In yesterday’s post I wrote about the rationale behind eco-logos and illustrated the difference between self-generated claims and certifications. Now let’s take a closer look at claims for paper.
Here’s an example of a self-declaration regarding the environmental attributes of paper: Paper is made from renewable resources with high levels of renewable energy and is recyclable.
If you trust me and/or my credentials, this statement alone might make you feel comfortable about using paper. It is hard to imagine a material with a stronger sustainability position. However, it is undeniable that not all paper mills have the same environmental footprint, and not every company sources their wood fiber responsibly. Herein lies the value of certification programs.
Let’s break down my statement one element at a time.
Within the wood and paper products industry it is well understood that stakeholders want assurance that forest management practices are in place to protect forests and verify that the source of wood fiber indeed gets renewed and stays as a working forest. Several international standards have emerged and our mills maintain chain of custody certifications for the three leading programs: FSC, SFI and PEFC. If the chain of custody is maintained all the way from the forest to the print shop floor, projects printed on our papers can carry labels representing these certification programs. At the consumer level, the label helps to convey the fact the wood was sourced responsibly. These labels are also being seen in the solid wood markets on products ranging from timber (e.g. 2x4s) to cabinetry, flooring, and furniture.
High levels of renewable energy:
When a papermaking facility is integrated (the pulp mill attached to the paper mill) wood waste and by-products are incinerated to generate steam. That steam is then passed across a turbine to generate electricity and the remaining steam is used to turn mechanical shafts and provide thermal energy throughout the mill. This co-generation of steam and electricity makes integrated mills highly efficient as compared to electric utilities that discard waste heat. While I have yet to find a certification standard that has developed a program for overall energy claims, there are multiple standards that exist regarding the use of renewable energy for electricity. These programs are based on the generation and trading of renewable energy certificates (REC’s). The chemical recovery boilers at Sappi’s coated fine paper mills are both certified in accordance with the Green-e standard and we are therefore able to make claims in the marketplace that 100% of the electricity for certain products is certified renewable energy. If a printer is also using certified REC’s, the final product can carry a Green-e label explaining that both the paper and the printing utilized 100% certified electricity.
While recycling has been around since the first paper mills landed in the US, there is still much confusion regarding the recyclability of certain grades. For a product to carry a broad claim of recyclability, at least 60% of users must have access to a facility that can recycle the product. Otherwise a claim should be supported by an additional clarifying statement such as “where facilities exist.” For coated fine papers, the groundwork has been covered and it is appropriate to make these claims. However, to my knowledge there is no third party certification for “please recycle claims.” Several trade associations have developed logo programs including the MPA’s “Please recycle this magazine,” the DMA’s “Recycle Please” blue bin logo, and the EMA’s “Please recycle this envelope” program. We have also made hi res icons available for download here.
Laura M. Thompson, Phd, is director of sustainable development and technical marketing at Sappi Fine Paper North America. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and PhD in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology. Since 1995, she has held a variety of positions within the paper industry including R&D, mill environmental, product development for specialties and coated fine paper, and, most recently, sustainability. Since joining Sappi in 2006, Laura has quickly emerged as an industry leader in the field of sustainable development.