Author Archives: Phil Riebel

About Phil Riebel

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

Key elements of sustainable paper procurement: Part 2


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

Key elements of sustainable paper procurement: Part 1


The environmental impacts of forestry and pulp and paper operations have been extensively investigated, reported and in certain cases exaggerated and dramatized for maximum impact, including images of clear-cut areas of forest, mill sites emitting wastewater and air emissions.  But, there is a positive side to communicate as well. Over the last three decades, the pulp and paper industry has come a long way in terms of environmental and social responsibility. In Europe and North America forestry practices and pulp and paper mill environmental performance have improved dramatically. Emissions to air, water and landfills are now a fraction of what they were 30 years ago. These positive changes have been due in part to more strict environmental regulations and major investments by leaders in the industry such as modern mills using best-available-technology (B-A-T) .

However, environmental performance is dependent on individual companies and the regions where operations are located. The strictest level of environmental enforcement is typically seen in developed nations and the least strict in developing nations. The same goes for use of B-A-T. For example, large multi-national companies may have relatively modern mill operations throughout the world whereas small or medium sized pulp and paper producers based in developing countries may still be running old technology and be faced with less regulation. One thing is clear: there has been a more significant focus on the sustainability of paper products in recent years. More paper buyers are now evaluating the environmental and social responsibility of their paper suppliers to minimize risks and develop business relationships with producers who are engaged in sustainability.

Below are some basic tips that help define “sustainable paper” based on procurement policies I have had the opportunity to review and key guidance documents such as the WBCSD / WRI Guide on Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products.

 1. Reduce impacts over the life cycle of paper.  

Paper has environmental impacts at all stages of its life cycle: raw material procurement including forest management, manufacturing of pulp and paper, paper distribution, transportation, recovery and disposal. The goal of sustainable production should be to lower the environmental impact, or the overall environmental footprint, of paper products over their life cycle. Reporting tools such as EPAT , Paper Profile , and the WWF Paper Scorecard  assess product performance across a wide range of indicators such as percentage of certified fibre from sustainable managed forests, recycled fibre use, water and energy use, emissions to air and water, solid waste to landfill, greenhouse gas emissions, social responsibility, certifications and reporting.

 2. Show regulatory compliance.

Most people expect companies to be in full compliance with environmental regulations. When problems happen, pulp and paper producers should show how they reacted and how they will prevent re-occurrence. Openness and transparency maintains credibility and good business relationships.

3. Promote sustainable forest management and biodiversity.

One way to prove sustainable forest management is for pulp and paper producers to certify forest land and their fiber tracing system using standards such as PEFC , SFI, and FSC . Additional initiatives can include the implementation of a biodiversity strategy or having policies against forest conversion and old-growth forest protection, to name a few. When paper products are labelled with the PEFC, SFI or FSC logos it is a sign of responsible forest management.

4. Recycle and use recycled fiber sustainably.

Recycling paper is very good practice, but sustainable use of recycled fibre means using it at the right locations and in the right paper grades based on economic and environmental considerations. In general, it makes more sense to use recycled fiber in lower end grades such as cartonboard and paperboard products (ex: packaging) than in graphic papers like magazine and catalog grades. Today, over 80% of recovered paper globally is used in packaging grades because the manufacture of these grades does not typically involve de-inking and / or bleaching (i.e. less cost and environmental impacts). Newsprint and tissue paper is also a large user of recycled fiber.

Other factors to consider are transportation distance of the recovered paper (i.e. usually near areas of large population density) and paper quality needs. In many cases, wood fiber may be a more sustainable choice providing a better balance between economic and environmental considerations. In the papermaking process, wood fiber can be recycled an estimated 4 to 7 times, after which the fiber breaks down and becomes waste. In other words, recovered paper is not an infinite source of raw material. To make the global fiber cycle work, a continual input of 35 to 65% of fresh wood fiber is needed depending on the grade of paper manufactured. If no wood fibre were used then degradation through recycling would result in the world running out of paper in within a period 6 to 18 months depending on the paper grade. Visit to read more on this topic.

Whether you purchase wood based or recycled paper, engagement in recycling of all paper products should be part of your life and your business. Stay tuned for “Part 2” next week where I present the remaining tips on identifying sustainable paper.

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