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CSRlive Commentary

09.01.2009 - 05:49PM

Category: Environment

Papering the Office Green

Billbauephoto


By CSRwire Contributing Writer Bill Baue of Sea Change Media

Early last month, Mark Elis of JustMeans posted a comment on the site about “the debate on paper vs. pixels” that evolved into a fascinating conversation on which is more eco-friendly: paper or digital. Gregory Hilbert of the Green Education Network questioned the value of the “versus” framing, which “detracts from recognition of the urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint of everything we do.” He cited a supporting article by Don Carli, the Institute for Sustainable Communication Senior Research Fellow and green media guru, who then weighed in welcoming the debate. “The greatest impediment to an informed debate about the environmental preferability of given instances of print and digital media is [the] lack of adequate credible data upon which to make comparisons,” Carli said.

Stepping outside the comparison onto the paper side of the equation, now comes more data to inform decisions on where to buy environmentally preferable paper from the Environmental Paper Network: the Green Grades Report Card. The third annual iteration, based on research by ForestEthics and the Dogwood Alliance, finds FedEx Office and Office Depot in the upper canopy with overall grades of A- and B respectively. Both are driving positive change, for example by prioritizing Forest Stewardship Council certified paper, but neither is perfect -- “FedEx Office’s paper policy isn’t the most detailed,” and “some of [Office Depot’s] paper still comes from caribou habitat in Canada and tree plantations in the US South,” according to the report.

Way down below in the underbrush are big box retailers like Walmart and Target (D+ for both). The case of Walmart is particularly confounding, given the giant steps the retailer is taking on other sustainability fronts, such as wood and packaging. “Its paper policy … does not address millions of tons of newspaper inserts [and the] company is also sourcing from International Paper and other suppliers connected to Endangered Forest logging and tree plantation conversion,” the report states.

Subterranean companies with failing grades include wholesale/distributors Xpedx and PaperlinX (along with its subsidiary Spicers), which all declined to substantively participate in the survey, thus leaving unanswered questions about their sourcing. In addition to describing their shortcomings, the report also spotlights both companies as case studies in greenwashing. Xpedx trumpets the “long history of environmental stewardship” of its parent company, International Paper, a claim ForestEthics and the Dogwood Alliance question in light of IP’s support for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, an industry-sponsored certification scheme that has been criticized from all corners.

The report ends spotlighting Paperlinx’s spurious pronouncement that paper is “made from a renewable resource and is completely recyclable” -- despite the fact that the company scores D- in recycling, and sources timber from caribou habitat and endangered forests that are not “renewable” once the trees are removed. These are the kind of data that can support consumers to make more sustainable choices.

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