This particular standard was launched at the end of 2012 and certifies individual products rather than awarding the company a general environmental management standard, as with ISO 14001.

To gain approval, products must be printed on paper bearing the EU Ecolabel, as well as meet other criteria relating to the entire product life-cycle, such as the types of consumables used, recyclability, emissions, waste management and energy use. Any parts of the product that are sub-contracted to another supplier must also fulfil the accreditation requirements.

York Mailing has achieved the label for several marketing product ranges, including flyers, leaflets and catalogues.

Paul Vaughan of Oakdene Hollins, the body responsible for the label’s UK implementation, explained that neither slight changes to these formats nor production for customers other than those specified in the original application would invalidate the label.

“The license holder would contact us to indicate that they were now producing this range for someone else and to let us know they would continue to use the same ingredients and processes,” said Vaughan. “It’s keeping the ingredients and processes the same that’s most important, so that emissions to water and air, waste disposal, and chromium and copper discharge for example, stay the same.”

York Mailing decided to apply for an EU Ecolabel license in response to customer demand.

“When we first looked into this nine months ago it was the Scandinavian and European customers who were asking for it. But since then an awful lot of UK customers have requested it as well,” said group sales director Norman Revill.

“We’re hoping being first in the UK is going to attract lots more customers. We wanted to get it to satisfy existing customers but also to encourage new customers to join us as well. And this reflects the clear strategy of York Mailing Group of being an ecologically friendly business.”

York Mailing’s experiences applying for other environmental accreditations provided a strong starting point here, reported Revill. But this was still a demanding task.

“We started collating all the various documentation six months ago. We were already accredited in various other ways so we were already part of the way there. But it still took one guy dedicated to this full time; you need to have a very focused individual in that area, and it was very expensive to achieve,” said Revill.

He added: “It’s going to be very difficult for other companies unless they get the resources and the information to hand. But then if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth anything.”

Vaughan confirmed that the EU Ecolabel is intended as a particularly demanding test of a product’s sustainability. “Compiling a dossier for us to assess is a large task and requires dedication of resources,” he said. “The EU Ecolabel is being used to drive very high performance of sustainability. It is designed as a beacon to which people should aspire.”

He added: “York Mailing was very strong and so it was relatively easy for us to assess.”

Though York Mailing is the first UK printer to achieve the printed paper product label, around 28 companies in the EU have already attained it. Two other UK printers are currently in the early stages of applying for an EU Ecolabel license, with others expressing interest in the badge, reported Vaughan.

He added that print buyer and consumer interest was also catching up with EU levels. He said: “There is still an important section of consumers that understand this in the UK.”