Smart Paper Sourcing: All Shopping Bags are Not Sourced Equally

By Ian Lifshitz, Rainforest Realities

One of the hottest and most important topics today for retailers and consumers is environmental sustainability. It’s no secret that consumers want to know that retailers are being responsible organizations and are not procuring paper products that come from questionable or non-environmentally friendly sources.

For a time, green arrows and leaf logos on shopping bags were the signal to customers that it was a sustainability-minded company, but it wasn’t long before customers got more sophisticated and began to recognize that “green” logos alone do not guarantee an environmentally sound, responsible and sustainable global sourcing model. Today, more customers demand reassurance that paper products are not the product of destroyed rainforests or older, boreal forests where endangered species live.

So how does the retail community demonstrate to customers they have an environmentally friendly purchasing policy that truly delivers on the promise of eco-friendly suppliers?

The good news is that it is relatively simple to demonstrate a sustainable approach to paper and packaging materials sourcing that supports an overall green philosophy:

Use certified paper
Paper, unlike many other natural resources, is renewable. Trees, when planted on a plantation, are designed to grow back if they are managed sustainably – and paper certification of these products provides independent assurance of sustainable management of tree crops.

While there has been debate over which certification is preferred, the fact is that all major paper certification schemes delivery on the promise of sustainable sourcing. The two largest and most recognizable paper certifications are the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). You and your customers can be confident that paper certified by  either of these organizations will 1) contain no illegal timber, 2) be produced via sustainable processes, 3) the wood have followed a legal, verifiable chain-of-custody and 4) be produced in an environmentally friendly manner.

Establish (or review) your procurement policy
Procurement policies are designed to guarantee that your organization and suppliers adhere to sourcing policies that are 100% legal and environmentally sound. Typical procurement policies should include:

  • A guarantee that materials used to make its paper are certified and have a verifiable chain-of-custody.
  • Guidelines for suppliers to provide proof that it invests in sustainable paper production  and has a track record of improving the environment through initiatives such as reduction of air and water emissions, restrictions on the use of fossil fuels, and investment in aggressive tree planting programs.
  • A commitment from suppliers to economic and social development in the countries where its pulp and paper are produced. Many people assume environmental friendliness simply means protecting trees, but the United Nations and a growing number of companies realize that it’s just as important to protect people and encourage community development.

Look beyond recycled content
Many paper companies will promote products as “green” if they contain recycled paper, but that alone doesn’t guarantee the paper came from a certified and sustainable source or take into account the total environmental impact. Determining the fiber age of the paper source can help gauge the sustainability of the product. Younger fiber indicates that the product came from young, plantation trees grown specifically for the purpose of papermaking. These plantation trees mature within six to eight years in countries such as Indonesia and China, are harvested and the fields replanted to create a renewable resource every six to eight years – a technological process that we have lead. In contrast, much of the fiber from North American trees is harvested from natural, boreal forest areas that mature every 60 to 80 years and are not easily replenished. 

Once adopted and incorporated into procurement processes, these policies can become the foundation of a philosophy for the entire organization. Your organization will then be able to proudly serve customers knowing that the paper products used by your organization have been responsibly and sustainably sourced.

Ian Lifshitz is North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), the third largest pulp & paper company in the world. To learn more about APP’s community initiatives, sustainability efforts and to take part in conversation about the rainforest, visit Rainforest Realities.

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