As your customers are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental footprint—and exercising their priorities with their wallets—large numbers of vendors are catering to the demand for green. They are creating well-designed, eco-friendly stationery. As a result, green stationery in stunning designs is becoming an important market segment.

Design dos

Retailer Tim McNulty is well aware of this trend. In fact, his store, Green Design in Princeton, NJ, stocks ‘green’ everything—from furniture and personal care items to journals, jotters and greeting cards. The green aspect of the stationery is important, McNulty says, but just as important is design. In other words, merely being green is not enough. The products have to have aesthetic appeal; they have to be well designed.

This same condition, McNulty says, applies to eco-friendly stationery. He says customers like products that are green and that also have artistic flair.

Patti Stracher believes McNulty is on to something. The show manager for the National Stationery Show agrees that good design and green do go hand-in-hand to create products customers will buy.

Green standards

Stracher, who is based in White Plains, NY, points out that green stationery vendors are recycling and repurposing materials as well as creating products from sustainable materials. Green business practices are important too—so look for vendors who are invested in the concept in every stage of the manufacturing and production process.

Barbara Miller says sales figures for this category are unfortunately not readily available. Miller is the spokesperson for the Greeting Card Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization representing greeting card and stationery publishers, as well as suppliers to the industry.

Miller points out that being green means working to meet certification standards such as those put out by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC). The FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. The PEFC is an international non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) through independent third-party certification.

“Most of your major producers or publishers try to make sure their paper products whenever possible are sourced in accordance with these groups,” Miller says.

Coming full circle

Arguably one of the most powerful green statements customers (and vendors) can make is to purchase recycled products. When it comes to paper this means making products with paper that is “post-consumer recycled.” This involves paper that’s been used previously in offices, by schools or government entities.

“It’s sent back, collected at the paper mills and made into new paper,” explains Mark Gavin, whose Canadian company Ecojot uses post-consumer recycled paper for its journals, note pads and jotters. “I think that’s a very powerful statement.”

The end result is high-quality paper gift items, says Merle Duffus, general manager of Island Blue Print, an art store in Victoria, British Columbia that carries Ecojot products. The company’s line of sketchbooks and related items for children—Eco Kids—is especially appealing to parents and kids alike, Duffus says.

In keeping with McNulty’s thoughts, Duffus points out that whimsical designs sell the products. Mark Gavin’s sister, Carolyn Gavin, is the artist behind the colorful designs.

Driving green innovation

Patti Stracher points out that manufacturers are getting increasingly creative about their approach to green. Vegetable and soy-based inks are used of course but the materials being used to source the paper in the first place are also unusual. Stationery is now made from the unlikeliest of resources such as hemp and even elephant dung. Yes, dung! For instance, the vendor Poopoopaper wholesales a whole assortment of stationery made from elephant dung—they don’t smell. When selling these fun products, make sure to bring out the source in your display. These unusual materials make for hip conversation pieces, Stracher says.

Another unusual source for stationery? Stone. TerraSkin, a New York City supplier, makes paper from stone. The company’s environmental director, Nicole Smith, says that in addition to the most obvious benefit (no trees being used), TerraSkin uses post-industrial waste material from the building industry. In other words, these are stones that are byproducts from the construction industry that would have made their way to the landfills were it not for this intervention. “The nice thing is during production, there is no water or bleach used,” Smith says, “We don’t have to modify for color and 50 percent less energy is used compared to what’s used for a regular sheet of paper,” she adds outlining the additional benefits.

Many of TerraSkin’s clients use the product for packaging, Smith says. At least one client—Canadian vendor Mitz—creates “rockpaper” notebooks using the material, and Smith believes this will be a TerraSkin product category that will see growth this year.

“As a product, it’s nice because you end up with a water-resistant and tear-resistant sheet,” she says. “It’s a bit more durable. It has a silky smooth texture to it. You feel like you are holding something luxurious.” She drives home the point of well-designed green that McNulty loves. “It’s green and glamorous,” Smith says.

Handmade luxury

Stationery products tend to sell well when they are handcrafted and intricately decorated, according to the Greeting Card Association, which found a growing trend toward incorporating textured papers and special printing methods to create cards with a distinctively luxurious look and feel. Cards featuring letterpress printing and embossing are at the leading edge of this trend, according to the association.

