Friday, February 06, 2009

Frankfurt Paperworld 2009: Pencil Report Part 1

Frankfurt Paperworld 2009 is a few days behind me, though I still have quite a follow-up list from my meetings with customers and suppliers. Thus posting my Paperworld Pencil Report for you enthusiasts out there has taken a back seat. I do see there were a few other “reporters” out there covering new pencil related items they found. Some of these items I’ll comment on in the context of my post which will be more focused on common themes and trends for the show this year as relates to pencils and the pencil industry. Of course pencils are just a very small part of Paperworld which covers so many product categories and some themes I cover are applicable to these products as well.

The first theme seems to be the ever increasing barrage of marketing and promotion of “Green” products and processes to produce not just pencils, but many writing, art and stationery items exhibited this year. The fascinating thing to me about this is how many different types of green positions, often conflicting in message, that are being espoused for various products. Some efforts I simply consider “green washing” while others offer legitimate improvements in environmental impacts related tor raw materials used or production processes employed.

Wooden products have long been positioned as green for the renewable resource characteristic of the raw material. The addition of various and competing forest and Chain-of-custody certification schemes such as FSC and PEFC are more and more frequently used in our industry, primarily for paper products, pencils and more traditional building materials, though less often seen at this point for other home, office and school products produced from wood. While these schemes are much well known and supported by consumers in Europe there is increasing awareness here in the US. More and more often pencil manufacturers are moving towards implementing some form of third party certified wood pencil for a broader portion of their product range. This is especially in the light of new regulatory actions such as the 2008 amendment to the US Lacey Act which seeks to extend protection of endangered plants to include all manner of wooden products imported to the US. Similar legislative actions are under review in Europe and will be an increasing challenge not just to the pencil industry, but the global wood products industry as a whole. I expect to write more on this legislative topic and its projected impact on the industry in a future Timberlines post.

The most notable new certified wooden pencil at Paperworld this year is the new STABILO Green Range (image above). This range from Schwan-STABILO features the 100% FSC certification label and initially covers about 4-5 different pencil products with the intent to add new FSC certified pencil items over time. For more information see the STABILO Green Pencil Library Wiki page at our Pencils.com site. Of course Faber-Castell has long touted their leadership in FSC certification of the majority of their pencils and other European brands such as Caran d’Ache have had FSC certified products for some time, as well as our own California Republic ForestChoice brand which was the first FSC certified pencil offered to the market. As the leading supplier of FSC certified Incense-cedar and FSC Basswood to the pencil industry our company is experiencing increased demand for our FSC certified pencil slats.

Plastics and recycled products are also increasingly positioned as green. Our industry is clearly experiencing a re-emergence of the extruded plastic pencil. It was even interesting to see some standard PVC type plastic products from Asia being positioned as green simply for the fact they are “woodless”. However, most of the traditional plastic pencils are actually a composite of wood flour and plastics so technically they are not woodless. The Remarkeable Pencil has different versions produced from recycled cd cases, plastic cups and a variety of other materials. Bic’s Conte Evolution has been the market leader in plastic extruded pencils ever since Newell discontinued production at the former Empire EPCON facility in Shelbyville, TN some years back. However as BIC long since stopped exhibiting at Paperworld I am not certain what specific environmental claims they make regarding the Evolution these days. Chinese and other developing country companies have increased investment in plastic pencils production as well, though in these cases it’s most often to address economic concerns as wood costs for pencils have been increasing over past several years.

The major announcement on the extruded pencil front is the new Staedtler WOPEX pencil which they gave top billing and emphasis as their new product at Paperworld. This pencil has already been reported on at Lexikaliker blog in German. I was able to meet the Director of R&D at Staedtler who presented this product introduction to me. First, the name is a form of anagram for the words Wood, Pencil & Extrusion. I did find it somewhat interesting that a leading German writing instrument company used an English anagram to name its new product, but I guess this simply reflects the current state of the use of English more globally. The key features of this pencil are that a full 70% of the raw material used is wood flour. So Staedtler is pushing the recycling of wood and minimization of recycled plastic with respect to environmental positioning. Also the pencil is definitely more rigid than other plastic pencils I have seen and they indicate they will produce it in three grades H, HB & B. It did write better than my experience with most other plastic pencils. Finally the rubberized surface has more ergonomic properties similar to their Ergosoft range. As I understand it they do not intend this to be a cheaper substitute for wood pencils, but a value added product preaching it’s performance and green benefits.

That’s it for this Part 1 report as it got way longer than planned, as usual. Tune in for Frankfurt Paperworld 2009: Pencil Report – Part 2 where I’ll focus on the industry impacts and reactions to the current World Economic and Recessionary environment.

1 comment:

kiwi-d said...

Thanks for this report. I look forward to Part 2.