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Go for the Green—Part I - 10/6/2009 -

If your association is ready to go beyond simply giving green publishing a little lip service, here's the nitty gritty of what you need to do.

By Dale Adams

EACH YEAR 4 BILLION TREES IN FORESTS AROUND THE WORLD ARE CUT DOWN TO MAKE PAPER, and increasingly these harvested trees are coming from endangered ecosystems, such as the Canadian boreal forest and the Indonesian rain forest. In addition, the paper industry is now converting natural forests to monoculture plantations, or tree farms, greatly reducing biodiversity, eliminating wildlife habitat, and requiring heavy use of chemical herbicides and pesticides.

The production of paper is both resource intensive and highly polluting. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the pulp and paper industry is the third-largest industrial consumer of energy and the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases among manufacturers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the industry is third among industrial sectors in the release of toxic chemicals to air and fourth in the release of toxic chemicals to water.

In the United States, environmental regulations are fairly well enforced; such enforcement is not guaranteed in other countries, particularly developing countries, where more and more paper is being made.

Most paper is not recycled and is instead thrown out, making up a third of the municipal waste stream. As paper deteriorates in landfills, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. EPA, municipal landfills are the largest source of human-related methane emissions, and a significant share of these emissions is generated by the decomposition of paper.

Therefore, conscientious publishers want to do all they can to minimize the harmful environmental effects of publication printing. Here are the top three strategies for green publishing:

  1. Maximize recycled content.
  2. Maximize use of certified virgin fibers.
  3. Choose greener production.

Maximize Recycled Content

The most significant step association publishers can take is choosing paper with recycled content. Maximizing post-consumer recycled fiber (from paper that has reached its end use) in your paper selection means:

  • Fewer trees cut down for virgin fiber and less pressure for intense forest management, including the conversion of forests to plantations, and for logging in endangered ecosystems;
  • Less energy consumed to produce the paper, even considering the energy required for the collection of recycled paper and its transportation to pulp mills;
  • Less pollution, including less carbon dioxide, since the work of extracting the fiber from wood and bleaching it has already been done; and
  • Less solid waste and thus less methane.

One hundred percent recycled is the ideal, of course, but it may not be possible to achieve this while also meeting your budget and print-quality objectives. The consensus standard currently emerging in the publishing industry is based on the U.S. EPA's requirement for federal agencies:

  • For uncoated paper: minimum of 30 percent postconsumer recycled content
  • For coated paper: minimum of 10 percent postconsumer recycled content

Still, there are publishers keeping to the highest standard and successfully using that fact in their marketing. For example, in 2003 Raincoast Books published the Canadian edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper.

Currently, though, recycled fiber makes up only six percent of printing and writing papers, so there is considerable room for growth. As more publishers demand recycled content from their paper suppliers, the result will be a more functional recycling infrastructure, more and better paper choices, and lower paper costs.

Maximize Use of Certified Virgin Fibers

So, how can association publishers be sure that the non-recycled virgin fibers in their paper come from forests that are not endangered and that are sustainably managed? It's pretty simple: The paper you buy should carry the label of a certification program, preferably the Forest Stewardship Council.

Through third-party auditors, forest certification verifies that forests are being managed according to a set of standards for sustainability. These are the main forest certification programs:

  • The Forest Stewardship Council. A nonprofit organization certifying forests internationally, FSC was created in the early 1990s by environmental groups concerned about deforestation and unsustainable logging and developed with input from both industry and non-industry stakeholders.
  • The Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Certifying forests in the United States and Canada, SFI was created by the American Forest and Paper Association for its members but is now a separate nonprofit organization with more independence from the timber and paper industry.
  • The Canadian Standards Association forest certification program. CSA does not itself set forest performance standards but allows them to be defined in local forest management plans, which may or may not go beyond minimal Canadian and provincial legislative requirements.
  • The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes. PEFC simply endorses national and regional forest certification schemes—such as SFI and CSA—so weaknesses in those programs also apply to PEFC.

When you buy paper labeled by any of these programs, you can be assured that the trees were harvested legally and that the forests were managed according to basic sustainability standards. However, only FSC is endorsed as the best-practice standard in forest management by the major environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, and World Wildlife Fund.

Because paper will be made with fibers from various forests, FSC also calls for chain-of-custody certification, which verifies that paper mills, distributors, and others handling fibers along their course keep track of those fibers. For paper, FSC has three on-product labels:

  1. FSC 100%. All fibers come from FSC-certified forests.
  2. FSC Mixed Sources. Fibers come from FSC-certified forests, recycled paper, or company-controlled sources, which are forests where harvesting is legal, where high conservation values are not threatened, where civil and traditional rights are protected, where genetically modified trees are not grown, and where there will be no conversion to plantation or to nonforest use. The label may indicate the percentage of postconsumer recycled fiber.
  3. FSC Recycle. All fibers come from postconsumer recycled paper. With this label, you can be assured of recycled content.

If you wish to print an FSC label on your association's publications or print any claim regarding your publications' FSC content, the paper you use must carry an FSC label, and your printer must be FSC certified. The printer will provide you with the correct label or with proper wording for a claim regarding FSC content.

You will be showing responsibility by using paper with any of these labels, but as with choosing recycled paper, it may not always be possible to choose FSC-labeled paper. You cannot choose paper with a percentage of FSC-certified fibers, as you can with recycled fibers, so you need to aim for a percentage of all paper purchased. The Green Press Initiative recommends an annual aggregate average of at least 20 percent FSC-labeled paper.

More Information

  • Green Press Initiative. GPI helps publishers minimize environmental impacts through tools and resources, including supplier listings, toolkits, and sample environmental policies.
  • Green America Better Paper Project. This project helps magazine publishers implement environmental stewardship policies and purchasing practices through discussion forums, webinars, reports, and other resources.
  • Environmental Defense Paper Calculator.This Web-based calculator shows the environmental impact of different papers across their life cycles, allowing variables of paper grade, quantity per year, and recycled content.
  • The State of the Paper Industry: Monitoring the Indicators of Environmental Performance by the Steering Committee of the Environmental Paper Network. This comprehensive report addresses fiber sourcing, recycling, consumption, paper production, and the paper industry's impact on communities and the climate crisis.
  • Handbook on Book Paper and the Environment by the Association of American Publishers. This guide assists publishers in navigating the development of environmental sustainability practices within the book publishing industry.
(Editor's note: In Part II of this article appearing in the next issue of In Touch, author Dale Adams explores the printing and production requirements for green publishing.)

Dale Adams is president of Wordfirm Inc. Association Media & Publishing thanks him for volunteering to provide this comprehensive green printing article to our members.


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