New Guidance aids responsible sourcing of sustainable paper products

Eric DesRoberts, project associateand 1 more

January 30, 2014

3 Min Read
New Guidance aids responsible sourcing of sustainable paper products

GreenBlue's Forest Products Working Group has recently released the Guidelines for Sustainable Paper Products (Guidelines). They complement the SPC's Definition of Sustainable Packaging (Definition) and advance the larger GreenBlue goal of taking a broader, systems-based approach to sustainable products.


The working group developed the Guidelines, like the Definition, out of the need to articulate a common framework and understanding. By taking a full, life-cycle approach while emphasizing eight principal criteria, the Guidelines provide a framework for improving the sustainability of paper products, and will be used to inform future efforts of the working group. Although not all eight criteria are covered in this article, sections around Designing for the Life Cycle and Responsible Sourcing will be discussed that have clear insights and applications that extend beyond the paper products industry.


When thinking about paper products, sourcing is often the primary focal point. The Guidelines do not pick winners in the recycled, virgin or certified-content discussion, but they do provide information and points to consider that enable stakeholders to start prioritizing these attributes.


The Guidelines consistently iterate the importance of increasing the amount of certified and recycled fiber available, while acknowledging the tradeoffs and potential benefits from using either fiber source.


An often overlooked concept is the need for virgin fiber to create recycled content. Paper products have a limited capacity to be recycled due to fiber loss and shortening with each round of reprocessing. A steady supply of virgin content is needed and the Guidelines can help ensure that it is being sourced responsibly.


The Guideline's authors acknowledge the importance of optimizing the levels of these fiber sources and taking a systematic approach to assure net benefits are realized.


Rather than promoting or encouraging the sole use of any one sustainability attribute, they recognize the need to consider trade-offs that may ripple through the supply chain. This is a major concept in designing for the full life cycle.


The Guidelines also include topics like material health, renewable energy, supply chain transparency, technical and biological recovery, and social and economic value creation. The eight criteria all contribute to understanding how innovation at one phase affects every other life-cycle phase within the paper supply chain. This concept is at the heart of GreenBlue's work.


While the audience for this document is largely pulp and paper manufacturers, printers, merchants and brand owners, it is easy to see how its content extends into packaging and may share the phases within respective supply chains. In many instances, packaging will depend on forest products at some point, and many of the principles outlined in this document are applicable or tangential to other industries.


As the first deliverable of the Forest Products Working Group, the Guidelines are intended to be a living document and will evolve as the discussion around sustainable forest products evolve. Version 1.0 is a fundamental step and a statement of core values that builds a foundation for the group's future.


Author Eric DesRoberts is a project associate for GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
For additional information about the Forest Products Working Group, and the Guidelines for
Sustainable Paper Products, visit




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