Posts Tagged ‘Paper Wars’

  • From the paper front – Print21 Magazine feature

    Print and paper manufacturers have invested a lot of time and money in developing a range of eco-labels designed to promote more sustainable practices within the industry. But are they worth it and are the print buyers getting the message? Not really, if the Paper Wars forum for printer buyers held in Sydney during May is anything to go by. Print21’s Simon Enticknap went along to find out why the current system of eco-labels isn’t working and what can be done to convince customers about the greening of the industry.

    The title of the event held in Melbourne and Sydney in May was revealing about current attitudes to that most basic component of the printing industry: ‘Paper Wars: Why is green procurement 101 still such a battlefield?’ Excuse me, but are hostilities still on-going here? I thought peace had broken out amid a plethora of certifications, recycling schemes and green logos. Surely everybody understands the issues now; what could there be left to fight about?

    Mind you, if it wasn’t for the mention of ‘green’ in the title and the fact that the event was organised by an off-shoot of the Total Environment Centre, anybody with even the barest understanding of the paper market might be tempted to ask, ‘Which war?’. Is it the geo-political trade war that sees countries and trading blocs wrangling to secure future access to markets and raw materials? Or is it the continuing struggle between paper merchants in pursuit of fewer and fewer customers in an ever-dwindling market? Or perhaps it’s the current brawl that keeps on spilling out into the open between shareholders of one particular paper company? If you’re looking for a paper fight, take your pick.

    Such conflicts point to the fact that paper, ostensibly such a simple, everyday consumable, is in fact a highly-contested, complex product – and there’s a lot at stake in its manufacture and use.Paper warriors: (l-r) Stephen Reardon, research manager from ECO-Buy, Luke Chamberlain, Victorian campaign manager from The Wilderness Society, Amanda Keogh, head of sustainability at Fuji Xerox Australia, and Gordon Renouf, chairman of Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA).

    The green fog

    The opening salvos at the breakfast event in Sydney were not very promising. One was a video about factory farming (!) while the other was a video which rehashed the usual mish-mash of misleading statements seeking to blame paper for the destruction of 80 per cent of the world’s ‘ancient’ forests. Please. It’s said that the first casualty of any war is truth but, really, there’s no need to insult our intelligence.

    Once the propaganda was out of the way, however, and the speakers and panellists began to present their views of the battlefield, what followed was an interesting and instructive look at the topic of printing papers.

    So how goes the war? If there is one word that might usefully sum up the current campaign map it would be ‘confusion’. Military strategists talk about the ‘fog of war’ and certainly that seems to be where most of the troops are at the moment; lost, wandering around blindly in a cloud of claim and competing claim.

    In part, this is due to the proliferation of certification schemes and green labels – this applies not just to paper but other products too – some of which are industry-sponsored, others of which are backed by environmental NGOs and a few that are little more than brand logos.

    In his opening address, Murray Hogarth, CEO of Green Capital, the organisers of the event, made the point that part of the confusion surrounding green labels is due to the fact that they are being made to represent complex processes. There’s a lot that goes into making a product such as paper and it is difficult for a single label to encompass the entire product life cycle in any meaningful way.

    “The perception of confusion is the reality, and that’s a big problem,” said Hogarth. “Many dream of a silver bullet, cover-all green ‘tick’ – and that’s a fantasy.

    “Much of the confusion is driven by real complexity. Just about everything is complex – footprint accounting, life cycle assessments, environmental management systems, labelling certifications, not to mention actually achieving sustainability itself.”

    No doubt too, there are businesses prepared to exploit this confusion for their own advantage, which invariably leads to accusations of greenwashing. Equally though there are eco labels that do work. The Energy Star rating was cited as one example of a labelling scheme that works well because it is clear, easily understood and backed by real data with a dollar value that enables consumers to make informed decisions. Paper, however, is a long way from achieving that goal.

    Hogarth outlined some of the work that Green Capital has been doing to develop local Buying Better programs. Rather than be all things to all people, the scheme looks at specific products – paper is one, others include meat and dairy, cleaning products and small electronics – and then focuses on just a couple of aspects of the product life cycle. For small electronics, for example, product design is important but not particularly relevant for Australia given that most of the gadgets are made overseas. End-of-life is a different matter, however, and one that can be tackled locally if we are to address the growing mountain of e-waste we hear so much about.

