Archive for January, 2013

The idea of using alternative fibers to make paper isn’t new, but it has regained media attention of late with actor Woody Harrelson promoting Prairie Pulp and Paper, a Canadian venture he co-founded to make paper using wheat straw (the waste from wheat harvests that typically is burned) instead of wood.  See http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/10/25/woody-harrelson-paper-plan.html.

Finding an innovative, economical way to convert waste to new, usable products is terrific, and Mr. Harrelson and his partners are to be commended for their Step Forward Paper™.    But please Woody, save the marketing hyperbole for Hollywood.   Calling logging “barbaric” and wishing we would “get to the point where we never use trees to make paper” is a naïve view of papermaking that ignores the science of sustainable forest management and the economic drivers that make paper made from trees one of the most sustainable products on earth.

Mr. Harrelson is quoted as saying that “much of the paper used” is from “threatened and endangered forests.”  That’s simply not true.   Sure, there are a few bad actors in less developed parts of the world, but U.S. paper companies require their wood suppliers – including millions of small, family owned tree farms – to manage their land responsibly.    And the demand for sustainably sourced paper provides an important financial incentive for tree farmers to manage their forestland responsibly rather than selling it off for development – the number one cause of forest loss in the United States according to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

The U.S. paper industry plays a key role, not only in helping landowners learn and implement sustainable harvesting and best management practices, but also in encouraging certification to credible sustainable forest management standards.  In its 2010 Report on Sustainable Forests, the USFS says it’s the “loss of an active forest management focus and the revenue streams that accompany it” – not the paper industry’s sustainable forest management – that “threatens the survival of U.S. forests and their associated ecosystem services.”

Given that more U.S. trees are regenerated than harvested each year, the whole “tree-free paper protects forests” argument just doesn’t hold water.  Besides being made with a renewable resource, wood-based paper is the most recycled commodity in the country – more than plastics, metals and glass – according to the U.S. EPA.    In 2011, some 66.8% of U.S. paper produced was recovered for recycling.   And U.S. paper mills generate about 65% of the energy they use from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass.

To substantiate its claim that “Step Forward™ paper is significantly more sustainable, from an environmental perspective, than the typical North American virgin tree fiber paper types,”  Prairie P&P released the results  of a life cycle assessment (LCA) conducted by Canadian carbon management firm Offsetters.   The wheat-based paper was reported to consume half the energy of North American 100% virgin wood copy papers and released 40% less greenhouse gas emissions.   This is because wheat straw, like most alternative fibers, contains less lignin, the natural glue-like substance that holds the fiber together.   Less lignin, less energy needed to break it down.

There are many issues of concern related to the use of agricultural crop alternatives to wood fiber (the fact that they are monocultures, deplete soil quality, and require intensive management to eliminate competing plants and pests, for example) and about this study in particular.  Instead of using current data on specific paper products, the Offsetters LCA includes secondary data on “typical North American virgin tree fiber paper” from a well-known tool called the Paper Calculator.  This data uses paper industry averages to make generalizations about environmental performance.

In a January 2012 white paper, Effect of Methodology on the Life Cycle Analysis of Paper Products, Professor Richard Venditti of North Carolina State University reviewed several paper LCAs including the conclusions of the Paper Calculator (The Paper Task Force Study) used by Prairie P&P.  He correctly concluded that, “Industry average data are useful for an industry to benchmark its overall performance, but the use of industrial averages of environmental impacts to promote a specific paper product relative to other similar paper products is not reasonable.”   His conclusion is based on the fact that there are very large ranges of environmental performance for one type of paper product from manufacturing site to site.  Due to this large range, “It’s imperative to base environmental claims on site- and product-specific LCAs using established protocols like ISO 14040:2006,” Venditti says.

Furthermore, globally accepted life cycle accounting standards, including the World Resources Institute Greenhouse Gas Protocol Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard cited in the Step Forward™ study, admonish those who conduct even the strictest of life cycle assessments not to use results to make generalizations across broad product categories.

My intent here is not to offer a point-counterpoint review of the Step Forward™ study or to in any way suggest that Step Forward™ paper is not a welcome addition in a world that must pursue sustainable, economically viable solutions to meet the needs of a growing population.    If companies like Prairie Pulp and Paper, and more recently Eco-Paper, want to give consumers a wider choice of sustainably produced paper products, that’s great.  But don’t portray the U.S. wood-based paper industry as the great destroyer of the world’s forests in the process.   The facts just don’t support it.

For a good, concise overview of how sustainable forest-based products like paper are encouraging global economic, environmental and social sustainability, take a look at this short video from last year’s Rio+20 conference.  It describes how the sustainable production and consumption of forest-based bio-products “will be a game changer in moving us toward a greener economy.”

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

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Two Sides recently hosted a webinar on the sustainability advantages of plantation forestry with presenter Andrew Heald from UPM.  He spoke about the need for doing more with less as the world’s population continues to grow and discussed how his company manages sustainable forestry plantations as part of WWF’s New Generation Plantation Project (NGPP).

