Mandy_150x150There are many words to describe Mandy Haggith; published author, PhD, scientist, environmentalist, activist, researcher. Lucky for us, she is also the Coordinator of the European Environmental Paper Network. This month, I interviewed her to share her story with the network. Enjoy.

Suzanna Baum: Thanks for taking the time, Mandy. What is the EEPN? What member organisations are on the steering group? 

Mandy Haggith:  Hi Suzanna. The EEPN is the European sister network of the Environmental Paper Network. We formed in 2005, in the same way as the EPN in North America, by coming together to write a common vision for transforming the pulp and paper industry in Europe to be more sustainable. We have just over 70 member organisations, in 27 countries. Our steering group consists of representatives of WWF International, Terra!, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, FERN, Denkhausbremen and ARA.

SB: I’d really love to talk more about how you live off the grid in Scotland. Can you tell us some of the ways in which you are conserving natural resources and why reducing our consumption globally is so important to our future?

MH: I am hugely lucky to live in the most beautiful place in the world, in ancient woodland on the sea shore in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland. I live and work from some sheds in the woods, with a wind-power generator and some solar panels to power Skype and email, and a wood-burning stove to keep me warm in the dark winter months. My partner Bill Ritchie and I try to keep our environmental footprint small and we have spent most of the past two decades campaigning in support of forest people. I have asked many people whose forest homes are under threat what we can do to help them, and repeatedly had the same answer – reduce demand for forest products. For example, when I was in Sumatra Indonesia, Ahmad Zazali told me ‘The only hope we have is with the buyers of paper products in Europe, America and China.’ We are part of a global market system of paper and other forest products, and the main system driver is the money spent on excessive consumption in rich countries like ours. Reducing our paper use is essential in order to take the foot off the accelerator.

SB: You work with an organisation called Reforesting Scotland. Can you briefly describe the effects that organisation has had on the ecosystems of Scotland since its implementation?

MH: Reforesting Scotland was one of the EEPN’s founding members. It is a crucial group in Scotland, holding our government to account to reverse the deforestation that reduced native woodland to only 1% of the land by the mid 20th century. We now have native woodland on about 4% of the land (and exotic tree plantations on a further 12%) and RS has been instrumental in that. Most importantly it encourages Scottish people to believe that we can have a woodland culture – it triggered the flourishing community woodland movement, and it runs very practical projects on everything from forest arts to wood-building skills, and currently it is pushing for people to be allowed to build huts for themselves in the woods. There are other organisations also helping to regrow Scotland’s forests, like Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust. Things are going in the right direction here, which is inspiring.

SB: Paper Trails is a non-fiction book you’ve written and had published. To write it I understand you traveled around the world visiting places where paper is sourced.  Do you have a favorite experience from that trip? 

MH: Yes, I spent much of 2006 on an epic journey overland from Scotland, through Europe, Russia, China, Asia and North America, doing what I jokingly called ‘Pulp Mill Tourism’, visiting mills, looking at the impacts of the paper industry on forests and communities, and learning about the history of paper globally. My favourite moment was in a small town in Anhui province, China, where I met Cai Zhang. He runs a family mill, which hand-produces the most beautiful paper I have ever seen, China’s most valuable calligraphic art paper, using techniques that are thousands of years old. He can trace his family’s management of the mill back 27 generations. It is an awesome heritage. It put the modern industry into perspective – people have only been making paper out of pulped trees for about 150 years. There is a lot that could be learned from the traditional paper industry in China.

SB: All of your books are printed on recycled paper. From a first-hand perspective, what do you think are the biggest challenges for authors and the publishing industry to go this way and use responsible paper all the time?

MH: As a writer, and  tree-hugger, I live with the paradox of wanting huge amounts of paper to come pouring off the presses with my words on it, yet also wanting the paper industry to slow down and in some places stop completely! Finding a middle way, whereby paper can be sustainably produced and never wasted, is therefore my mission, and maximising the use of recycled fibres is crucial. All paper fibres, like cats, should have 9 lives! Unfortunately in Europe and America they rarely used more than twice before disposal. I have been very lucky to work with publishers who understand the importance of this issue to me, and my experience has been that publishers are naturally inclined to want their products to do good in the world, and those interested in my writing are already attuned to environmental issues. The bigger problem is with mass-market magazine publishers, who remain to be convinced that there are high-enough quality coated papers, in sufficient volumes, to meet their needs. Recycled papers are usually produced in smaller volumes and at higher prices, and publishers need to be really motivated to overcome this barrier. I’d like to see some fiscal measures, like a virgin fibre tax, or financial incentives for recycled fibre use, to try to overcome the price differential. And meanwhile, authors and readers need to keep lobbying publishers to invest in sustainable paper choices.

SB: Why is it important for organisations to be working together globally to transform the paper industry?  

MH: Because it’s a global industry. So many of the key players in the industry are multi-national and to be effective in our campaigns we need to work together with campaigners in other affected nations. The global journeys that paper goes on are amazing: publishers in Europe use printers in China who buy paper from Japanese companies that source fibre from Indonesia and Australia milled in plants funded by banks based in America and Switzerland. A piece of toilet paper can contain fibres from Brazil, Russia, Canada and South Africa. We have to be able to follow those paper trails, and to enable consumer-oriented activists to give well-informed support to campaigns in producer regions.

Thank you for taking the time to read up on the European Environmental Paper Network. Happy Holidays!!!