    For paper, the key areas are the raw material ie waste paper or wood, and the manufacturing process, how the paper is made and its environmental footprint. Again this makes sense as it concentrates on those areas which can make a real difference and where consumers are able to make informed decisions. Hogarth says Green Capital has consulted with stakeholders in the industry to develop its Buying Better programs and plans to issue “firm guidance” on printing paper that may include a template of buying decisions against which brands can be assessed.

    For some end-users, for instance, the main requirement might be carbon neutrality, particularly if they have strict carbon emission reduction targets. However, while Hogarth agrees this can be important, he doesn’t regard it as the first order consideration from an environmental perspective. More significant is the pulp source.

    “If you accept our contention that the source of the pulp is the most material issue, the first order decision is where the pulp has come from,” he said. “If, for example, you want to eliminate sourcing from any native forest, you can do that by buying 100 per cent recycled.”

    Growing the demand for recycled paper from its current level of around 20 per cent of printer paper sales in Australia represents “a greener market opportunity worthy of attention,” said Hogarth. It is also one which is being pursued by the Federal government which has signalled its intention to move to 100 per cent post-consumer recycled content in its copy paper by 2015 as part of its ICT sustainability plan.

    Hogarth also pointed to the proliferation of industry-backed websites as adding “a new level of complication” to the debate (singling out the Two Sides website as an example from the paper industry). It remains to be seen, he said, whether these resources which profess to address environmental issues are a positive development – a sign that the industry is really engaging with the problem – or more greenwashing. Either way, it reinforces the perception that this is a battle “being fought in cyberspace as well as on the ground”.

    “We can imagine a future iteration of Buying Better focused on these websites and social media campaigns in their own right,” he warned.

    No easy choices

    The panel session that followed returned to the issue of labels and certificates, or what one of the panellists, Gordon Renouf from Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), described as “the arms race of green claims”. There was general agreement that more simplicity and clarity was desirable in labelling but that there is no easy way to achieve that.

    “Labels are useful in a range of areas and the job is to understand which labels are credible and which are not, which ones do the job for the environment and which ones do some other kind of job, and to keep the pressure on labels to be as robust and trustworthy as we can,” said Renouf.

    Luke Chamberlain from The Wilderness Society reiterated the need to “look beyond the label” and recognise that while the simplicity of a green label might be appealing, it is not the answer in itself.

    “The decisions that you make in your day-to-day life are not simple decisions and although labels can help guide us, the devil is always in the detail,” he said. Labelling needs to be backed up by education, the role played by NGOs and a greater role for government policy that “removes the politics”, he added.

    Amanda Keogh, head of sustainability at Fuji Xerox and the only panellist with a direct involvement in the printing industry, said suppliers had a role to play as well and, as far as Fuji Xerox is concerned, it shares what it knows about paper and sustainability so that customers can make informed choices. In reply to a question from the floor, Keogh outlined how social media and technology such as QR codes, for instance, has the potential to provide more background information on product labels.

    “It’s going to give consumers a lot of transparency into what that label means and the information behind it,” she said.

    On the other hand, Stephen Reardon from ECO-Buy said consumers needed to do their own research and not passively accept what they are told by suppliers, although this is not always possible. “The criteria and process for determining whether something is green should be available, the criteria for the logo should be transparent and easily accessed,” he said

    The overall message then was for buyers to be aware and not accept the messages they are being given by suppliers at face value.

    Perverse incentives

    There was some sympathy for suppliers too. Gordon Renouf said there was a need for purchasers to co-operate with each other and to raise the level discussion about buying systems to deliver what they want rather than simply shifting the burden onto the suppliers to document their sustainability. Stephen Reardon said he’d like to see more resources being made available to help suppliers reduce their impact and to come up with products that are truly green while also lifting the level of debate with buyers in terms of their understanding, “so it’s not just suppliers sticking a label on something and buyers only looking for that label”.

