Guide does more than paper over cracks

Posted on December 11, 2007


metafore_graph.jpg There’s a useful guide out today from Metafore and the The Gagliardi Group . The Paper Consumer’s Guide to Climate Change (pdf) describes the role that paper and its forest-based lifecycle play in the greenhouse gas processes, and shows “how paper purchasers can take the initiative to tip the scales toward lower emissions”.

Papers are designed to be light – making them is heavy industry

It’s not always obvious which buying decisions yield the best results for reducing GHGs and producing real environmental improvement.

What I like about the guide is that it doesn’t gloss over the fact that balancing decisions for sustainability is a complex process: it makes no pretentious “What’s right” edicts. I don’t think they are doing this to obfuscate, decisions in the paper lifecycle are complex:

So, is it reasonable to assume that using increasingly higher percentages of recovered fiber in recycled-content paper products results in greater greenhouse gas reductions? Not necessarily. To get a clear picture, you first have to look at how much and what types of energy are used to collect, transport, clean and process post-consumer fiber versus virgin fiber, and then consider what type of energy is used to manufacture the end product.

But then they argue that despite this complexity, sensible decisions can be make based on”Lifecycle thinking as your internal compass”:

…you don’t need a Ph.D. in climatology or environmental science to understand how it affects your organization’s paper choices or to determine how you can contribute to real environmental improvement. From the forest through paper manufacturing to your doorstep and beyond, you have many opportunities to become a champion for positive change.

I like this “Lifecycle thinking as your internal compass” approach here a lot:

First, since you may not have the time or resources to develop your own comprehensive climate change expertise, you need to develop an internal compass for assessing the recommendations coming at you from different directions.

Principle 1: Remain independent.

Principle 2: Make science the foundation of all environmental decisions.

Principle 3: Apply lifecycle thinking.

I haven’t come across Metafore or The Gagliardi Group before. Metafore says they have a “has a proven, 10-year track record of delivering timely materials by translating complex topics into business action tools”. This report is a good example of that.

Gagliardi also seems to come from a sensible place:

You are likely to be asked to use your corporate purchasing power as leverage to create a market for “greener” products. For example, many corporate buyers are being pressured to choose products with specific environmental characteristics, such as those with higher percentages of recycled content, ingredients from more sustainable sources or more use of alternative materials.

The idea is to pressure your suppliers to make changes not otherwise required by law or regulation. But are these really wise choices for the environment? Without question, some are, and you should incorporate them into a coherent environmental purchasing policy. But others may not live up to the hype, no matter how appealing they sound. These are complex issues, and you owe it to your company and to the environment to examine them carefully to separate science from mere surface appeal.

I have one small niggle with the guide: some of the material hints at bias. Why are we not comparing apples with apples here? Supply chain from Metafore