Flashback to about 15 years ago: I was a graduate student at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I was passionate about the environment. I was full of the fight for justice and the protection of vanishing wild places and wild things. Perhaps I was also a little angry.
With grassroots organizing we fought for and protected several local natural areas facing imminent threats. And I volunteered heavily to join national efforts to stave off attacks on the national forests and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Eventually, I dipped a toe into how corporate behavior and institutional purchasing choices can impact conservation on the ground. A fellow student and I worked with the Indiana University Administration to craft and adopt the first major University purchasing policy outlawing the purchase of wood and paper products sourced from the world’s last old-growth forests.
All of this was good. But there was something in me that came to recognize we can not only fight and resist the bad, we must also name and support the good. We had to work for the solutions or else pressures on the world’s forests and wildlife would remain. We would always be desperately fighting to “save” someplace. Even when we “won,” we’d be shifting the pressure and the fight elsewhere. And probably to a community without the same means and leverage to resist as citizens in an affluent college town in the United States.
From what I’ve read in the papers recently, it seems that the actor Woody Harrelson, of Hunger Games and Cheers fame, had a similar revelation about the same time. He says, “It became obvious to me that the real answer to deforestation is to change the way paper is made.” For him, that meant finding partners to form his own company making paper from agricultural residue.
For me, it meant getting to work on convincing Indiana University to go beyond stating only what it will NOT buy. It meant working towards the University adopting a comprehensive paper purchasing policy that shifts how it spent its dollars and intentionally invested in solutions, primarily recycled paper products. Unfortunately, I graduated before we were successful in securing that policy. We fell short, in part, because of the limited availability of the environmentally improved alternatives that we advocated for.
But fifteen years later, that’s part of why I am so enthusiastic today for the release of the 2014 update to Canopy’s Ecopaper Database, with support provided by the Environmental Paper Network. We’ve come a long way, and the database now provides a list of more than 440 of the leading ecopapers available in North America. The freshly updated Database has added 86 new papers since last year, and now offers the most comprehensive list of papers containing “Second Harvest” fibres made from agricultural residue such as wheat straw, and 225 papers with 100% recycled content.
All papers listed in the Database have been screened according to The Paper Steps, a paper-grading tool developed by consensus of the Steering Committee organisations of the Environmental Paper Network. The Database includes ecopaper category leaders for book, magazine and newspapers publishers, as well as copy papers, commercial printing papers, tissue, office products (planners etc.), stationary, fine-text-writing papers, packaging, board, and now molded fibre products like wheat straw bowls.
This has only been possible through the dedicated work of many individuals and numerous conservation groups. Member organisations of the Environmental Paper Network are educating purchasers on the risks in the paper supply chain, identify solutions and creating a market demand for environmentally responsible products. The ethical paper purchasing policies established in the last ten years by large buyers like Staples, Scholastic, Sprint, Office Depot, Hewlitt Packard, Avon, Disney and more are sending market signals that drive the development of ecopapers and sends a message to all suppliers that environmentally risky sourcing is not good for business.
So, today is a really great day. The Ecopaper Database shows that together we are bringing solutions forward and into the world. I think my younger self would pause to smile at that. And then, return to the work with double the effort, encouraged and more hopeful that another world is possible.
If you want to be part of bringing the good into the world, start noticing what’s in your paper. Ask the companies you do business with: what’s in your paper? Consider volunteering or donating to support the work of members of the Environmental Paper Network. And, of course, please join us this year in choosing the products that earned their way onto Canopy’s Ecopaper Database.