    So if labelling is not the complete answer, what about direct regulation? Again, there are examples of targeted banning of products, eg the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs, that achieve environmental benefits more decisively than any amount of labelling and education. Could the same be applied to paper?

    Gordon Renouf commented that while there will always be cases of regulation to control the purchase of products that are no longer appropriate, that’s not going to apply to the majority of products. On the other hand, there is a role that governments can play in regulating what counts as an acceptable eco-label, something that could perhaps be performed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as part of its examination of misleading ‘green’ claims. In addition, Luke Chamberlain suggested that the powers of the ACCC to investigate greenwashing need to have “more bite”.

    “I can tell you there are labels out there today… that the claim they make on the package is absolutely untrue, but there is very little recourse for investigation,” he said.

    Sometimes, too, it’s not the regulation itself that can have an effect but simply the threat of it. For instance, the creation of a scheme in the 1990s for the kerbside collection and recycling of newspapers through the Publishers National Environment Bureau was partly in response to the perception that if publishers and paper manufacturers didn’t do something to promote recycling then they might be forced to do so by the government.

    The issue of ‘green tape’ is a hot topic at the moment, particularly given the competing claims of miners and environmentalists in parts of the country. Increased regulation is seen as ‘stifling’ investment and innovation, an example of the heavy hand of government. The key point in this debate, argued Chamberlain, is that not enough attention is paid to the underlying biases of the system, the existing regulations that, for instance, make it cheaper to log native forests than plantation forests.

    “Australia is resource-rich, and I’m not just talking about mines, I’m talking about the brains in the room here, the entrepreneurial spirit of this country, the relative wealth of this country, and yet we have perverse incentives out there that keep us attached to the past rather than the future.”

    Choose your certificate

    Inevitably, the question arose as to which paper certification is best from an environmental perspective – Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)?

    Luke Chamberlain pointed out that the PEFC certification is based on the Australian Forestry Standard which was originally designed for the logging industry. “In our mind, the Australian Forestry Standard is a process-based system whereas FSC is a performance-based system where there is a lot more scope for stakeholder consultation in the process,” he commented.

    Amanda Keogh agreed but said that the problem with FSC is that there is no national standard for Australia, only an interim standard, whereas the AFS/PEFC certification is an Australian standard. FSC is probably more highly regarded as a brand and that ultimately comes back to the issue of who is driving the development of the standard – the forestry industry or an NGO? Fuji Xerox supplies both FSC and PEFC products but, in terms of office paper, is moving towards only offering FSC-certified brands with a minority of specialty papers that are non-FSC.

    Even so, the enthusiasm for FSC certification was hardly overwhelming. Indeed, the point was made that there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ paper, ie one that ticks all the right boxes in terms of recyclability, sustainability and carbon neutrality. Certainly not a local one anyway or one that is readily available.

    “There are Australian-made recycled papers out there,” said Chamberlain, “but they are made by a company that is sourcing from the most carbon-dense forests on the face of the planet.

    “Unfortunately we have only one manufacturer of Australian-made papers. There’s no competition in this marketplace and for that organisation to say ‘Because we’re Australian-made, buy our paper’ is simply not good enough to us.”

    The main message given to this roomful of print buyers and procurement managers, eager to learn what is the right thing to do regarding paper and the environment, is that there are certainly options available – whether it’s looking at recycled, FSC, locally-sourced or carbon-neutral paper – but not one that will satisfy everybody.

    ‘If you know both yourself and your enemies, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss’ is a well-known saying from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. This event was a good opportunity for the industry to find out first-hand what green advocates think about paper and current environmental labelling, and what they are telling your potential customers. The few printers who were there no doubt benefited from gaining this knowledge.

    The event also came at the same time as a survey of printers in Europe conducted by EcoPrint revealed that about half were certified to some sort of environmental standard (most likely ISO14001 or FSC/PEFC). More revealingly though, of the other half, 40.5 per cent regarded certification as too costly and time consuming, 31 per cent didn’t see it as necessary as their customers did not require it, and a further 27 per cent saw no need at all.

    All of which suggests that the war is likely to drag on for some time yet. Stand by for more skirmishes.