Friday, December 26, 2008

Coming to terms with eco-friendly stationery: an eco-glossary

Buying eco-friendly products sounds simple enough, right? Well, if you’ve been shopping around for stationery lately, you’ve probably encountered a few new terms, marks and acronyms along the way. This eco-glossary was designed to provide a high-level overview of the most common terms you’ll encounter while you “shop green”. Feel free to bookmark it for reference!

Any material found to decompose quickly and naturally without harmful effects to the environment.

Bleaching (chlorine processing):
With respect to paper production, pollutants created by chlorine (and its derivatives) have been associated with adverse affects on the immune and reproductive systems of human as well as those of fish and wildlife species.

The most preferred method of paper production is when it is Processed Chlorine Free (PCF), where the content of recycled paper is unbleached or bleached without chlorine or chlorine derivatives. To qualify as PCF, any virgin material portion of the paper must be TCF (Totally Chlorine Free). The process cannot include chlorine or chlorine derivatives. This differs from Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) virgin paper, which is processed without elemental chlorine but with a chlorine derivative such as chlorine dioxide.

Carbon Footprint:
The total amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted over the complete lifecycle of a product or service. Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming and climate change – eco-conscious companies within the stationery industry will prioritize carbon footprint reduction in their business model.

Carbon Neutral:
Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, then balancing your remaining emissions often by purchasing “carbon offsets.”

Carbon Offset:
Greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced through emissions trading, or ‘carbon offsetting’. For example, if a business cannot reduce its own carbon footprint any further through its own actions, it may voluntarily purchase credits through another party that offers an emissions-reducing service or product. The goal of carbon offsets is to attain a carbon neutral overall effect.

Chain of Custody:
As it pertains to the stationery industry, the "Chain of Custody" follows the process involved in paper production from the forest through to the final product. When a business implements an eco-centric Chain of Custody, it can choose to apply for certification by a number of environmental programs such as the FSC and the SFI.

A process that removes applied inks, finishes, glues, and other contaminants from waste paper so as to extract the cellulose fiber. Typically requires extensive processing.

Used to describe products made with environmental consequence in mind. It is a broad term that can imply any degree of environmental accountability. Usage of the term does not guarantee compliance to environmental standards.

Particles and gases released into the air as by-products. Greenhouse gas emissions are a major source of pollution, and contribute to global warming.

Energy Efficient:
Systems that use less energy to produce as well or better than standard systems.

Forestry Stewardship Council:
The Forestry Stewardship Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world's forests. Products and services bearing an FSC trademark offer a guarantee that products come from responsible sources that support the conservation of forests and wildlife and help people to lead better lives. FSC-labeled business services and products must bear an FSC-issued authorization number to ensure compliance with the Organization’s regulations. (see

Green-e Certified:
Green-e identifies products made with certified renewable energy, including but not limited to wind power, solar power, low impact hydropower, and biomass.

Green Seal Certified:
Signifies that a certified recycled paper product is made with a minimum of 30% post consumer fiber and that mill processes, including packaging, are environmentally preferable. (see

A term referring to reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paints, inks and finishes. Low-VOC products do not release as much gas into the atmosphere as conventional inks and contain less harmful toxins.

A term describing recycled material first used by a consumer. High post-consumer content helps divert materials from landfills.

A term describing recycled material that came from the manufacturing process. Pre-consumer recycling diverts waste that may end up in landfills, and reduces the use of raw materials.

A product or material that can be converted back into material that can be used again to manufacture new goods.

Recycled Paper:
The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) guidelines on recycled paper require a minimum of 30% post-consumer content for uncoated printing and writing paper, and a minimum of 10% post-consumer content for coated papers.

Renewable Energy:
Energy drawn from sources that are not depleted when used, usually producing very low environmental impact. For example: wind power, solar energy.

A raw material that can be replenished within a reasonable amount of time. Bamboo is a highly renewable paper fiber.

Soy Based Ink:
Inks whose pigment vehicles contain soybean oils instead of petroleum products, and is considered to be more environmentally friendly. The organic nature of soy ink makes it easier to recycle the paper on which it is printed, without sacrificing quality of product.

Actions and products that meet current needs without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI):
The SFI label certifies wood fiber from well-managed forests, backed by a rigorous, third-party certification audit (see )

A renewable resource that has been harvested in a manner that allows for regeneration and continued ongoing supply.

Tree Free Paper:
Also known as non-wood paper, produced using fibers derived from any source other than wood pulp. Popular wood alternatives are cotton, bamboo, hemp, kenaf, plastic, even elephant dung.

Virgin Fiber:
Fiber that is entering the paper manufacturing process for the first time. Does not contain any recycled material.

Waterless Printing: An offset lithographic printing process that eliminates the water or dampening system used in conventional printing.

By Lianne Tokey, baron*cards. Definitions compiled from various sources, for informational purposes.

FSC Sustainable Trademark® Copyright FSC Forest Stewardship Council, Forestry Initiative® and SFI® Copyright SFI Inc., Green Seal-Certified Logo and Mark Copyright Green Seal. All respective rights reserved.

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