Archive for May, 2012

To truly evaluate the environmental footprint of paper, measurements over the whole life-cycle are needed. Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is used to analyze each stage of a product’s life-cycle from raw materials, production, distribution, product use and through to end of life. LCA is an accounting framework and, instead of dollars, it measures potential environmental and human health impacts . According to Nestlé, LCA is the most widely used scientific methodology for assessing products’ overall environmental impact. Walmart recognized the importance of a life-cycle approach as the basis for their product sustainability efforts and therefore made life-cycle the foundation of The Sustainability Consortium which they initiated.

Without a life-cycle approach, environmental decisions and environmental marketing may be based on one element of a product life-cycle (ex: recycled fiber use) without consideration of other more significant elements (ex: carbon footprint, measured environmental performance of manufacturing facilities) and, unfortunately, this can be deemed “greenwashing” or misrepresenting the environmental benefits of a product.  Product environmental impacts are not as simple as we would like, be it paper, electronic media, or any other product we use.  But those who want to know the true footprint will track key metrics across the product life-cycle.

Many in the pulp and paper industry have embraced LCA as an important tool to improve environmental performance and to create credible science-based communications. For example, the American Forest and Paper Association along with the Forest Products Association of Canada commissioned an LCA on four paper product types, namely magazines, catalogues, directory and office paper.  The key findings were the following:

  • The most significant environmental impacts were due to pulp and paper production and product disposal at the end-of-life.
  • The impacts of paper production are mainly driven by use of fossil fuels in manufacturing process.
  • An increase of bio-based energy sources at paper mills reduces climate change impacts.
  • Increasing recovery rate has a significant positive effect on global warming impacts.
  • Transportation is not very significant in overall life-cycle impacts.

This LCA closely followed the ISO standards for LCA, ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. These standards set out a detailed framework including the importance of transparency, not only for the results but also for the assumptions and for analyses to cross-check the validity of the results (uncertainty and sensitivity analyses). LCA, like any other analysis tool, can be ‘gamed’ to result in a biased outcome. However when a study follows ISO standards closely, the reader of the study has all the information required to assess and interpret the results for themselves and any ‘gaming’ will be evident.

When examining the carbon footprint along the life cycle, the AF&PA and FPAC study showed that the two largest contributors to the carbon footprint of paper are: 1) energy used in manufacturing (mill site and purchased power) and 2) methane emissions from paper that ends up in landfill sites.  Transportation is a relatively minor

Contribution of various parts of the paper life cycle to the carbon footprint of office paper (AF&PA/FPAC, 2010)

component.  In other words, energy efficiency and use of renewable energy for manufacturing and paper recovery are key elements in reducing the carbon footprint of paper products.  The high use of renewable biomass energy in the U.S. pulp and paper industry (currently at 66% and the focus on paper recovery (currently at 66.8%) are significant environmental benefits that helps reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.   AF&PA has recently set a goal to increase paper recovery to exceed 70% by 2020.  High renewable energy use at Kraft pulp mills (biomass and black liquor) is also one of the reasons that paper grades with Kraft fibers can have a very low carbon footprint compared to other paper grades.

The increased use of life-cycle approaches by the forest products industry will continue to drive understanding, transparency and most importantly, improvements to the environmental profile.

Christine Burow is a guest blogger for Two Sides U.S.  She runs an independent consulting company focused on business-to-business strategy with an emphasis on marketing and sustainability.   Christine is also Co-Chair of The Sustainability Consortium’s Paper Sector.


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A few years ago, I was faced with the task of cleaning out my mother’s house after she passed away.   While difficult, it led me to a wonderful discovery.  Tucked away in her attic was large, metal footlocker that I had never seen before.   In it was a treasure trove of memories … all on paper.

Unknown to me, mom kept every card and letter I had sent her since childhood.   She had even tucked away a series of silly little notes we had exchanged about my “first boyfriend” in elementary school.   I also found pieces of my life that I thought were long gone – my baptismal certificate, school projects and short stories that I had written as a budding young writer in junior high school.   She had also clipped every mention of me in print, from by-lined articles to news stories where I was quoted as spokesperson.   In addition, I found family photos and never-before-seen documents that helped shed an interesting light on her ancestry.

As I looked through these items again recently, I wondered how many cherished mother-daughter memories would have been lost if they originated on a computer.  What today’s electronic world gives us in speed and geographic reach just can’t replace the visceral experience of holding a loved one’s very personal mementos in your hands.   Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t live without my computer.  But the value of paper in our lives shouldn’t be underestimated.

And by the way, don’t forget to mail your mom a Mother’s Day card this week … and write a nice note inside.  She’ll enjoy opening it and years from now you may find, as I did, that it means much more to her than you think!

Kathi Rowzie is Two Sides guest blogger.  She is a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, TN.

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