Separating Fact from Mere Marketing Spin: Green Certification Validates Eco Claims for Pallet Companies
A look at what green certification means to pallets companies and several certification agencies available.
By DeAnna Stephens
Date Posted: 11/1/2009
Recyclable. Sustainable. Green.
Those are the buzzwords of the last few years in the business world, and the pallet industry is not immune. Awareness of the environmental impact that businesses have is on the rise, and a few pallet companies are choosing to protect their environmental image and prepare for the future by obtaining green certification.
Receiving green certification can be used as both a marketing tool and a protection against inadvertently making misleading marketing claims that could land a company in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Making environmental claims in marketing can be dangerous, and even illegal, if there is no way to substantiate the claims being made. Obtaining third-party certification is a safe way to have green claims validated and also provides easy marketing options as most green certification agencies offer a logo or seal that can be used on a company’s promotional material.
For some industries, green certification is easy; but for the pallet industry, it can be confusing. There is no set list of regulations for certifying a pallet business as green, which makes it difficult to know where to even start.
All companies can be awarded green certification for a plethora of categories. Waste reduction, recycling, reduction in office material usage, purchasing, energy saving, water conservation, pollution prevention, reduction in chemical usage, proper handling of pollutants, and reduced emissions all contribute to eligibility for green certification. Pallet companies also have the additional option of certifying their lumber supply chains.
Some pallet companies have chosen to use the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) chain of custody certification which tracks wood fiber from an FSC certified forest to the end product, providing a link between the certified forestlands and certified products.
Savanna Pallets in McGregor, Minn. has held an FSC chain of custody certificate since 2003. They chose to pursue the certification after Aitkin County, where their mill is located, became one of the first public lands to be FSC certified, according to Al Raushel, vice president of Savanna Pallets.
“A lot of the logs that we were getting were already FSC certified,” Al said.
Because they were already receiving FSC certified logs, becoming certified did not require much change in their normal operating procedures. They are still purchasing logs from the same locations; they have just added some additional paperwork.
“We get a claim from the county or whatever the forest management unit is, whether it’s the county or the state or a private landowner, saying that the forest where the lumber came from was certified,” said Chad Raushel, operations manager at Savanna Pallets. “And then we keep that chain of certification to the end user.”
Overall, the process of becoming certified and maintaining certification has been an easy one for Savanna Pallets.
“There is a certain amount of paperwork involved, but as long as you design your information system knowing that up front, it’s not particularly hard,” said Al.
Because they were surrounded by FSC certified lands the certification process was also a logical transition.
“It just made sense for us,” said Chad.
The FSC is a widely recognized and respected forest certification program. However, for companies without a readily available source of FSC lumber, other green certification options may be better suited to their needs.
“I think the big thing is if you’re going to go FSC you have to ensure that there’s an available raw material supply,” said Al. “If that supply is not a local supply or it’s not one that makes sense for you to get, then as far as FSC is concerned it probably does not make sense.”
Beyond the availability factor, FSC certification deals only with the lumber being used to produce pallets. And while that is a large part of a pallet company, there are also many other issues that can affect a company’s greenness.
Troymill Wood Products of Middlefield, Ohio was already highly sustainable by many counts before they began the green certification process. However, they chose to pursue third-party certification in early 2008 because they felt that there would be a time when companies would only deal with green businesses, according to Brian Schaefer, part owner of Troymill. In general, Brian said that green certification just makes good business sense.
They chose to become certified through the Institute for Green Business Certification (IGBC) after seeing that the institute had already certified other wood product companies. IGBC performs comprehensive audits of entire businesses and performs on-site evaluations.
Because Troymill is a wooden pallet manufacturer, green certification was a natural fit. The company produced very little waste as they already used all of their wood fiber and recycled nails and steel bands.
“We basically use every piece of lumber we get in its entirety,” said Brian. “It’s already a very green process in itself.”
Also, most of their labor force is Amish, removing the need to encourage employees to carpool or to contribute to the reduction of Troymill’s ecological footprint.
However, IGBC did suggest a few easy ways that they could be more sustainable in the office side of the business.
“There were little tiny things like using recycled ink or making sure that we were using recycled plastic trash bags,” said Brian.
Other green certification companies that certify a broad range of businesses are EarthRight Business Institute and the Green Business Alliance.
EarthRight, like IGBC, has an emphasis on diminishing the ecological footprint of companies by reducing energy, material and water use, landfill waste and transportation, hazardous and toxic emissions. An aspect unique to EarthRight is that it provides graduated sustainability awards, allowing companies to progressively work their way to being more and more sustainable.
Companies with the silver EarthRight certificate have demonstrated commitment and progress toward embracing and implementing environmental sustainability practices throughout the organization through the assessment of its environmental practices and the development, adoption and internal promotion of a sustainability plan. Those with the gold certificate have shown significant integration of environmental sustainability practices throughout the company and documented measurable environmental impact reduction.
EarthRight’s top tier is the green certificate. It is earned by companies that demonstrate comprehensive integration and cultural adoption of sustainable best practices throughout the organization and achieve significant environmental impact reductions. This level of certification also includes supply chain standards, requiring the company to use suppliers that meet certain sustainable standards as well.
The Green Business Alliance focuses more on being a green enabler – helping companies understand why it is important to go green and providing plans to help them reach their green goals. It is broad in its scope, and applicable to many industries. The alliance does not require any inspections of the companies awarded their seal. Instead, companies receive a checklist that must be gone through and returned to the alliance for an audit.
Green certification is still a young industry and the reports on the affect that green marketing has on profit are mixed.
Troymill experienced immediate results from being certified, according to Brian. They received their certification in August of 2008 and had several new accounts set up by the following December. Since then, the amount of new customers interested in their green certification has slowed down. However, Brian thinks that is temporary, based on the current state of the economy.
“People aren’t necessarily looking at green just because they don’t have the luxury,” he said.
Savanna Pallets has seen similar levels of interest in certified pallets. However, by offering their customers the opportunity to buy environmentally sustainable pallets now without incurring additional costs, they expect to come out ahead when the economy and interest in green pallets picks up again.
Both companies recommend green certification to other pallet companies, as it fits so logically with wooden pallet manufacturing, it is not that difficult to do, and it holds potential for future profit.
Being selective in choosing a certifying agency and even asking for references is recommended, however.
“There are a lot of people who advertise as certification companies who really can’t perform what they say they can perform,” said Brian. Before beginning the certification process, Brian researched certification agencies, by asking other companies to recommend certifiers, and asking for references from the agencies.
“It’s like buying anything; you need to definitely do your homework when it comes to choosing the right certification company,” he said.
As the economy recovers, people will once again have the luxury of being environmentally responsible which could result in a rising demand for green products. Companies who are not already using green practices may find themselves left behind. But before you jump on the bandwagon and stake your green reputation on any certification agency, make sure it is one that will protect it.
Certification Agency Contact Information:
Forest Stewardship Council
Green Business Alliance
Institute of Green Business Certification
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