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Modern-day paper chase: The flap over sustainable forestry certifications

Modern-day paper chase: The flap over sustainable forestry certifications

Posting in Energy

Regardless of which certification you support, it is time to get more serious about sustainable paper procurement practices.

Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

I used to say that my coffee addiction was my primary vice, but I recently realized that I have another one that is just as bad: my preoccupation with paper.

That's because I am a Miss Manners-taught correspondent. I believe in thank-you notes, in journals, in touching my own story notes with both hands as I'm writing a story. So, naturally, I have been intrigued by the conflict that has been brewing recently in both the public and private sector over sustainable forestry certifications.

I actually have some familiarity with this conflict. Back in September 2010, I reported on some ratings from non-profit ForestEthics, which has its doubts about a forestry certification label from the Sustainability Forestry Initiative (SFI). ForestEthics has a number of issues with SFI, which include its ties to the paper and timber industry. It puts its muscle behind another certification, one put forth by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

After I wrote this post, I had several conversations with the various forestry practices certification organizations, all of which were trying to sell me on the benefits of their particular approach. At a sustainability conference a few weeks after that, I spoke with several corporate sustainability managers about this issue. All of them admitted to feeling caught in the middle with respect to this particular issue.

So, what's the latest? Well, apparently, seven companies have recently announced plans to drop their use of the SFI label. Those companies include Aetna, Allstate, Garnet Hill, Office Depot, Performance Bicycles, Symantec and United Stationers. You wouldn't necessarily have known that these companies changed their commitment, except that ForestEthics trumpeted these decisions quite loudly.

In fact, ForestEthics has made such a ruckus that the President and CEO of SFI, Kathy Abusow, felt obliged to address some of the organization's allegations and publicity tactics in a recent blog published on GreenBiz.com. In that column, Abusow asks:

"What's a responsible procurement professional to do? First and foremost, get the facts. Don't fall prey to pressure tactics. Be informed, check facts directly with forest certification programs and make informed decisions that align with your organization's values. Look for inclusive policies that open the door to all credible tools that advance sustainability agendas. When buying forest-based products (such as office paper or packaging or building products), look for products that carry the SFI, PEFC or FSC label. Only 10 percent of the world's forests are certified, so seeking these products helps create demand for certifying the remaining 90 percent."

Personally, I'm not a big fan of bullying tactics. But the one really good thing about the publicity around this issue right now is that more businesses actually seem to be paying attention to where they source their paper products, along with energy efficiency and water conservation efforts.

I wonder if it is a coincidence that the American Forest & Paper Association recently updated the practices that it suggests its members follow. Here are some of the goals it has adopted as part of "Better Practices, Better Planet 2020". All of these goals pertain to a 2020 timeframe:

  • Increase the paper recovery for recycling rate to 70 percent
  • Improve energy efficiency in purchase energy use by at least 10 percent
  • Reduce intensity of carbon dioxide emissions
  • Increase the amount of fiber sourced from certified forest lands or through certified sourcing programs. (You'll notice there is no specific percentage goal for that one, which is kind of interesting.)

Let's be clear: I am not taking sides when it comes to forestry certifications. I only know that more attention needs to be paid to this issue if, as Abusow notes, more forests are to be managed with long-term sustainability in mind.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure