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What Do These Environmental Logos Actually Mean?

Written By Amber Breeden

October 27, 2021

In truth, not much. Most paper mills have moved to chlorine-free processing these days, and nearly all new printing technology uses low- or zero-VOC inks. Unlike a couple of decades ago, it’s actually pretty easy to be an environmentally friendly printer. 

So why list them? Because we want to start a conversation around true environmental value and progress. FSC certification, for example, is great, but it only focuses on one small cog in the wheel: forest management. If you cover that FSC paper in solvent-based ink run through an inefficient press, are you really living up to your environmental ideals? Or are you using that FSC logo to check a box? 

The value of the content
should drive the material choice,
not the other way around.

If you care about making print sustainable, you need to care about the entire lifecycle of the printed piece, every material and step of the process. And yes, you need to care about the ideas and content you’re putting on that paper. 

The value of the content should drive the material choice, not the other way around. If what you’re producing is museum-quality stuff, go ahead and print it on foam core, because we guarantee it will last many, many (many) lifetimes. But if you’re not recreating the Sistine Chapel, use a material that is going to align with the value and longevity of the content you’re creating.

These logos should, collectively, represent the very baseline for sustainable printing. There’s no logo for valuable content. That’s the hard part—but we’re pretty sure we can help you there.

Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF)
These are papers that have been bleached with a chlorine derivative, such as chlorine dioxide (ClO2), but without elemental chlorine (Cl). Using elemental chlorine to bleach paper creates dioxins, furans, and related byproducts that are toxic and dangerous for both humans and the environment. Bleaching paper with chlorine dioxide rather than elemental chlorine reduces these byproducts by 70-90%.

Processed Chlorine Free (PCF)
These are recycled fibers that have been processed and manufactured without chlorine.

Low VOC
These vegetable-based inks used in off-set printing contain 45% renewable vegetable content and are low VOC. Not sure what a VOC is or why you should care? Check out this blog post

Zero VOC
These water-based inks used in inkjet printing are solvent-free and produce zero VOC.

Post-Consumer Waste
The symbol alone indicates that the paper is produced from 100% recycled fibers. If the paper is made from less than 100% recycled material, there will be a percentage below the symbol.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
The Forest Stewardship Council is a global certification that promotes sustainable forest management that is environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically viable.