This guest column was originally published by the RISI blog on August 24th, 2013 in response to an editorial entitled, “Paper bashing continues…”  It is co-authored by Mandy Haggith, Co-ordinator of the European Environmental Paper Network  and Joshua Martin, Director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN).

Following recent coverage about the Environmental Paper Networks (EPN) in Europe and North America, we thought your readers might be interested to learn a little about who we are and what we actually do. We are a coalition of 122 civil society organisations from 26 countries who share a Common Vision for a future where paper is produced and used sustainably. Far from being ‘anti-paper’, as we have been portrayed, we believe paper’s many benefits to our society can be achieved in a wholly positive way. In fact, many of the world’s most innovative and progressive paper makers, traders and buyers are working with us, because in reality we are all on the same side – the side of a sustainable future.

Our vision is for a society which consumes paper less wastefully than at present, and where this valuable natural resource is made by an industry that is less reliant on virgin tree fibres, maximises use of recycled materials, respects local people’s land rights, provides employment and has social impacts that are beneficial, conflict-free and fair. We want to see all paper being made from responsibly and sustainably-sourced fibres, using entirely renewable energy, with water that is as clean after paper production as before, producing zero waste and zero emissions. Sometimes this vision is challenged or pushed back by negative environmental or social impacts resulting from short-term motivations or honest mistakes of particular players, and when these are discovered on the ground by our network’s member organisations, it is our responsibility to seek solutions.

Close collaboration

Many of our member organisations work in close collaboration with paper producers, merchants and buyers, who sympathise with our vision and want to enhance their environmental and social performance.

  • In North America, producers, merchants, printers and retailers, including Cascades, Spicers, Hemlock Printers and Staples, use the EPN’s Paper Calculator life cycle tool to help their customers reduce waste and choose environmental papers, and EPN’s Paper Steps scale of environmental papers guided elements of Office Depot’s new Greener Paper Purchasing Policy.
  • In Europe, publishers and authors have collaborated with EEPN member organisations to produce books on post-consumer recycled paper.
  • In Canada, Canopy works with 700+ large printers, publishers and brands to implement Ancient Forest Friendly policies, and is also growing the market for innovative business solutions like paper sourced from agricultural residue such as wheat straw left over after the grain harvest.
  • In the UK, a host of large paper-using organisations including the Co-operative Group, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Government and Highland Council have all been high flyers in the EEPN’s recent paper efficiency project.
  • WWF, through programmes such as the Global Forest & Trade Network, involves dozens of paper producers and buyers, working with them for continuous improvement towards sustainable paper.
  • The world’s biggest paper producer, International Paper, is working in agreement with Dogwood Alliance on mapping to ensure paper is not made from endangered forests in the Southern United States and increasing its use of credibly certified fibre.

This work is often challenging, but co-operation happens because we only have one planet and ultimately we all share an interest in managing its natural resources sustainably and fairly. Despite what divisive PR campaigns like Two Sides try to suggest, we are really all on the same side.

Pulp and paper and climate change

One of the most pressing issues facing global society at present is climate change, and at a recent meeting in London we launched and invited feedback on a discussion paper about how paper efficiency can reduce climate change emissions. This synthesises results from more than 20 studies and goes further than any research so far to quantify the carbon emissions resulting from paper’s full lifecycle. The results indicate that much more clarity is needed in how paper’s carbon emissions are accounted, yet it is clear that paper efficiency can play an important role in the climate change strategies of many organisations. We have been alarmed to discover that the worst-case scenario of this analysis shows paper’s emissions exceeding those of global aviation. We look forward to learning more about innovations that reduce the climate change impacts of paper production and use. Our initial consultation period runs until the end of August 2013, so there is still time to comment, and there’s no need to choose which side you’re on first.