Our philosophy on sustainability is founded in practical actions and informed decision-making.
We recognise that as a purchaser of many hundreds of tonnes of paper and printing each year our focus should be on the important differences we can make in our day to day decisions. This manifests itself as informed advice to clients and in our own decision-making.
It needs to be recognised that a commitment to the environment is rarely made through one simple decision or ‘tick a box’ specification. In the real world there are trade offs, and we have found that balancing these is a not always straightforward.
In the following notes we have tried to give an overview of some general considerations when specifying paper or printing. However each project is unique and we are happy to review your particular situation and recommend options.
Forestry Certification schemes
Forestry certification schemes are important in verifying that paper is sourced from sustainable forests. Look for either of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) branding. Any paper carrying these labels is considered to have good environmental credentials. However there are many other respected schemes for certifying the origin of pulp, for example the well-regarded Nordic Swan label, so a lack of FSC or PEFC labelling does not necessarily signify a poor choice. Note that less than 10% of the world’s forests are certified by this kind of accreditation scheme and these sources account for only 20% of the paper industry’s fibre needs.
Environmental Management Systems
Environmental Management Systems (EMS) are an attempt to ensure good environmental practice within an organisation across a range of criteria. This is a different approach to ‘where does the paper come from and how is it made’, as it is a more holistic approach that measures all aspects of an organisation’s environmental impact and works toward continual improvement.
The International Standards Organisation sets ISO14001 as the international standard for environmental management. An organisation that has achieved this certification should be viewed as having demonstrated a strong and ongoing commitment to the environment.
The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is the European Union’s environmental management system and organisations with this accreditation are recognised as having strong environmental credentials. ISO1400 certification is a requirement of EMAS accreditation.
Specifying recycled paper is usually a good option, however it’s not the whole story. Paper can only be recycled a limited number of times (4 to 5) before it becomes unusable. Recycled paper will never be able to fully meet the demands of the paper industry, so specifying recycled paper is not a substitute for creating a sustainable forestry industry.
There are also degrees of recycling – the best is post-consumer waste where fibre is sourced from paper that has been recovered after commercial use. Pre-consumer waste uses recycled paper sourced from mill or printer waste that hasn’t reached the market – still useful, though with less environmental impact. Many papers are part recycled, and that recycled content may be part pre-consumer and part post-consumer waste.
Specifying a sustainably sourced paper that is not recycled is just valid a decision for the environment as specifying recycled. Indeed for some categories of paper such as coated stocks, there are only limited options available containing recycling.
Carbon Neutral Papers
This is an increasingly popular type of classification and takes into account a whole of life cycle ‘cradle to grave’ approach. It is worth noting that carbon emissions may be offset and paid for – the ‘price on carbon’ concept. This can lead to a situation where it is possible to have an identical product marketed under two brands – one being labelled as ‘carbon neutral’ (with a higher price) and the other, exactly the same product, available at a cheaper price without the environmental tag. Depending on your view of the concept of a ‘price for carbon’ marketplace, this situation can be viewed either as a positive step forward for the environment or a cynical marketing exercise.
Chain of Custody
This concept incorporates the notion that it is important to consider and track the path of the paper from forest to printing press. It is incorporated into many Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and demonstrating an unbroken ‘chain of custody’ is usually a pre-requisite for accreditation with a particular Forestry Certification scheme such as PEFC or FSC.
Chlorine Free Paper (ECF and TCF)
Most papers, particularly those with recycled content, require some degree of bleaching to make them whiter. Chlorine bleaching, which used to be commonplace, is damaging to the environment. Today many papers will carry a signifier of ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free) or TCF (Totally Chlorine Free). TCF is better environmentally than ECF - in the absence of either of these common labels one should look for alternative evidence of environmental credibility in a paper stock.
Vegetable Based Inks
It’s always good to specify vegetable based inks, also known as soy inks, which are made from renewable resources and reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds released into the atmosphere. Fortunately most reputable printers in Australia now use vegetable based inks as a matter of course.
Australia is one of the leading countries in the world for good recycling practice, with a paper recycling rate of around 64% (80% for newspapers and catalogues). On the other hand, the paper manufacturing industry here is limited – for example there are no coated papers currently manufactured in Australia, so carbon miles need to be added to the equation for any coated stock.