First we had carbon-neutral, then came carbon-positive. With the world inching ever closer to a carbon economy it was inevitable that one day the phrase 'carbon-balanced' the combination of carbon offsetting and conservation would enter the lexicon. And that day appears to have come with a growing number of companies from all industry sectors starting to offer carbon-balanced products.

The printing industry has been quick to latch onto the latest buzz term, with printers and paper merchants alike dreaming up a raft of carbon-balanced options.

As usual the driving force behind this push has been from the client side. Research undertaken by Howard Smith Paper among the top 1,000 FTSE companies, proved that there was a demand for this sort of thing from financial, retail, construction, FMCG, utility, legal, travel and charitable sectors. The company says that there was also a groundswell of enthusiasm among leading design houses and printers. It was this sort of positive feedback that also caught the eye of PaperCo, according to the company's head of marketing Charles Eaton.

Paper under pressure

"As a key contributor to global warming, carbon is under attack. Many companies are looking to reduce their carbon impact and to source products which are more acceptable from this perspective. Leading the way are companies with social responsibility strategies and this often means the larger corporate players," explains Eaton.

Fuelled by this sort of pressure, PaperCo opted to make its new top-of-the-range coated paper, Club, in addition to its Advocate range, carbon-balanced.

The amount of carbon used during the manufacture of the respective product ranges has been calculated and an equivalent sum of money has been donated to the World Land Trust, a charity that helps organisations offset their unavoidable carbon emissions through projects that preserve and restore key tropical forest habitats that are under threat (see box for more details). The trust, which launched its carbon-balanced programme in 2005, endorses REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) a technique recognised as one of the most cost-effective and swiftest ways to arrest the rise in atmospheric CO2 and global warming effects. Users of the paper grades can employ the World Land Trust carbon balanced paper marque on printed products to highlight their contribution to reducing their carbon impact.

PaperCo's recent move to carbon-balanced fits perfectly with the company's carbon strategy. In addition to taking part in the high-profile Carbon Disclosure project, which aims to understand how businesses capture and interpret their carbon impact, the company is also involved in the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group and has stated its intention to lower its carbon impact from 14,791 tonnes per annum in 2007 to 10,410 tonnes by 2020.

Not only will it sell Club and Advocate as papers that are carbon -balanced, it will also offer other brands within its portfolio with a carbon-balanced option in the future. This means that users can buy the paper as it is or can pay an extra charge, which will be donated to the World Land Trust. It's an option that the firm believes will grow in popularity going forward.

"We believe carbon-balanced papers will turn heads and change minds," says Eaton. "It is a really important development for the paper industry."

It fits perfectly with customer demand for statements of evidence of the environmental credentials of print suppliers and the products and processes used to produce their jobs.

"This statement can be added to any printed documents such as annual reports, brochures, CSR documents etc, demonstrating to stakeholders that a conscious effort has been made to choose a recycled stock and as a result reduced the amount of resources used," explains Eaton. "It will also be useful for printers working towards or needing to maintain their ISO 14001 environmental accreditation."

Mark of approval

Howard Smith Paper is also focusing its future efforts on carbon-balancing. The company has worked closely with the Edinburgh Centre of Carbon management to develop a calculator capable of establishing the embedded carbon impact of Howard Smith products. The upshot of this work is that the company now provides funds to the World Land Trust so that printers using its grades, such as Greencoat and Think4, can use the trust's logo on printed jobs in the same way as they currently use FSC or PEFC logos. Dave Cooling, marketing director of Howard Smith Papers, says the company wants to help its customers and its customers' customers understand and evaluate the carbon impacts of their marketing communications.

"We have introduced pre-balanced papers produced by mills that have carbon reduction programmes and brands that have strong existing environmental credentials," explains Cooling. "The biomass plant being developed at Tullis Russell is well known and so Think4, with its recycled content and FSC certification was an obvious choice. Our Greencoat brand is already recognised as an ecological choice with its Chain of Custody certification, low-impact production and high recycled content and so taking this further by offsetting the carbon made perfect sense."

Cooling promises some "further exciting initiatives in the future" on the carbon-balancing front, but the caveat to all of this is that printers and end-users should not consider carbon-balanced grades as the be all and end all.

"This is something that must be seen in addition to other environmental initiatives and not as a replacement for the great work that has already been done to 'green up' our sector," warns PaperCo's Eaton.

He believes that carbon-balanced products should be used in addition to, or in tandem with, recycled stocks, Chain of Custody certification from the likes of FSC and PEFC and adoption of ISO 14001 environmental standards by printers. If this comes to pass Eaton is confident that the industry is well placed to handle the challenges thrust in its path by the carbon economy that looms large in the future.

"The green issue simply won't fade away, but suppliers and buyers both have a responsibility to help create and adopt environmental products and procedures," adds Eaton. "Two Sides has done a great job in dispelling the myth of paper as a greedy, resource-wasting industry, but we must continue to encourage methods that make paper and printing sectors even more sustainable." And through the introduction of carbon balancing, the paper industry has moved one step closer towards achieving this aim.