Today, the Environmental Paper Network released a Global Paper Vision for social and environmental transformation in the pulp and paper industry. The new document articulates the common goals of more than 120 not-for-profit organisations from civil society around the world. It is a platform for global coordination and creates synergy between the many efforts to improve the environmental performance of paper production and accelerate change through responsible consumption.

This is the next chapter in a remarkable collaboration begun more than a decade ago.

In 2002, I attended the Environmental Paper Summit in California, USA, where an uncommon collection of change-makers converged to combine their diverse expertise, explore their common ground and identify the solutions they could rally around. They eventually coalesced in North America as the Environmental Paper Network, aligned around a Common Vision for Transforming the Pulp and Paper Industry.

This experience inspired me to see the potential of this community’s immense knowledge-base and far reaching influence to not only stop destructive behavior case by case, forest by forest, but to build a new marketplace for long-term solutions through responsible products. By working together with a common roadmap there was power to accelerate the development of responsible paper products and eliminate the market for paper from environmentally damaging sources.

In the years that followed, the members of the Environmental Paper Network spread out across the many sectors and segments of the paper supply chain to promote a shift to responsible products with a consistent message. The tireless advocacy, education, partnerships and campaigns of these organisations created a cascade of consumer support and a critical mass of large-volume purchasers developing voluntary policies. By having the clarity and consensus of a document like the Common Vision, producers had better certainty on how leadership in the marketplace would be defined, and confidence to innovate and develop new products.

Large volume paper purchasers responded to the elevated environmental expectations of consumers, the evidence of controversy in the forest, and a recognition of their responsibility for the impacts on people and the planet at the source. Companies from Staples to Office Depot, from Scholastic to Sprint, from HP to Disney, and hundreds more, have chosen to adopt responsible paper purchasing policies and support these new products with their dollars. A growing list of the world’s Fortune 500 companies are asking paper product suppliers, “what’s in your paper?” They are scrutinizing the answers they get and seeking verification of environmental claims.

With new opportunities and new expectations from the marketplace, collaborations between conservation groups and pulp and paper producers developed to find on-the-ground solutions. Multi-stakeholder, landscape level agreements were forged such as the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement and the Boreal Forest Conservation Agreement, and work continues to fully implement them. Former adversaries came together to act as partners such as Greenpeace and Kimberly-Clark and the Dogwood Alliance with Georgia-Pacific and International Paper.

But the voluntary commitments of purchasers and producers need consistent problem-solving and vigilance in order to achieve full implementation and on-the-ground impact in a world of competing influences. The social and environmental challenges remain intense in a world of growing population and currently accelerating consumption. The good news is: there are solutions.

Despite the daunting challenges that the world faces going forward and the history of debate and confrontation between NGOs and the paper industry, the Global Paper Vision offers a path to a new paradigm, and is backed by a community of organisations that are ready for the work ahead, more than 120 so far. It is a new reference point for all stakeholders engaged in reducing risk and improving environmental performance in the industry, from investors to producers to governments to the large purchasers that put their brand on paper every day.

The new Global Paper Vision also harmonizes several regional “Visions” around the world and aligns efforts into a globalized movement.

“Jikalahari realized one of the underlying causes of deforestation in Indonesia comes from activities of timber plantations to fulfill the world’s demand for pulp and paper, and that is why we need a Global Paper Vision,” said Woro Supartinah of Jikalahari in Riau Province, the province experiencing the most deforestation in Indonesia in the last two decades. “In many cases pulp and paper industry expansion has been associated with social conflict, forest-fires, lost livelihood of local and forest dependent people, loss of biodiversity, violations of law, corruption and modern slavery. With this Global Paper Vision we hope to join a worldwide movement to make a change in the way forest dependent people have been treated and in the way the forest has been managed.”

The Vision includes 7 priorities for transforming paper production, trade and use including new emphasis on fair access to paper’s benefits, social responsibility, greenhouse gas reduction, and transparency. It signals a new “race to the top” for industry leaders, a commitment of civil society to see the effort through.

The Environmental Paper Network will serve as a hub to facilitate collaboration and dialogue, identify and implement collective action, host shared resources including guidance for responsible paper purchasing, and monitor progress towards the Vision through publications such as the State of the Industry Report. Leadership committees of the EPN in North America, Europe and China will implement regional priorities.

If you are a not-for-profit organisation that supports this Vision and is able to help in any way to achieve it, large or small, please go to environmentalpaper.org, sign the Vision and join us.

Show your support for global cooperation and environmental protection by sharing the Global Paper Vision on social media with the tag #whatsinyourpaper.

If your company is a sustainable brand with a genuine leadership responsible paper purchasing policy and you are part of the solution, join the conversation and let the world know #whatsinyourpaper.