Archive for August, 2013

Everybody pretty much agrees that third-party forest certification is the best tool available for verifying that the wood fiber used to make paper comes from responsibly managed forests.    So, why isn’t all the fiber used in U.S. paper products certified?    It’s a matter of availability … there just isn’t enough certified fiber out there.   

One big reason is the cost and complexity of the certification process.   Millions of small, family-owned forests supply wood fiber for U.S.-manufactured paper, but most of this land isn’t certified because landowners lack both the technical expertise and financial resources to make it happen.   If we’re going to solve this problem and make significant gains, we need to reach out to these landowners and educate them about certification, guide them in developing sustainable forest management plans and make the process affordable.   It won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, but we’re seeing a growing number of group certification initiatives that prove it’s doable.  

One of the most successful endeavors to date was conducted in Maine, where major paper buyers and producers – Time Inc., Hearst Corporation, NewPage Corporation, Sappi Fine Papers North America and Verso Paper Corp. — joined forces with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) Inc. to pilot a successful group certification model.   This model made it possible for small and medium-sized landowners to develop, implement and coordinate responsible forest management plans more simply and cost effectively.  The result was an additional 1.4 million acres certified to the SFI forest management standard in Maine. 

To build on the successful Maine pilot project, the SFI Forest Partnerssm program was established in 2012 by founding partners Time Inc., the National Geographic Society, Macmillan and Pearson.  Each made a five-year commitment to the program’s goals to grow the certified forestland base by 5 million acres by the end of 2014, beginning in the Southeast United States, and by 10 million acres by the end of 2017.   The route to achieving these goals: continuing innovation in group certification that fosters new opportunities for collaboration, cost effectiveness and certification incentives.  The SFI Forest Partners program is also working to facilitate the uptake of fiber from certified forestlands through the supply chain by increasing chain-of-custody certification of small and medium-sized mills, and to influence responsible forestry beyond those lands through fiber sourcing certification.

Another great effort is the Center for Forest & Wood Certification (CFWC) operated out of the University of Kentucky, Department of Forestry Extension.  Operated with sustaining, multiple-year commitments from companies like Domtar Corporation, NewPage and Time Inc. along with funds from a variety of educational, economic development and forestry organizations, the Center’s focus is regional:  Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, and Missouri.   Its emphasis:  breaking through certification bottlenecks so the private sector can more effectively participate and benefit from certification.  CFWC programs include education and training; technical assistance; group certification for forest owners, loggers, and industry; and certification management.

The point of these efforts, of course, is not certification for certification sake, but to make sure that U.S. forests are managed responsibly to provide eco-services, sustainable products, recreational opportunities and aesthetic beauty for generations to come.   In a 2011 article, Family Forest Owners Rule!, Brett Butler, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service, provides a terrific perspective on why reaching out to family forest owners is so important to keeping America’s forests healthy and productive.  It’s a quick read with lots of data from the U.S. Forest Service’s National Woodland Owner Survey.   Among the most interesting facts are that only 4 percent of family forest owners (accounting for 17 percent of family forestland) have written forest management plans and only 14 percent of the owners (37 percent of the land) have received professional forest management advice.  

With 264 million acres of family owned forestland in the U.S. and nearly half of that land owned by people with 100 acres or less, there’s plenty of opportunity to get involved and grow programs like the SFI Forest Partners, CFWC and others!    

For More Information:

SFI Forest Partners Program
Barry Graden, Director for Southeast U.S. Community Outreach

Center for Forest & Wood Certification

Christopher Reeves
855-579-2690 (toll free)

For a list of independent organizations that offer FSC group certification, click here.

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

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Any first-year marketing undergrad can tell you that successful selling comes from building trust and listening to customers.  So, why are many U.S. banks, telecom companies and utilities turning a deaf ear to the majority of consumers who say getting paper bills and statements is important to them?

Just about anybody can tell you that the push to go paperless is really about cost savings. In fact, 84% of people in a recent Two Sides survey agreed that paperless bills and statements are being promoted to reduce costs.  But how much does cost cutting benefit the bottom line if companies are losing customers as a result?  In that same survey, 64% of consumers said that when they’re shopping for a new service provider, they would skip companies that don’t offer the option of a paper bill.   Nearly six in 10 also said they would refuse to switch to e-bills and statements or would not take any action if asked to do so.

Most consumers aren’t buying the companies’ “go paperless, go green” marketing claims either.  According to the survey, half of consumers do not believe, feel misled by or question the validity of such claims.   Nearly three quarters, 72%, believe that when print on paper is responsibly produced, used and recycled, it can be an environmentally sustainable way to communicate.   The survey also found that about a third of people who receive electronic bills and statements print them out at home, so the claim that e-billing is paperless isn’t really true in many cases.

Some may believe that a single survey doesn’t provide enough evidence to make the case for any particular point of view, but even the most skeptical observer can’t deny the growing body of research that shows consumers want a choice when it comes to paper versus electronic billing.  In a national survey conducted by Consumers for Paper Options, 80% of consumers said it’s not okay for companies to force electronic-only bills and statements on their customers.  87% agree the main reason companies want to shift customers to electronic delivery formats is to save money, not to be environmentally responsible.  Similar sentiments were expressed by Britons in surveys conducted by Two Sides U.K. and Keep Me Posted, a broad-based coalition of organizations whose members depend on postal mail.

To me, the decision to continue offering free, paper-based billing options is a no-brainer, especially in industries like telecommunications and banking where competition is fierce.  Consumers have made it pretty clear that paper bills and statements are an important option they want to keep.   When the research data show that even a majority of technology savvy under-25 year olds share the belief that paper options should be preserved, billing companies must ask themselves three important questions:

  1. Can we truly afford to ignore the majority of our customers?
  2. What will be the long-term reputational (and potential legal) implications if we willfully disenfranchise the nearly 30% of American households that don’t have regular internet access, including 45% of seniors who don’t own computers (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2011)? and,
  3. How long will it be before the U.S. Federal Trade Commission takes notice of the vague, unsubstantiated environmental claims we’re using to disguise our cost-saving efforts?

I’m certainly not suggesting that e-billing is a bad thing – it has a lot of positive benefits, including convenience.    But most consumers want and many need paper options.   Companies that dismiss this fact risk losing business.  And those that continue to use unverifiable claims like “go paperless, save trees” as a green cloak for cost cutting risk greater scrutiny by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

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

For information on the successful Two Sides educational campaign that is helping leading U.S. companies change their messaging to meet best practices for environmental marketing as outlined in the U.S. FTC Green Guides, click here.

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