A new eco certification for composite wood products Go

If you are a frequent reader of The Environmental Quotient you may be wondering why I’m writing about composite panels.  There is no need to speculate that we are headed into a new business segment.  I follow woodworking news because many of the sustainability issues are similar to those in the pulp and paper industry (e.g. Lacey Act compliance, wood sourcing, workplace safety, etc).   Furthermore, our Release Papers Business sells products for engineered specifically for applying decorative surfaces onto solid surfaces.  And generally speaking, I think we can all stand to learn much by getting outside of our realm of direct responsibilities and working across industries.

But more to the point…

Last month the Composite Panel Association announced expansion of its Eco-Certified Composite Certification Program.  Composite panels are defined as particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), hardboard, engineered wood siding or engineered wood trim. The certification program has separate criteria for primary manufacturers (those making panels) as well as for manufacturers of finished products (like cabinets or furniture).

As many of these products are used indoors, there is an absolute basic criteria as part of the standard.  Panels must meet the CARB requirements for formaldehyde limits.  I like this – a show stopper in a standard that is focused clearly on a core environmental issue related to indoor air quality.  Beyond this element, the standard allows from some flexibility and must meet three of five criteria related to: 

  1. Carbon Footprint
  2. Local and Renewable Resources
  3. Recycled/Recovered wood
  4. Sustainability
  5. Wood Sourcing

While I am somewhat limited in my knowledge of these products, it strikes me that they’ve tackled the tough issues while allowing for some flexibility in implementation.   I personally would have labeled the “sustainability” aspects as “Efficient Use of Materials” as it is related to minimizing waste to landfill.  But despite the word choice, I like the criteria.

And here’s what I like best about this standard: the wood sourcing criteria is inclusive and recognizes both the SFI and FSC programs

Sappi Fine Paper North America is committed to ensuring that 100% of our fiber supply is procured from sustainably managed forests.  We support inclusive policies and do not express a preference for one forest management program over another.  With less than 10% of the world’s forests certified, we strive to expand certified forests, especially in those regions that provide fiber to our mills.

So, kudos to the CPA and to others that express inclusive positions on wood sourcing criteria for eco-standards.

Yesterday’s post featured an animated video of single stream recycling.  Now here’s the real deal.  Take note of the hand sorting, and next time you head to the recycling bin think about the people down stream.  More thoughts at THIS link.

Papermakers partnering with cloud computing experts on key sustainability issues Go

There is an endless stream of information regarding the impact of e-media in the realm of communications; impacts affecting business trends – as well as environmental impacts. 

On the business front, it seems for every article I read about declining magazine ad sales or a lost title, there is a counter story about new channels driving print revenue.  Magazine publishers report that online media drives high traffic for new print subscriptions. Televisions shows and video games are leading to new titles.  In advertising, the pendulum swing that resulted in huge growth in social media spending seems to be falling back.  Focus is shifting to integration of the media mix and leveraging the strengths of both print and digital applications to drive efficacy.  At the end of the day, advertisers and communications experts want to reach their audiences, and we all absorb information in different ways.

Just as our society has long depended on paper (and will continue to do so) we simply cannot function without electronic devices.  Our papermaking operations depend on computerized control systems. Our sustainability metrics are tracked, monitored and managed using data.  Digitally stored data.  While we offer the eQ Journal in print, our eQ platform is hosted on a website and this very blog is an element of our sustainability communication strategy.

Amid a turbulent business environment, it troubles me that some marketers have opted to leverage unfounded emotional arguments (usually about saving trees) to drive users online instead of using paper.  The benefits of certain electronic applications are very clear.  Speed of use, centralized information storage and reduced costs of mailing can make transactions like paying bills seem archaic on paper.  But marketers also know that when it comes to pulling heart strings, paper works.  Ask anyone in fundraising whether they plan to discontinue their print campaigns and subsist solely on digital outreach.   

First and foremost, communication channels should be selected based on effectiveness. And, of course, we also need to consider environmental impact of our choices.

Is electronic communication “better” for the environment than printing?  The answer is far too complicated to condense into generalizations.    Every life cycle analysis that I have seen attempting to contrast “paper vs pixels” is dependent on a vast number of assumptions.   There are more exceptions than rules and thus conclusions are hard to defend no matter how hard one tries.

