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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sept / Oct 2003 : Special Section

Special Section

A New Leaf for the Paper Industry
A common vision identifies priorities to transform an industry.

Special Section

- Harry Potter Goes Green in Canada
- One Tree = How Much Paper?
- SFI: A Good Sign Somebody Cares
- Sustainable Forestry Leadership
- Sustainable Growth: A Central Focus
- Dupont Land Legacy Fund Makes Largest Donation

Global production in the pulp, paper and publishing sector is expected to increase by 77 percent from 1995 to 2020, according to the 2001 OECD Environmental Outlook. Industrialized nations, with 20 percent of the world’s population, consume 87 percent of the world’s printing and writing papers, according to Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme during a keynote address at UNEP’s 7th International High Level Seminar on Cleaner Production in April 2002.

These statistics underscore a serious threat to the world’s forests—a threat that prompted a diverse group of environmental organizations to join together at the annual Canadian Pulp and Paper Conference earlier this year to release a common vision for the paper industry. Their consensus: the paper industry must abandon its destructive 20th-century environmental practices and adopt environmentally responsible alternatives for the 21st century.

The Common Vision report emerged from the NGO Paper Summit, a gathering in fall 2002 of over 50 environmental groups working on paper, toxics and forestry issues. The Paper Summit was the first time that such a large and diverse group had come together on this issue. By sharing information about impacts and approaches, and by articulating action priorities, the groundwork has been laid for increasing coordination among campaigns in the future. Members of the Common Paper Vision Coalition include the Center for a New American Dream, Co-op America, Conservatree, Dogwood Alliance, Environmental Defense, ForestEthics, Greenpeace, Markets Initiative, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative/Green Press Initiative.

The Problem
According to the Common Vision report, the virgin timber-based pulp and paper industry is the single largest industrial consumer of forests worldwide, the largest industrial consumer of freshwater and largest generator of polluted wastewater. The industry is the third largest industrial generator of greenhouse gases and the fourth largest consumer of fossil fuels. The pulp and paper industry also has negative impacts on the health, well-being and stability of local communities. In North America, for example, the majority of paper products are buried in landfills or burned in incinerators, resulting in substantial pollution, forest destruction and major climate change impacts.

While paper and paper products yield many benefits, reports Common Vision, due to society’s growing demand for paper and the industry’s unacceptably large environmental footprint on the planet, it is necessary to transform global paper production and consumption toward processes that are ecologically and socially responsible and sustainable.

“The world simply cannot tolerate another 100 years of ecologically destructive business as usual in the paper industry. The Vision Document is a roadmap for the future, it is based on ecologically necessary and commercially proven practices and technologies,” said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Common Vision sends a unified message to paper producers and consumers of environmentalists’ highest priorities for reducing damage to the Earth:

* eliminate excessive and unnecessary paper consumption;
* end the use of fiber that threatens endangered forests;maximize post-consumer recycled fiber content in all paper and paper products;
* source any remaining virgin fiber from independent third party-certified forest managers that employ the most environmentally responsible practices;
* eliminate harmful pulp and paper mill discharges and the use of chlorine and chlorine compounds;
* end the clearing of natural forest ecosystems and their conversion into plantations.

“The consensus vision . . . marks an unprecedented coming together of major environmental organizations across North America. Our organizations will be working with progressive corporations to implement this vision, and singling for further scrutiny those companies who are not interested in change,” said Greenpeace Canada’s Gavin Edwards.

A number of Fortune 500 companies have already instituted policies that insist on more recycled and sustainably harvested content in their paper. Recently, office supply giant Staples Inc, announced a landmark environmental policy in November 2002, which other office supply leaders including Office Depot and Office Max are now working to meet or exceed. In its policy, Staples agrees to increase the overall post-consumer recycled content and to stop sourcing paper from endangered forests.

“Staples and other forward-looking Fortune 500 companies are already beginning to implement the solutions outlined in the Common Vision, challenging some of the world’s largest paper producers to clean up their act,” said Sarah Hodgdon, executive director of Dogwood Alliance.

Some Solutions
The solutions to which Hodgdon refers are included in an accompanying report, Guidance to Best Practices for Advancing Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Papers. As the title suggests, the Common Vision Coalition has established a series of guidelines for pulp and paper manufacturers, suppliers and purchasers, as well as governments. This call to action, so to speak, cites specific activities each segment should undertake to help transform the paper industry.

Fourteen actions are recommended for manufacturers to transform not only fiber sourcing, but also production processes. For example, under the “Clean Production” category, manufacturers are called upon to: minimize the combined impacts of water, energy, wood and chemical usage, as well as air, water, solid waste and thermal pollution across the entire paper production system. Secondly, manufacturers are asked to minimize and over time eliminate harmful pulp mill discharges and the use of chlorine and chlorine compounds for bleaching.

The Best Practices guide also calls on federal, sate and local government to support sustainable paper production and consumption by establishing timelines to implement the following actions: eliminate subsidies and incentives for virgin pulp and paper production and require producers to cover the true societal and environmental costs associated with the industry; promote and enhance the functioning of paper recycling as an entire system; purchase environmentally and socially responsible papers; develop incentives for environmentally and socially responsible paper product technology, research and development and production. Lastly, the group calls upon governments to develop, implement and enforce policies that work to eliminate unsustainable industrial forestry practices (such as large-scale clearcutting, conversion of forests to plantations and widespread use of agricultural chemicals) as well as to work with environmental and conservation experts to establish scientifically-based regional forest conservation and restoration plans.

A third element of the Guidance to Best Practices plan puts the onus on purchasers by providing a detailed plan for preferable paper purchasing. Purchasers can influence the paper production process through the paper attributes they demand as well as through the products they specify or reject, notes the report. The six steps purchasers should take include: making a commitment; minimizing paper consumption; maximizing recycled content; be selective about virgin fiber content; giving preference to chlorine-free papers; and spreading the word.

To view the complete text of the Common Vision report, and to download the report Guidance to Best Practices for Advancing Environmentally and Socially Responsible Papers, visit the Natural Resources Defense Council Web site at

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