Paper And The Sustainability Issue
Paper companies are on the warpath. Paper makers and their allies are maintaining a major offensive to educate corporate brands and consumers on what they feel is a general misperception on paper’s impact on the environment, especially when compared...
BY JOANN WHITCHER
April 23, 2012
companies are on the warpath, and for graphic communication providers, that
might not be a bad thing. Tired of being portrayed as the evil ogre in the
issue of sustainability, paper makers and their allies are maintaining a major
offensive to educate corporate brands and consumers, as well as government
officials, on what they feel is a general misperception on paper's impact on
the environment, especially when compared to electronic/digital communications.
decision to communicate has some impact on the environment," states an
International Paper brochure from 2009, titled "Down to Earth: A Practical
Look at Environmental Issues and Trends," and that is exactly the message
the paper industry is looking to promote. Electronic communications, while
perceived as more eco- friendly than paper, has its own environmental
footprint, often ignored in the pixel vs. paper discussion.
the very near future, Two Sides US, a non-profit organization that promotes the
use of responsible production, use and sustainability of print and paper, is
launching a major initiative involving letter writing, phone calls, and email
to persuade major companies in three sectors to stop using "unjustified
claims to get customers to use electronic communications instead of
paper," says Phil Riebel, president and COO, Two Sides US.
organization, which is the U.S. branch of a worldwide organization that started
in the U.K. in 2008, launched its website in January. Its more than 1,000
members span the entire paper and pulp supply chain, and include graphic
communication printers and vendors. "The idea for Two Sides came about
because we wanted to demonstrate the positive side of paper, while also
promoting responsible end use," says Riebel. "Our message is not only
to tout the environmental benefits of using paper, but also to make sure that
people get the message to use paper responsibly, as they should with any product."
Sides is banging the drum to dispel the myth that using electronics is always
better than using paper. "We are getting bombarded with anti-printing and
anti-paper messages from companies like banks and utilities, who are promoting
electronic transactions over paper billing," says Riebel. "People
need to be cautious when they hear that message, because a lot of the claims
are misleading. Going electronic is not necessarily how we are going to save
the planet. When we communicate, we have to look at the lifecycle of all these
products, and how we use them, whether it's paper or electronic."
does paper compare with pixels in the sustainability tripod of reduce, reuse,
and recycle? Paper advocates would argue that their product has some very clear
to the Environmental Protection Agency, less than 20 percent of electronic
products, including computers, keyboards, monitors, and television sets, were
recycled in 2010. Computers and the like are chock full of plastics and hydrocarbons,
as well as mined metals and minerals, such as silver, gold, and palladium. To
manufacture one computer and monitor, it takes 530 pounds of fossil fuel, 48
lbs. of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water.
is no such thing as a "green" pixel for most digital media,"
says noted sustainability guru, Don Carli. "Those promoting pixels as
being more environmentally friendly are guilty of greenwashing (a public
relations tactic that companies use to claim they are engaging in
environmentally friendly practices, to sell a product or manipulate public
opinion). When it comes to sustainability, it's not just about not polluting,
it's also about insuring resources are renewable—not stripped from mountaintops
and never to be used again."
is referring to the staggering amount of electricity required to run digital
equipment—from computers to cell phones to tablets, and the deforestation that
could occur as a result. A recent EPA report states that 1.5 percent of energy
consumed in U.S. is from electronic data centers, a rate that will only
increase as we become more and more dependent on digital communications. The
pulp and paper industry consumes about 0.7 percent.
a paper mill, Mohawk relies heavily on natural resources," says Jane
Monast, Director of Communications, Mohawk. "We have been the first in our
industry on many environmental initiatives and we believe that business and
industry have the creative capital and financial incentive to find the most
innovative solutions to natural resource depletion, climate change, alternative
energy development, and waste management.
a member of Two Sides, "supports the dissemination of knowledge to
consumers who are making decisions every day about the way they
communicate," says Monast. "Informed businesses and consumers should
know that email isn't necessarily a more environmental way of communicating
than using a letter printed on a recyclable and sustainable product like
Thompson, director of sustainability for Sappi Fine Paper North America, notes
"Paper is about as responsible as it gets when it comes to the manufacture
of materials. It is made from a renewable resource—trees, and uses high levels
of renewable energy, so we have a low carbon footprint. The other great thing
about paper is how recyclable it is; it is recycled more than any other
official 2011 recovery rate for paper is 66.8 percent, reports Thompson. "All
of this fiber gets put to use in a wide variety of products, both domestically
and overseas,' she says. "In fact, about 35 percent of all current paper
consumption in North America is created with recycled fiber at various levels
of recycled content."
of the ironies in the sustainability arena is that the amount of chemicals and
energy required to turn recycled fiber into high-end stock is
counter-productive to the reason we recycle in the first place. Also, recycled
fiber does not have an infinite life span – there will always be a need for
fresh "virgin" fiber entering the supply chain. Fortunately most
mills harvest wood from well managed forests.
companies, and printers, too, for that matter, are fighting the perception they
are not friends of the environment with certification from groups such as the
Forest Stewardship Council, an independent organization that promotes
sustainability with its chain-of-custody certification. The FSC seal of
approval demonstrates to those in the know that the wood used to make the paper
came from a managed forest, instead of, for example, protected trees in the
American brands are looking to partner with credible organizations; we find
that the best way to support environmental claims is through third-party
certification," says Lisa Berghaus, manager of marketing communications
for Monadnock Paper Mills, a maker of specialty papers.
like other paper companies, is also focused on offering customers a wide range
of environmentally friendly products. "We've developed various products
with the environment in mind to replace less sustainable substrates, such as
PVC," says Berghaus. "We offer paper products that can are not
petroleum based; we call them the 'Un-Plastic.' For example, for the
horticulture market we offer paper-based tags that are highly durable, can
withstand weather, and look beautiful. We are trying to give brand owners
2010, Domtar launched a broad campaign called PAPERbecause
(www.paperbecause.com) to communicate the importance of paper to business and
opinion leaders. "This campaign gives Domtar a platform to show how
paper—a sustainable, renewable and recyclable product—fts so nicely into our
lives," says Lewis Fix, Vice-President of Sustainable Business and Brand
Management at Domtar. "Domtar is a leader in sustainable paper production,
and we promote the responsible use of paper. PAPERbecause reminds people of why
paper is so vital today."
its mills, "an environmental manager tracks everything that goes in or
out, and everything in between," says Berghaus. "We are an ISO 14000
certified company, which means we have to quantify every operation, from the
raw materials coming in to waste water leaving the plant. We have to be in
compliance from top to bottom; we've made a commitment to reduce our overall
sustainable cradle-to-grave approach has it focused on getting off fossil
fuels. The average paper company uses about 65 percent carbon neutral renewable
resources to run its mills; Sappi tops out at 85 percent. "We are very
focused on getting off of fossil fuels, and lowering our carbon footprint even
more," says Thompson.
for the paper vs. pixel argument, paper manufacturers are merely looking for a
recognize that we are in an ever evolving digital world," says Thompson.
"We believe there are good reasons to print, there are more emotional
connections with print as opposed to digital. Ultimately, though, we try to
teach our customers that there's an environmental impact to electronics, to
choose media carefully and to choose responsibly."