We certainly don’t want people feeling guilty about using trees.  Sound forest management is supported by strong markets for wood products.  But environmental impact extends beyond the forest.  Our position on this front is clear: Sappi does not promote wasteful consumption of resources—renewable or otherwise. We want our customers to use paper wisely and purposefully.  And we also want to create an understanding that one need not feel guilty about the impact on the forest when products are sourced responsibly. As an industry, we must strive to meet society’s needs for wood and paper products.   

So where does that lead us?  Rather than continuing to fight meaningless battles, how about working together to drive meaningful change?  Toward that end, we recently hosted a visit of sustainability practitioners from EMC.  Yes, EMC – the global leader in cloud computing, digital storage, big data.      

We came together to learn from each other about issues that keep sustainability practitioners awake at night: 

  • We discussed strategies for enhancing employee engagement. 
  • We explored the concept of zero waste manufacturing.
  • We talked about challenges in defining metrics that are both meaningful to stakeholders and can be translated into practice in our operations.  
  • We put our heads together over supply chain management issues and chain of custody systems. 
  • And we reviewed emerging issues surrounding water disclosure and risk management.  

Making paper has environmental impact.  As does the manufacturing of electronic devices.  And cars.  And food.  And clothing. And furniture. And so on.  The key is to source, use, and dispose of “stuff”  responsibly.

Finger-pointing never solved a problem.  But collaboration can lead to discovery.

Environmental impact of recycled fiber in coated papers Go

Recently one of BoSacks readers commented about the use of recycled fiber in graphic communication papers (i.e. paper used for magazines, catalogs and direct mail).    The reader was identified only as a “paper person” as Bo grants anonymity to those that are willing to speak out.   There were some points made that were so strong, I wanted to share them.  On the other hand there were a couple of points that I think my fellow paper person got wrong.  In an interest of furthering the dialog, I will quote and comment herein.

First the strong:

It is generally very inefficient (or “wrong”) to inject recycled fiber into a virgin paper production process.  That said, it can be even more efficient to make new paper from old paper than from trees if that recycled paper is made at a mill purpose-built for recycled paper.  There are many paths to green, and there are ecological benefits to both recycled and virgin papers.  Regardless of whether you’re talking about a recycled or virgin mill, they can only achieve maximum production efficiency — and thus optimal resource conservation — only if the mill adheres to the type of production it was designed to accommodate. “

This is a really important point and one that is often over-looked in the debate as a result of trying to make generalizations.  Efficiency (which ties to both economic performance and environmental impact) is maximized when equipment is used as designed.  You wouldn’t use a sports car to haul a ton of bricks and nor would anyone opt to drive a flatbed truck on a daily commute to the city. 

It is an oversimplified notion to universally promote maximizing recycled fiber in paper. Paper is not one thing.  There are some systems that are better suited – some grades that are better suited – and even within grade categories, some mills that are better suited to use recycled fiber.     There are vast differences between recycled paperboard for packaging applications and premium papers for magazines.   Paper mills are complex.  Some mills are integrated with pulping systems, while others rely on purchased fiber.  Pulping can be done mechanically (e.g. groundwood) or chemically (kraft pulping).  Depending on the grade and the application, there may or may not be bleaching involved.  And so on.  Ultimately, recycled fiber should be used in products where it does not create inefficiencies – and where it can displace fiber with a higher carbon footprint.

Which leads me back to reader comments that I felt were wrong.  I quote:

"An integrated virgin pulp mill can be extremely efficient from a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standpoint, but the reason for that is because methodologies for calculating carbon footprint do not measure all GHG inputs.  Some of the most respected NGOs would even say current methodologies are faulty.  For instance, most calculations of carbon footprint do not factor in the burning of biomass at virgin mills.  The burning of wood waste for fuel is treated as carbon-neutral.  This is considered by most NGOs to be an unintended loophole in the Kyoto Protocol, because burning biofuel definitely does generate GHG emissions—lots of airborne emissions in particular.  The commensurate GHG impact is not measured, however, because Kyoto says it does not need to be. If virgin paper producers did count the impact of their biomass practices, however, they would probably find that the GHG generated per ton of paper produced would be higher on an absolute basis at a virgin mill than at a purpose-built recycled mill."

