The Dogwood Alliance and ForestEthics just released Green Grades 2009—a report card on paper practices of the office supply sector. Environmentally responsible purchasing of paper is easy, and large purchasers are making greener purchasing decisions, helping to build markets for recycled post-consumer paper while at the same time protecting the world’s forests, endangered wildlife, water quality and indigenous communities.

Easy as One, Two, Three

The report outlines three easy steps to green your paper purchasing:

  1. Minimize use of paper.
  2. Avoid paper from Endangered Forests and other controversial sources.
  3. Choose paper with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content and with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for the remaining content.

Criteria For RankingThe report evaluates the companies environmental performance in six crucial forest-related categories: Chain of custody, Endangered Forests, plantations and other controversial sources, responsible forestry/FSC certification, recycling and reduction and other leadership.

Not a Big Push for Recycled Content

FedEx Office (formerly FedExKinkos) and Office Depot got the highest grades (A- and B respectively) for their paper policies.

While recycling and reduction were part of the performance criteria considered, the report doesn’t push very hard on the issue of recycled content.  And both FedEx and Office Depot both won points for shifting their copier paper to FSC without so much  as a comment on recycled content.

While the FSC label ensures that responsible forest practices are being used, maintaining a diversity of plant and wildlife species, minimizing use of chemicals and impacts to water quality and protecting endangered areas,  I honestly don’t understand why office and copier paper can’t be 100% recycled post-consumer content.  Like toilet paper, it makes no sense to me to kill trees for typical office work.  When I worked with the City of San Francisco Department of Environment, they debunked the myth that recycled paper jams copiers. A simple adjustment kept the copiers and printers running smoothly.

General Retail Sector Flunks Out

Major “Big Box” stores flunked out–WalMart/Sam’s Club got a D+ and and Costco a F for sourcing paper from Endangered Forests, caribou habitat and other controversial sources. Overall, this sector has the farthest to go.

Model Paper Purchasing Policies

Office Depot’s paper procurement policy is available on their web site and is one potential model to look at if you are developing a procurement policy.

The Forest Ethic’s web site includes a Model Forest Resources Policy that includes detailed guidelines on recycled content.

The Final Word

The report concludes that “Some of the companies do not have meaningful paper policies, are sourcing large amounts of paper from controversial sources, and are perpetuating the greenwashing of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and other industry-driven “certification” schemes. And since most companies still have at least some Endangered Forest fiber somewhere in their supply chain, consumers should buy Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and recycled content paper regardless of where they shop.”

It is a mystery to me why the report does not make specific recommendations on the recycled content issue.  Am I missing something here?


Deborah Fleischer, founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies identify key environmental issues, strengthen their relationships with stakeholders, develop profitable green initiatives and communicate their successes and challenges.

Since majoring in environmental studies in 1983, Deborah’s career has focused on environmental issues in both the public and private sectors. She is an expert in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications. You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact.

Sustainability Consulting Bay Area

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