Seals of Approval: Paper Certification Systems
Sustainable forestry practices are at the heart of the North American paper and pulp industry.
July 20, 2012
By Boise Choices
Sustainable forestry practices are at the heart of the North American paper and pulp industry. But what’s the best way to know where your paper comes from? Thanks to an ever-growing variety of consumer resources, it’s becoming easier to find responsibly sourced office paper you can feel good about purchasing. Here’s one way:
Certification systems for paper products are everywhere – there are benefits to each system, and each is held to a different set of standards and processes, many of which are quite detailed.
Here are a few of the major certification organizations for office paper:
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
FSC certification requires strict planning, accountability and compliance measurements, as well as adherence to its ten principles, and additional criteria that help ensure the credibility of the FSC mark. The FSC mark indicates that a third-party auditor has verified the entire product supply chain from a sustainability standpoint, also known as chain-of-custody certification. This means wood is harvested from FSC-certified forests, processed by certified processors and transported by companies with shipping papers that clearly identify the product and certification claim. FSC certification also includes socio-cultural requirements related to indigenous peoples’ rights and the impact of forestry activities on nearby communities. FSC certification ensures the entire process adheres to a strict set of guidelines.
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
Like FSC, SFI certification emphasizes certified fiber sourcing, supply chain and chain-of-custody. SFI certification also places a high premium on “continual improvement” of forestry management practices, as well as measuring and reporting progress toward SFI-mandated standards. These standards, which are updated every four years, promote sustainable forest management by addressing key environmental, social and economic forest values – from water quality and biodiversity to harvesting and regeneration.
There are many other certifying organizations that address forestry practices worldwide, including American Tree Farm System and international organizations, such as the UK-based Green Standard Certification and the Switzerland-based Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.
For FSC, SFI and other independent certifying organizations, chain-of-custody audits start from the very beginning: fiber sourcing. This practice (theoretically) prevents illegal and/or unauthorized logging and allows auditors to track fiber back to the forests where it originated in order to ensure these forests are managed sustainably.
While there is no single definition of responsible forestry management, universally accepted best practices strike a balance between society’s increasing demands for forest products and benefits, and the preservation of forest health and diversity. This balance is crucial to the survival of forests, as well as to the prosperity of forest-dependent communities.
All certification systems rely on rigorous, measurable standards, so it’s important for paper consumers to take the time and learn which standards align with their sustainability priorities. Sustainability managers or paper procurement specialists should examine the metrics behind certification systems as well as the practices of the forest product companies that are supplying the paper. Most, if not all, companies publish sustainability reports that detail their practices and share the results of certification audits.
A variety of brands make it easy to identify and choose certified paper products by including easy-to-locate logos on their labels. Getting familiar with the emblems of certification organizations – like FSC and SFI – makes choosing a responsibly sourced and produced office paper a bit easier.