Comparative projections on global population growth and the shrinking amount of suitable land available for growing crops paint a picture that can’t be ignored.  According to the Global Footprint Network, the world global ecological footprint is currently at a rate that would require 1.6 planet earths.  If we’re going to feed everyone and maintain adequate resources to produce the products needed for everyday life, we must find ways to make each acre of land more productive.  The figure below shows how the amount of arable land per person is decreasing and “we can assume that the graph for commercial forestry is heading in the same direction” said Mr. Heald.  He added: “we have to use land more efficiently to produce the crops and materials we need whilst at the same time protecting biodiversity and water resources. Its not going to be easy!”


That’s the ultimate goal of the NGPP.   Mr. Heald explained how well-managed plantations can have a positive role to play in economic, social and environmental development when they are managed in accordance with the concepts of the NGPP.

UPM’s plantation management is aligned with New Generation Plantation Principles, which were established to maintain ecosystem integrity, protect and enhance high conservation values, effectively involve all stakeholders and contribute to economic growth and employment.  According to Mr. Heald, plantation forests:

  • use less land to produce a given volume of timber than harvesting natural forests ;
  • are faster growing and more efficient;
  • can be independently certified (FSC/SFI/PEFC); and
  • using WWF – New Generation Plantation Principles, can have positive environmental and social impacts.

The following statistics were provided:

  • 7% of total global forest cover is planted, yet this could provide around two-thirds of global industrial wood production.
  • The volume of wood grown per year (cubic meters per hectare) is 6 m3/ha/yr in Finland, 14 m3/ha/yr in the UK and over 30 m3/ha/yr in Uruguay.

Currently UPM has about 400,000 ha of forest plantations in Uruguay (Eucalyptus) and the United Kingdom (Sitka Spruce).

For more information, view the webinar slides here or visit www.upmplantationlife.com.

Phil Riebel

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As many of you may know we issued a letter to Google on January 8, urging the company to re-consider its participation in the paperless2013 campaign and reminding them that using vague and unsubstantiated environmental claims and images (i.e. save a tree) to promote electronic media over paper is a form of greenwashing.

Many of you liked the letter and decided to cover it as a news item, distribute it or even write your own letter.  On behalf of Two Sides I would like to thank everyone who helped raise awareness on this important topic.  Special thanks go to the PrintMediaCentr  for their engagement and assistance in reaching a much wider audience.

This was another great example of many of us in the graphic communications value chain standing up to defend the sustainable features of print and paper.

The economic value of our combined sectors is something that corporations and groups such as the Paperless2013 Coalition should not forget.  In summary:

  1.  8.7 million Americans rely on the print, paper and mail value chain for their livelihood (1.1 trillion dollars in revenue).
  2. In the US there are over 10 million US family forest owners, many of whom rely on income from their forestland to continue managing it sustainably.
  3. Most of us are customers of Google and their “paperless 2013” allies and we don’t appreciate the “anti-paper” messaging.  It is damaging to our industry and our livelihood.
  4. The money we spend on their services and products comes from the print, paper and mail value chain.
  5. There are thousands of US college students who are studying paper science and engineering, graphic communications and other programs where print and paper is essential to their future careers.

Switching from paper to electronic products or services doesn’t necessarily result in a more sustainable outcome from an environmental, social and economic point of view.  It depends on many factors and product lifecycle aspects that many companies are failing to consider when they make environmental claims related to going paperless.

Electronic gadgets rely on a growing supply of non-renewable and often rare materials, and the recycling rate of electronic is low compared to paper.  E-waste is growing at an alarming rate and becoming an environmental and social problem in many developing countries.   Online communications may not be as effective as print on paper for “deep reading” and understanding concepts.

For many applications, print and paper is hard to beat.

Two Sides believes that many, even Google, recognize the value of print and paper.  In fact, they just won a USA today print advertising competition.  To quote Robert Wong, Chief Creative Officer at the Google Creative Lab in New York:

“Every medium has its strengths, and for print, they include immediacy in that a newspaper is good for news…a full-page ad in a newspaper says the ad is important.”

Ironic isn’t it.

All we ask is that companies stop spouting negative environmental messages about print on paper to promote electronic media and services which also have pros and cons.    Both media can co-exist and have great synergies.  In many ways they complement each other.  Rather that creating us vs. them scenarios, we need to focus on responsible production and use of all products and services. It’s not just good for the environment and for the U.S. economy… it’s the right thing to do.

Phil Riebel, President, Two Sides U.S.

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The following open letter has been sent to Mr. Eric Schmidt of Google and highlights Two Sides’ concerns that Google and others are trying to promote their services as environmentally preferable to print and paper whereas there is significant evidence that electronic communication, and Google’s activities in particular, carry a significant and increasing environmental footprint.

