Key elements of sustainable paper procurement: Part 2
By Phil Riebel on February 25th, 2011
Last week’s blog focused on four key elements of sustainable paper procurement. Below are the remaining tips. For an excellent resource document see the WBCSD / WRI Guide on Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products.
Good pulp and paper mill performance reduces the footprint of paper (clean production)
Paper manufacturing is a key part of the environmental life-cycle of papermaking because it uses raw materials and resources including fiber, energy, and water, and also generates emissions to air, water and landfills. The operational “eco-efficiency” of pulp and paper mills varies from one site to the next, based on local regulations and how mills have used best-available-techniques. The age of the mill and the amount of investments made to upgrade technology and equipment will often drive environmental performance. For example, final mill effluent quality and chemical use can be influenced by bleaching method used (e.g. elemental chlorine free (ECF), enhanced ECF with pre-bleaching steps, total chlorine free or TCF, hydrogen peroxide, etc.). Greenhouse gas emissions are influenced by switching to renewable energy sources instead of using fossil fuels. Achievable levels are well defined in the EU BREF Document for companies using best-available-techniques.
Environmental management systems, such as described in the ISO 14001 standard and the EU Eco-Management Scheme (EMAS), allow more efficient management of activities and processes to reduce environmental impacts. Companies can become certified to ISO 14001 and EMAS to demonstrate continuous improvement in environmental management and performance.
A low carbon footprint is a good sign
Given that climate change is a critical global environmental issue, more and more companies are developing energy and climate strategies, and calculating the carbon inventories of their products and supply chains. The carbon footprint of paper can be defined as greenhouse gas emissions emitted to the atmosphere during the entire life-cycle of paper production and distribution. The major contributor to the carbon footprint of paper is carbon dioxide (CO2) generated from combustion of fossil fuels (i.e. coal, oil, gasoline, diesel, natural gas). However, disposing of paper in landfill sites, and subsequent breakdown and production of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) can also add to the carbon footprint. This is another reason why paper recycling is beneficial for the environment. A review of the literature and personal experience shows that pulp and paper mill sites that use a high percentage of renewable energy such as biomass and “green” power from the grid can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of their paper products. Time Inc. commissioned a carbon study of some of their magazines that can be accessed here.
Other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of paper include:
- Promoting sustainable forestry as a way of deterring deforestation, and ensuring that forests continue taking up carbon and mitigating climate change.
- Efficient use of wood raw material.
- Energy efficiency of operations and logistics.
- Waste reduction and recycling.
Social responsibility is a key part of sustainability
Voluntary reporting initiatives like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index rank companies based on their social, environmental and financial performance. A good standing on the DJSI can help companies demonstrate sustainability leadership. Given that health and safety issues are a top priority in the industry, many companies have certified their occupational health & safety management system under the OHSAS 18001 standard. More detail on social responsibility indicators can be obtained by consulting the web sites of the ILO, the UN, AA1000, and SA8000.
Look for eco-labels that cover the product life cycle
Eco-labels are a sign of environmental commitment and performance. The most well know of these labels is the Mobius Loop indicating recycled fiber content or recyclability of products. However, besides the sustainable forest management labels (FSC, SFI, PEFC) discussed in part 1 of this topic there are labels that cover more elements of the paper life cycle. These include the EU Eco-label, the Ecologo, and the Green Seal. Of these three, the EU Eco-label and Ecologo appear to be the most thorough in their coverage of environmental elements.
Environmental claims can also be made as long as they are factual and verifiable. For example: “This paper was manufactured at a mill facility that has an ISO 14001 certified environmental management system”. Claiming that single elements (like recycled fiber use) lower the footprint of the product can be seen as a form of “greenwashing” and can be avoided by following recommendations for environmental marketing such outlined in the Seven Sins of Greenwashing.
Check for open and transparent reporting
Open and transparent environmental reporting is a sign of sustainability leadership. Annual environmental or sustainability reports should be available on web sites. A growing number of companies report according to the standard guidelines published by the Global Reporting Initiative and undertake third-party independent verification of reports to ad credibility. Finally, sustainability information can be reported on a voluntary basis to outside organizations (e.g. DJSI, Carbon Disclosure Project that will rank companies based on their performance and reporting.
The bottom line is that sustainable paper procurement is not as simple as most people would like and it goes much beyond buying recycled paper. Your choices and your environmental footprint will depend on how engaged and educated you become about the topic.
Phil Riebel is a senior sustainability advisor to the forest, paper and print sector. He has 23 years of international experience in the sector including senior management positions in industry and consulting. Phil also owns and manages 200 acres of sustainable forest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org