Monday, August 08, 2005

What's the Value of Pencil Certification?

Today I participated in a conference call of the Pencil Section of the Writing Instruments Manufacturer's Association (WIMA) of which CalCedar is a member. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what efforts WIMA should make to increase awareness of the PMA Seal. Pencils that have earned the PMA seal have been independently certified to be non-toxic and conform to the standards of ASTM D4236. This is a voluntary program in which we manufacturers submit our product components and finished products for third party testing to assure conformance to establish safety standards.

Not all pencils sold in the US are PMA certified. In fact, most of the low cost competition from China and Indonesia do not participate in this program, though the Chinese industry does have it's own quality standards program. Even some US producers have certain items which they do not certify due to the added cost. This doesn't mean that non-certified pencils are unsafe, it simply means there is more of a possibility that a product may contain materials that could present some safety risk to users.

Other certification schemes are also applied to pencils. The ISO 9000 program is a quality certification that monitors producers manufacturing control systems to assure their products meet their own internal quality standards. Other programs like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification focus on assuring that the wood used in FSC pencils comes from well managed forests with responsible forest management practices which balance economic, environmental and social issues. (See ForestChoice pencils.)

The pencil industry is highly competitive and there are extra costs to participation in and promotion of such programs. Many manufacturers voluntarily participate in these programs because they view there is some competitive advantage to doing so.

But what do consumers and users of pencils and other products with similar certification programs think? Are you aware of such certifications when you purchase pencils? Are these certifications a factor in your purchase decision? What specific information related to certification of pencils would you consider most relevant to your purchase decision? Let's hear both from pencil users and industry participants.

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