Mr. Eric Schmidt
Chairman of the Board
Google Inc.
Mountain View, CA
USA   94043

Dear Mr Schmidt,

We read with some incredulity the news of Google’s encouragement to consumers to ‘Go Paperless in 2013’. This initiative is accompanied by pictures of trees and US recycling data that presumably is intended to highlight the environmental benefits that will arise from ‘going paperless’. http://www.paperless2013.org/.

Google is joined in the project by US based organizations HelloFax, an online fax service; Manilla, an online bill management service; HelloSign, an e-signature service; Expensify, an online expense reporting service; Xero, an online business accounting service; and Fujitsu, which makes the ScanSnap scanner.

While the products and services delivered by Google are to be admired, this new initiative is clearly another example of a self-interested organization using an environmentally focused marketing campaign to promote its services while ignoring its own impact upon the environment.

Let’s consider the facts:

Google’s own environmental impact is astounding (1).

  •  Google uses 2.3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. This would power 207,000 US homes for one year, or about 41 Empire State Buildings.
  • Data centre power use accounts for roughly 2 per cent of the US’s annual electricity consumption.
  • For every kilowatt-hour used for computing in a typical data centre, nearly a whole additional kilowatt-hour is used for running cooling and heating systems.
  • 100 searches on Google is equivalent to burning a 60 watt light bulb for 20 minutes, using 0.03Kwh electricity and 20 gms of carbon dioxide.
  • 100 minutes of YouTube video is equivalent to burning a 60 watt light bulb for 13 minutes, using 0.02 Kwh of electricity and 13 gms of carbon dioxide.
  • Every gmail user uses 2.2Kwh energy every year and generates 1.2kg of carbon dioxide.

Greenpeace (2) highlights that E-waste is now the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream. In Europe e-waste is increasing at three to five percent a year, almost three times faster than the total waste stream. The amount of electronic products discarded globally has skyrocketed recently, with 20-50 million tonnes generated every year. Electronic waste (e-waste) now makes up five percent of all municipal solid waste worldwide.

Studies (3) have reached the conclusion that document reading, if intended to be read more than once or by several people, may be more environmentally friendly if printed.

A New York Times recent article (4) revealed the extraordinary impact electronic communication is having on the environment.

In the United States, more trees are grown than are harvested and the volume of trees growing on US forestland has increased 49% over the last 50 years (5).  The amount of US forestland has remained essentially the same for the last 100 years at about 750 million acres, even though the US population tripled during the same period (6). Forest cover in Europe is now 30% larger than in 1950 and has been increasing by 1.5 million soccer fields every year.

Let’s remember that paper is made from wood, a sustainable and renewable product that is an increasingly valuable resource for the creation of a vast range of sustainable products.  Responsibly managed forests are a critical resource that benefit the environment and also provide wood and wood by-products that are now seen as a preferred material as society tries to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. It takes energy to produce paper but most of it is renewable and, as an example, over 65% of the energy used to make pulp and paper in the US, and 54% in Europe, originates from renewable biomass (7, 8).

So, before encouraging people to go paperless, and particularly inferring that electronic  services are better for the environment,  Google and others need to examine their own impacts and perhaps might reflect that, on balance, print and paper can be a sustainable way to communicate.

In reality we live in an increasingly digital world and electronic and paper based communication coexist. Each has environmental impacts and it would be helpful, and more honest with consumers, if organizations would not try to differentiate their products and services on the basis of spurious and unattributed environmental claims.  Such Greenwash marketing is not only damaging to corporate reputations but also increasingly, we consider, in flagrant disregard of advertising standards such as those of the U.S Federal Trade Commission and DEFRA (UK) (9, 10).

We hope that Google reconsiders its participation in this campaign.

Yours sincerely,

Martyn Eustace                                                      Phil Riebel

Director, Two Sides UK                                       President, Two Sides U.S., Inc.


  1.  Google/Associated Press, Sep 8, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_platform
  2. Greenpeace, The e-waste problem.  http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/toxics/electronics/the-e-waste-problem/
  3. Energy Use of Print vs. Electronic Media, Tejo Pydipati October 24, 2010. http://www.twosides.info:8080/content/rsPDF_288.pdf
  4. The Cloud Factories, Power, Pollution and the Internet.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/technology/data-centers-waste-vast-amounts-of-energy-belying-industry-image.html?_r=1&,
  5. Society of American Foresters, 2007. http://www.twosides.info/Content/rsPDF_86.pdf
  6. USDA Forest Service, 2010. http://www.twosides.info/Content/rsPDF_84.pdf
  7. 2012 AF&PA Sustainability Report.  http://www.twosides.info:8080/content/rsPDF_255.pdf
  8. Two Sides/CEPI.   http://www.twosides.org.au/The-European-paper-industry-is-one-of-Europes-biggest-producers-of-biomass-energy
  9. U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Environmental Claims – Summary of the Green Guides. http://www.twosides.info:8080/content/rsPDF_267.pdf
  10. DEFRA’s Quick Guide to Making a Good Environmental Claim, UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. http://www.twosides.info:8080/content/rsPDF_279.pdf

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