New Guidelines for Sustainable Paper Products

Posted on 4/26/2013 10:05:40 AM By Jeff Timm

Most of my prior “Packaging Blogs” that have discussed sustainability issues in the world of packaging have focused on the use of various bioplastic and plastic materials as a means to achieving a more sustainable package.   Besides plastic, let’s not forget that paper is also one of the top four packaging materials along with metal and glass.

Regardless of any sustainability discussions, agreement of a common language is necessary to frame the activity.  In the forest products industry “recycled, certification, and climate change” can mean many things to many people.  The launch of GreenBlue’s Forest Products Working Group “Guidelines for Sustainable Paper Products” provides a widely shared definition of a “sustainable paper product”; one that shapes and sustains mutual objectives and specific actions that will support environmental quality throughout the paper supply chain.

Working across supply chains is a key component of the Forest Products Working Group strategy, and this collaborative approach is reflected in the Guidelines by addressing each stage of the paper life cycle – sourcing, design, manufacturing and end-of-life.  The Guidelines provide a shared definition of “sustainable paper product” -- one that shapes mutual objectives and specific actions supporting environmental quality. Not meant to replace existing company standards, the Guidelines are rather a touchstone - a source of credible information companies can use to inform and support a sustainability strategy. Based on sustainability principals, the Guidelines envision a paper products industry in which every product is designed to be safe and healthy throughout its life cycle.  The Guidelines are a living document and will be updated regularly based on stakeholder feedback, evolving issues, and new information as it develops.

Considerations addressed in the Guidelines:
  1. Design for the life cycle
  2. Source responsibly
  3. Ensure material health
  4. Optimize renewable energy
  5. Embrace transparency
  6. Use clean production technologies and best practices
  7. Effectively recover and utilize
  8. Create social and economic value

After ‘designing for the life cycle’ ‘sourcing responsibly’ is number two on the Guidelines list of considerations. The Guidelines state:

“Responsible forest management is a key part of this responsibility.  The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UN FAO) defines responsible forest management as “the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfill, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems” (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011).” 

“Well-managed forests provide plentiful environmental, social, and economic benefits. Healthy forests provide clean air and water, maintain soil quality, preserve biodiversity and habitats, and sequester CO2, among many other ecosystem services. They provide a reliable and sustainable supply of the raw materials that support the forest products industry, a source of quality products, meaningful employment, and economic development. Each of these is also a social benefit, and the standards that guide sustainable forestry are meant to extend them throughout the value chain, from retail customers to the workers and communities who depend directly on forest resources for their livelihoods.”

Another aspect of sourcing responsibly is incorporating raw materials from certified forests and fibre.  The Guidelines do a superb job of defining this key component of an overall sustainability program.

“Forest certification, a third-party evaluation system, is designed to encourage sourcing from responsibly managed forests. Forest certification organizations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) set robust, verifiable standards for sustainable forestry. Compliance with laws and treaties, respecting the property rights of indigenous people, conserving biodiversity and ecological integrity, and enhancing economic efficiency are a few of the oft-cited principles of responsible forest management. Forest operations seeking certification are monitored by independent auditors, who formally recognize those that satisfy the stewardship requirements. Certification makes responsible sourcing possible, providing assurance to consumers and supply chain partners that virgin fiber has been sustainably sourced and directly supports responsible forestry.”

These Guidelines from GreenBlue coupled with the sustainable packaging definition from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a project of Green Blue, and the FTC Green Guides should give companies a running start as they drive to create sustainable packaging made from paper products.

Note:  Avery Dennison, an ASC member company, manufacturer of paper labels and substrates for a variety of industries and markets was also a member of the GreenBlue Forest Products Working Group that developed the “Guidelines for Sustainable Paper Products." Avery Dennison is also committed to putting the “Guidelines for Sustainable Paper Products” to active use as they have formalized a company-wide policy to promote responsible paper sourcing and procurement.  By using third party certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Rainforest Alliance where market conditions and good business practices allow.  When conditions do not support sourcing of FSC-certified product, other industry-recognized forest certification standards will be accepted.  They will survey paper product suppliers to confirm the proper source of fibre.   In addition, they will strive to maximize post-consumer recycled content where possible, while maintaining product integrity and performance specifications.

Related Links:


“Guidelines for Sustainable Paper Products”

Sustainable Packaging Coalition

Sustainable Packaging Coalition – Sustainable Packaging Definition

Avery Dennison

Avery Dennison - Responsible Paper Procurement Policy

Forest Stewardship Council

Rainforest Alliance

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