Night Owl Paper Goods, a Birmingham, AL wholesaler, uses yet another interesting material for its green stationery—sustainably harvested wood. The company wholesales handmade letterpress wooden cards. The “modern yet folksy” cards are sold individually and in boxed sets. The business also wholesales journals, note pads and jotters, which are purse-sized flip notebooks.

Again, design is important. “We have really clean graphics which appear modern,” says Jennifer Tatham, the company’s co-owner. Tatham and business partner Alan Henderson both design the cards. They say that the folksy touch comes in because the products feel maybe retro or ’70s. The wood grain allows each piece to have its unique texture.

Handcrafted prints and cards are also specialties for Sub Studio, a design company in New York City. The studio uses post-consumer recycled paper. “Our prints are the things that sell the best,” says Anna Corpron, who owns Sub Studio with husband Sean Auyeng.

The company’s nursery rhyme wall hangings—two-color, 12-inch by 16-inch prints silk-screened by hand on acid-free paper—are some of her favorites.

Sub Studio also creates “travelogue” note cards featuring bright-colored suitcases with sayings printed on them such as “Bring Back Something Nice” and “Wish You Were Here.”

Higher quality, higher cost?

The bad news? Green stationery is more expensive. Gavin from Ecojot confirms this. He says his company does pay more for the post-consumer recycled paper used to create products. “Recycled paper is more expensive—it’s about 25 percent more expensive than virgin paper. There’s a price premium that you pay,” he adds.

The good news? Despite the price, there is consumer demand for eco-friendly stationery products. It’s part of values-based shopping—customers looking for their purchases to reflect their values. This means even a higher price point won’t necessarily deter shoppers from buying. Gavin says that vendors like Ecojot, as well as some retailers and consumers, are willing to pay more because they feel good about making choices that benefit the environment.

As a gift retailer you already know about emphasizing value and the perception of it. When selling green stationery this is especially important—it’s about more than just cost. Realizing a product’s value—does it speak to your customer base? Does it make a powerful statement about your business’ commitment to the environment? These are also factors to consider, says Atlanta, GA-based gift expert Robyn Freedman Spizman.

“Retailers have to look at everything, at the value of the product and not just if it costs more,” she says. “Ask yourself what the true value is. If you can, why not? Why not go that extra mile? Why not give the consumer something that makes a difference? And I really think that’s part of what’s making a company stand out. You’re creating a ‘wow’ factor,” she says.

Also important to note, says Stracher, is the wide range of ages attracted to these kinds of products. “While Gen Y customers are no doubt making up a lot of the interest in the new green movement, we can’t discount the Baby Boomer audience,” she says. “For the Boomers, this wave of eco-consciousness is both familiar and refreshing. As long as ‘green’ also means chic—useful, design-driven and creative products—then Boomers will be side by side with their Gen Y kids in embracing green.”

Even if price is higher now, industry experts like Stracher believe that as more vendors get into the game, the price for green stationery will continue to go down and become increasingly affordable for you and your customers. “Eco doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive these days,” she says. “Technology is getting more affordable, and materials like bamboo, grasses, hemp, non-chemical inks and other natural, sustainable materials are abundant and cheap,” Stracher says.

Selling green

Get your customers to buy your eco-friendly stationery products by emphasizing their purpose, Stracher says. “If the item is great-looking and functional, it will catch their eye,” she says. “If the item is also ‘green,’ it makes them even happier.”

It’s important to call attention to the eco-merchandise,” she says. “Have plenty of ‘Green is Great’ signage in the store, to help customers identify those products that serve a two-fold purpose.”

Having a thorough understanding of your products—where and how they were made—also helps sell these items, Spizman says.

“It pays to educate yourself. Understand why it matters and how you can educate your customers,” she says. “One of the most powerful things we know is when we can tell a story, we are able to share a message that someone else can repeat. You send someone out with a story, they tell another person with a story.” Take the example of Poo Poo Paper, the paper made from elephant dung. The unique aspect of the paper is a conversation point—make sure to sell it accordingly.

Customers are also attracted to a philanthropic aspect to a business. For example, with the sale of some of their products, Ecojot donates a workbook to African children in need. Retailers would do well to bring up similar details in their sales displays.

Whether you’ve been carrying eco-friendly products for years, or are just now considering adding them to your shelves, Stracher says a wide variety of new lines will be on view at this year’s National Stationery Show.

“Green no longer means plain brown paper products,” she says. “Today, cutting-edge creative design has transformed the eco product movement, offering a wide variety of products that are productive for consumers and profitable for retailers.”

Mouse over images below to view.

Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com

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