Paper Person is absolutely right that there are emissions associated with biomass and that we do not count them toward our carbon footprints.  This is because biogenic sources of carbon dioxide (anything that comes from a plant) do not contribute to changing the overall composition of the atmosphere.  This is not a “loophole” in carbon accounting.  The methodology is grounded in science and an understanding of carbon cycles.  I am not sure which NGO’s Paper Person is referring to, but the EDF, WWF, the IPCC, WRI, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more - all support the notion that biogenic sources of CO2 do not contribute to changing the composition of the atmosphere – i.e. they are not associated with global warming.    The benefits of renewable biofuels are also the backbone of federal (and state) legislation that support mandates for renewable fuels – like ethanol in gasoline blends and biomass for electricity generation.  Our challenge –as individuals and within industry – is to use less fossil fuels.

Yes, deinking facilities typically use less energy than virgin pulp mills.  But generally speaking, deinking facilities rely more on fossil fuels and therefore have a higher carbon footprint than an integrated kraft mill. 

To be specific, adding recycled fiber to Sappi’s highly efficient, integrated, virgin kraft mills in Cloquet, MN and Skowhegan, ME actually raises the carbon footprint of products made at those mills.

Readers are encourage to learn more about the sustainable use of recycled fiber by visiting our eQ Landing Page and downloading our whitepaper (Volume 2) here.


Note:  If you are affiliated with the publishing industry and not signed up to receive America’s Oldest e-newsletter – you are missing out. “Heard on the Web Media Intelligence” is a daily feed (3 pieces daily without fail) curated by Bob Sacks.  The newsletter tracks trends and emerging issues about magazines, the future of print, and the evolution of e-media.   While not a primary focus topic, there is also occasionally content about the environmental impacts of publishing.

Customer Council Series: Bill Gates Go

Bill Gates

Bill Gates is Director Paper, Print Media Services and Sustainability at Macy’s Inc. His responsibilities include managing the procurement of Macy’s marketing paper, printing and media services. He’s also a member of the corporate sustainability team leading sustainability initiatives through the supply chain.

What is the primary reason you have chosen to sit on Sappi’s Sustainability Customer Council?

Initially my interest in Sappi’s Sustainability Customer Council was to learn more about their sustainability initiatives and challenges and how they relate to our supply chain. But I have learned more about issues that challenge the paper industry as a whole. Also, there have been valuable takeaways applicable across industries through interaction with the other council members.

Could you give an overview of the type of things you have learned from working with this group?

Laura Thompson has a wealth of information on the subject of sustainability. I have used information on the “carbon cycle” and the “triple bottom line” at work and through other professional associations. Conversations on environmental, social and economic pressure points with this professional group have brought fresh perspective and solutions to some issues we face.

Sappi’s Cloquet, MN paper mill has partnered with the local community to put by-products to good use - as a soil amendment to help local farmers. 

This story is also featured in Volume 3 of our eQ Journal.

Customer Council Series: Nan Faessler Go

Nan Faessler

Nan Faessler is Business Development Director at xpedx and an xpedx Sustainability Advisory Board member. Her responsibilities include implementing the xpedx Sustainability Platform, handling outreach to xpedx Sales Professionals and clients in the Pacific Group, and new business development — partnering with clients whose sustainability values align with xpedx.

Could you give an overview of the type of things you have learned from working with this group?

I’ve learned so much from the Sappi Sustainability Council team members, and in particular, Dr. Laura Thompson. She speaks “geek” and has a remarkable ability to speak to us in layman’s terms. Because of her, I can actually describe to others what encompasses the Greenhouse Gas Protocol-Scope one, two, and three. This would not have been possible before my participation on Sappi Fine Paper’s Sustainability Customer Council.

It was an eye-opener to learn that the largest impact on Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in a printed project resides with the manufacturing of the paper. Not the harvesting of the trees, not the transportation, not the actual printing, nor the end of life, but physically making the paper at the mill.  This was eye-opening to learn and is just one example of how my understanding of sustainability in the paper and printing industry has expanded since joining the Customer Council.

