Paper Chase: Report Claims Marketplace Driving Improved Sustainability

When it comes to sustainability, paper and pulp companies haven’t always been at the head of the class.

But according to a new report from the Environmental Paper Network, the industry is improving, partly spurred by changes in the marketplace.

The report, titled The State of the Paper Industry 2011: Steps Toward an Environmental Vision, looks at data about “fiber sourcing, recycling, consumption, paper production, and the paper industry’s impact on communities and the climate crisis.”

NWF’s own Laura Hickey and Eric Palola both serve on the the Environmental Paper Network steering committee, with Hickey contributing to the report itself.

The report serves to confirm the massive environmental impacts associated with paper production in terms of energy usage, physical waste and forest conservation, but it also points to some signs of progress, including:

  • A reduction in wasteful paper use and resultant lower consumption in North America
  • Growth in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified areas (an increase of some 66 million acres between January 2007 and January 2011)
  • Increased paper recovery and recycling rate and a reduction in paper entering landfills (according to the EPA, annual landfill paper deposits last year were down by about 16 million tons from 2005 levels)

EPN’s Joshua Martin:

“It proves that consumer behavior and corporate responsibility have a major effect on the state of the paper industry, and that the paper industry has a massive amount to do with the state of the climate, forests and biodiversity that our children will inherit from us…[T]hat should provide further encouragement and motivation to all stakeholders to continue efforts for even greater progress and to solve remaining and emerging challenges.”

According to EPN, many challenges remain, including increasing the recovery of waste paper, accurate carbon accounting and reducing the energy intensity of paper production. According to the Energy Information Administration‘s 1998 industry analysis, the forest products industry consumes about 14% of domestic manufacturing energy use, making it the third largest industrial consumer of energy (behind only petroleum and chemicals). The pulp and paper industry uses the vast majority of that energy.

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Published: July 14, 2011