10 questions to ask about wood and paper-based products

Pine forest
CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Here’s how to ensure a long and healthy relationship with the forests that bestow us with their gifts.

Humans have relied on trees ever since our earliest history, but the relationship hasn’t always been so kind to our arboreal cohabitants. Thankfully, now we are gaining a better understanding of how to take care of forests and plantations.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) – a CEO-led organization of innovative companies based around sustainability and business – sees forest loss and degradation as a global priority requiring immediate and concerted action: “It is critical we find ways to ensure that more of the world’s forests and plantations are sustainably managed and that forest products are used and reused wisely.”

And with that in mind, the group recently issued a statement, which, among other things, recognizes and supports a group of independent forest certification and associated chain-of-custody systems, including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. In addition, the WBCSD, with the World Resources Institute (WRI), released guidance to help procurement managers make informed choices. In it, they list 10 key questions to consider when buying wood or paper-based products.

Here’s what to ask:

1. Where do the products come from? Traceability is the ability to track sources of wood in finished products through the supply chain to – as close as is practical – their origins.

2. Is information about the products credible? Knowing the context and conditions surrounding the harvesting of the raw materials and the manufacturing processes of the products is important. One way to ensure this is through third party verification - an independent party verifies that a supplier and/or its products conform to a certain standard. Independent, third-party verification is generally considered to provide more assurance.

3. Have the products been legally produced? There is no universally accepted definition of illegal logging and associated trade. Strictly speaking, illegality is anything that occurs in violation of the legal framework of a country. However, over the past few years several countries have created definitions of illegal logging within public procurement policies and trade regulations

4. Have forests been sustainably managed? The movement for sustainable procurement of wood and paper-based products is driven to a large extent by the concern for how forests are affected by wood production.

5. Have unique forest values been protected? There is no universally agreed upon definition of a unique forest value, but one or more of these categories are usually involved: Biological, ecological and landscape features; Conservation features; Ecosystem services; and cultural, livelihood, historical and spiritual features

6. Have climate issues been addressed? Climate and forests are intrinsically linked. As a result of climate change, forests are stressed by higher mean annual temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and more frequent and extreme weather events. At the same time, forests mitigate climate change through uptake of carbon, and the loss of forests through land-use conversion and forest degradation causes carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change

7. Have appropriate environmental controls been applied? Different types of pollution can occur in many different places along the supply chain for wood and paper-based products. The amount and intensity of emissions depend on the type, condition and capacity of the equipment causing pollution and the location of the discharge points. The degree of deviation (i.e., lack of compliance) from legally established emission thresholds is also an important factor and the opportunity for continuous improvement exists.

8. Have fresh and recycled fiber been used appropriately? The paper industry uses both fresh and recovered fibers as raw materials. Fresh fibers, or wood, are sourced from natural forests and tree plantations. Fresh material is broken down into wood chips and converted to pulp in mechanical or chemical processes. Fiber can also be recovered as by-products in industrial processes or after consumer use. By-products, known as post-industrial, pre-consumer materials, include sawmill residue, residue from the making of wood pulp, and trees that are too small or crooked to be cut into lumber. Post-consumer materials are collected from end consumers after paper-based products are discarded.

9. Have other resources been used appropriately? Efficiency in the use of water, raw materials and energy, paired with demand reduction, is another aspect of sustainable procurement.

10. Have the needs of local communities or indigenous peoples been addressed? It is estimated that nearly 500 million people, 200 million of whom are indigenous peoples, depend on forests for their livelihoods. Protecting and respecting the rights of local communities, indigenous peoples, and workers in the forests is an important part of sustainable procurement.

To dig further into these questions and the issues surrounding them, see 10 Things You Should Know.

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