What is your favorite aspect of the meetings?

Sappi is very smart in bringing together various stakeholders to educate us on their sustainability initiatives and advance their sustainability goals. Sustainability Council members have enriched my understanding of environmental issues as they pertain to paper and print. Collaboration within the Supply Chain, up and down stream, is really the only way to approach Sustainability. All the environmental issues are too big to be addressed or answered by a single entity. 

The camaraderie that has been built among the Council members has been fantastic. We have been meeting several times a year for the past three years; most members have participated at all meetings and we have recruited new members as space has allowed. Overall, the Council is a fair representation of our current industry and we have all learned a lot from each other and from Sappi. 

Introducing The eQ Journal #4 Go

You can view the view the new Journal online at http://www.na.sappi.com/eQ/journals.html.

eQ Journal #4

Paper recovery increased by 1.2 million tons in 2011, lifting the U.S. paper recovery rate to a record-high 66.8 percent. That’s up from 63.5 percent in 2010 and 33.5 percent in 1990, the base-year from which the industry’s original 40 percent recovery goal was benchmarked.

More great news about paper recovery!!

Recycling statistics from www.paperrecycles.org

Closing the loop within the paper supply chain Go

It seems every few month I get an inquiry asking whether we can create a “closed loop” product for one of our customers – taking their waste paper, recycling it and making paper with recycled content for subsequent orders.

While we’ve looked at this for a wide variety of customers (large and small) in different regions (near and far) the result routinely comes up the same.  In theory we could do it – but I have yet to conclude that we should do it.  To understand this outcome, herein I offer an overview of our supply chain. 

We make coated fine papers (for magazines, catalogs, brochures and direct mail) at our facilities in Skowhegan, ME and Cloquet, MN. These mills are fully integrated kraft mills – meaning they start with raw wood, convert it to pulp using the kraft pulping process, and then we consume the pulp on site to make paper.  The vast majority of our wood is sourced within 125 miles of our mills and by-products from the pulping process (e.g. bark and black liquor) are used as renewable energy sources at the mills.  The overall result is a highly efficient operations with  low carbon footprints from cradle to gate.

When we utilize recycled fiber – the supply chain is altered dramatically.  First off, we are limited in the type of fiber that can be processed to meet the quality needs for our products.  The most common acceptable source of fiber is office waste (i.e. photocopy or desktop printer paper).  This fiber has to be collected from a variety of sources and delivered to a deinking facility.  For competitive purposes, we do not like to disclose our specific suppliers, but a quick Internet search will reveal that there is a limited number of deinked pulp suppliers within North America. 

Deinking of paper is a multi-stage process that involves screening, flotation deinking, cleaning and bleaching of fibers.  While the total energy consumption of this process is lower than kraft pulping – our suppliers utilize primarily purchased electricity and fossil fuels – which ultimately results in a higher carbon footprint than our virgin kraft pulp.  (Its important to remember that greenhouse gas emissions are tied not only to how much energy is utilized, but what type of energy is utilized – for more info, see Chapter 2 of our eQ Tool) Once the paper is processed into deinked pulp (DIP) it is dried and put into bales for transportation to our mills.

To complicate matters further, our DIP suppliers source from multiple paper stock vendors.  They are not waste haulers nor do they operate material recovery facilities (MRFs – commonly pronounced as “murfs”).  One of our suppliers reportedly sources scrap materials up to 1500 miles away from their facility. So connecting of our customers to one of our deinked pulp suppliers is possible – but not as straight forward as one might think.

The current demand for scrap paper exceeds supply.  If we can keep paper out of landfills it will get consumed – either domestically or overseas.  (There is a large and growing demand for our fiber; especially in China).

So, rather than trying to force connections within the supply chain – I offer the following advice to customers:  If you want to “close the loop” on your paper usage – think more holistically than your own consumption.  To measure attempts toward closure – you can keep track of what you purchase and recycle.  Consider setting goals for zero waste or 100% recovery.  But don’t focus on making sure your scrap fiber ends up in back your paper products. Instead, it is more important to  be sure that it gets recycled as efficiently as possible.