Back in the dark ages—say in the 1960’s and 70’s—when computers were Kaypros or Compaqs, the promise was a paperless office within 20 years. As you’ve probably noticed, it didn’t happen. In fact, we’re using more not less paper than we were 40 years ago.
The US was—and remains—the world’s largest market for paper products. And that puts a huge burden on the forests of the world. Untrammeled forests in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia are being flattened to support our need for paper. In the process, the needs of indigenous peoples are being shunted aside, irreplaceable native animals and plants are being steamrollered into oblivion, and air/water pollution on a shocking scale is de rigueur. Worse yet, the living “lungs” of our planet are being wiped out at an unsustainable pace.
Yes indeed, paper is big business. A big, messy business.
In the US, 25% of our national timber harvest is used solely to create paper. But it isn’t enough. We produce 90 million tons of paper each year but consume 100 million tons. So not only are we dependent on other countries for the fuel we burn in our cars, we’re also dependent upon them for the paper we use to fulminate about our dependency!
If God helps those who help themselves, goodness knows we’re trying.
First we tried recycling. When the concept was introduced a generation ago, the hope was that the public would do the right thing. And it did. While the recycling effort did reduce the amount of paper in landfills, it still accounted for less than one third of our paper consumption.
Then the market for recycled materials flooded, prices tanked and even environmentally sensitive communities had trouble selling their hard-earned recyclables. All this while paper prices continued to go up and forests continued to go down!
Once there was sufficient recycled product on the market, recycled papers started to appear. But because they required extra processing to remove toxins like inks, staples, glues and cellophane windows before being turned back into paper, recycled stocks were more expensive than “virgin” paper. They were also ugly and didn’t hold an image well.
Consumers stayed away in droves.
Manufacturers responded by mixing recycled paper pulp with virgin pulp. The results were lower prices and an improved product. But it touched off a moral dilemma: is 10% recycled content “recycled enough?” What is “enough,” anyway?
If recycling alone wasn’t the answer, what was?
Enter the Forest Stewardship Council. Realizing that lumbering practices around the world had to change as part of the solution, The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) implemented standards of certification for responsible behavior.
Wood is the largest component of paper. Hence, start with the source: logging. Certify companies that manage forests responsibly. Give them a “brand” that helps them win market share from companies using illegal, unsustainable and unverified logging. And by doing so, FSC reasoned, eliminate habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples and the violence against people and wildlife that accompanies unregulated logging.
Then FSC certified the mills that chip, shred and pulp the wood, ensuring they use the most benign technologies possible to turn tree slurry to paper product.
Then FSC certified companies that sell the paper to ensure the brand is not diluted or misrepresented. And finally, FSC certified printers that use environmentally friendly processes.
In other words: FSC established and maintained a rigorous “chain of custody” from forest to final product. The unbroken chain ensured environmentally and socially responsible behaviors in every step. It was the gold star standard.
But then it got even better! FSC added a recycled component to its certification process. Three labels tell the story:
- FSC 100% Virgin ensures the paper is from sustainable forests that comply with the rigorous environmental and social standards of the FSC.
- FSC 100% recycled ensures the paper is from 100% post-consumer recycled wood fiber as defined by FSC standards.
- FSC Mixed Source ensures the wood pulp came from an FSC-certified forest, company controlled sources and/or recycled materials.
Environmentally and socially aware consumers of paper product no longer have to choose between recycled stock and FSC stock. Now they can get the best of both possible worlds!
We may not be paperless yet, but we can ensure the papers we use are societally responsible.
Want to know more? Want to print your next job on greener papers?
Call Paul&Partners. 703-996-0800.
We’ll help you make the right decision for all the right reasons.
43670 Trade Center Place, Suite 150, Dulles, VA 20166
Phone: 703.996.0800 Fax: 703.996.0888