GENEVA, Sept. 20, 2010 (RISI) -After nine years with WWF I am moving on to new challenges. So it's a good time to look at the past performance and the future challenges on the sustainability in the paper industry.
Over the last seven years WWF has been actively developing its work on pulp and paper. Built upon our strong forest teams we have involved our experts on toxics, energy and freshwater, believing that we could add some value by joining up the thinking. Aided by other NGOs and large paper buyers, we developed a comprehensive and balanced approach to advocating for best practice across a range of sustainability issues facing the industry.
The industry has listened. Over the last years there has been an improvement in performance both on wood sourcing and on manufacturing processes. Particularly pleasing has been a more rapid uptake by the paper industry of FSC certification. Corporate reporting has also improved - reports are not only more comprehensive, but also focussed on the important issues. Whilst parts of the industry are improving, there is of course much to do: in a globalised world we all need to work harder on making a level playing field for the good guys.
The next phase
WWF is in the process of re-energising its work on paper and so over the last year we have again engaged behind the scenes with the paper industry and paper buyers, to help improve our key resources and tools for paper buyers. This has led to two new initiatives, one already launched.
WWF'sPaper Company Environmental Indexwas launched in July, and offers pulp & paper companies the opportunity to show what they have done to reduce their environmental footprint.
www.panda.org/PaperCompanyIndexFive fine paper companies (Mondi, Stora Enso, UPM, M-real and Domtar) have led the way by reporting on their performance across fiber sourcing, CO₂ emissions, water pollution, landfill waste and transparency in reporting. A number of other companies have since contacted WWF expressing their interest to join an updated list.
In next few months, WWF will launch another supplementary initiative to promote a "greener" paper market: WWF'sCheck Your Paper. Based upon the criteria used in WWF's Paper Company Environmental Index, this will be a global on-line paper catalogue, where paper buyers can easily search for paper products and compare their footprint. It covers responsible fiber, water pollution and key CO₂ emissions, and offers an opportunity for paper manufacturers to showcase their paper products' environmental performance.
One area that is not included in the criteria is the new and evolving work on water footprint. This is a hot topic across many industries, though the responses needed to address individual mill impacts are not ones that an individual company or mill can take alone. Rather the responses are likely to be about public policy on water allocation and the role of all water users in a watershed, so for now in our view, this does not fit into a product guide or label. WWF's freshwater team are active in both the Water Footprint Networkhttp://www.waterfootprint.org/and the newer Alliance for Water Stewardship.http://www.allianceforwaterstewardship.org/. We recommend that pulp and paper companies be active participants in both these bodies.
The final activity of WWF's work on the paper sector is the focus on the increasing role that plantations are playing in global wood supply, especially as they are established in tropical and sub-tropical areas. WWF'sLiving Planet Index, due to be published in October, shows that tropical ecosystems and Asia in particular are losing species and biodiversity at the highest rate on the planet.
WWF's New Generation Plantation project (see PPI March 2010) is providing practical guidance to plantation managers to the best in design and management of the new generation of plantations.
From Green Paper Company to a Green Economy
For the last three or four decades we have lived in a world where there were few limits to growth - indeed development was based upon growth. We are now in a different world: the WBCSD 2050 Vision, and WWF's upcoming Living Planet Report highlight the constraints on resources that we face. At the same time increasing consumption above a certain income threshold, is not leading to improved wellbeing, prosperity or happiness.
In a world of resource constraints therefore we will all need to focus on wasteful and artificial consumption. I differentiate between the two: with wasteful being a consumer choice - taking two paper napkins when one will do; whilst artificial consumption is "supply push" where pricing and other incentives encourage consumers to buy more (than they need) in order to keep the paper machines operating at capacity.
Selling more volume will not be a viable strategy for all for the future, either for the planet or for the industry, at least in existing high income markets. Fortuitously this situation arises at a time when parts of the paper industry in Europe and North America, have structural overcapacity which needs to be addressed. The paper industry is not unique in facing this challenge, but it is in an easier place to deal with it because it has options to grow in (particularly) Asia, and into new markets like biofuels.
But what does this say about the future of paper - will it just be in packaging and tissue grades? PPI has recently featured articles on the impact of technology on printing and writing grades. Steve Jobs even made it into the RISI Top 50 Power List. Printing and writing applications should have a sound future, but the industry may need to carry out some soul searching, to find a way to position paper as an indispensable product whilst losing the "artificial consumption" mindset in Europe and North America.
As a start it needs to understand consumers love hate relationship with paper. Sustainability in the office environment is almost defined by staff bemoaning the waste of paper as they stand over the photo-copier. Yet just yesterday at the office we received the final layout of a major report we are working on. It came through as a pdf file. Everybody immediately wanted a print-out to review it. There are just some things that demand to be printed on good quality paper and held in your hand. Back at home we all complain about junk mail, yet try lounging on a sandy beach, fingers fresh from applying sun cream, reading your favourite magazine or book on an electronic book reader or PDA.
So the future is taking shape: marketing directors just need to sit with their CFO to work out how to move away from the current marketing strategy built upon artificial consumption.
A Different View
As for me, after over nine years, I am leaving WWF in September to take up an appointment as a special advisor on sustainability at Nestlé. One area of focus will be paper packaging. Nestlé is one of the world's largest buyers of paper and packaging, and it is currently in the process of updating its paper packaging purchasing guidelines. As an industry contact observed the other day, I've turned from poacher to gamekeeper to poacher. Or should that be the other way around?