July 23, 2007

Forest industry, paper users meet to share sustainability strategies

Sustainability of the forest resource was the theme of a recent environmental workshop held in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The event, organized by the Gravure Association of America (GAA) featured presentations on forest management practices, certification programs and corporate responsibility.

Among the more than 115 participants were multinational forestry companies such as UPM and Stora Enso; paper users including retailers JC Penney, Lands' End, Kohls, Macy's, Target and Office Depot; and publishers Time and Hearst Enterprises. The Forest Products Association of Canada, the Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service and the American Forest Foundation were also among the presenters.

"The room was filled with leading companies in competition with each other in their fields, but they came together to talk about common concerns and goals," GAA president and CEO Bill Martin observed.

"If you don't know the environmental (carbon) footprint of the paper you're buying, you could make a big mistake," said Phil Riebel, environmental director for UPM North America and a presenter at the workshop. "You can't rely on perception. For instance, the type of fiber--raw versus recycled--used to make your paper may have little to do with the overall environmental footprint. Using 100% recycled fiber in your catalogue or magazine paper could actually be less environmentally friendly than using raw fiber from certified forests when you consider the impact of processing and trucking the recycled fiber long distances to mills in rural regions."

Riebel pointed out that in Europe, where population concentration has made recycling more successful, UPM mills use a high portion of recycled fiber in paper production.

Time, the world's largest magazine publisher, has been tackling the climate change issue on several fronts. "The life cycle of a magazine begins in the forest and ends, too often, in public landfill sites where methane gases contributing to global warming are produced," said David Refkin, Time's director of sustainable development. Recent issues of Time and Sports Illustrated have featured climate change articles focused on public education and action.

On the supplier front, Refkin said Time will be working with paper companies on ways to reduce environmental impact. "We will be working on paper production, energy, distribution and recycling. We won't be sitting in our offices, asking our paper suppliers to do this alone; we'll be working with them," he said.

As another major paper user, Hearst Enterprises has also taken a leadership role in ensuring the sustainability of the forest resource. David Schirmer, the company's vice-president and general manager, noted that stakeholders in this sector are numerous and diverse. "It's difficult to consider them all, but we're trying to take a holistic approach to sustainability," he said.

Schirmer said his company relies on tracking and measuring systems to ensure that its paper comes from sustainably managed forests. "We have to balance the inherent conflicts, respect regional differences, listen to and learn from stakeholders and, very importantly, embrace continuous learning and improvement," he noted.

The GAA event, hosted by UPM Blandin Paper, was the first in a three-year series of workshops on the environment. The focus for this year is sustainability. Next year, a key topic will be energy efficiency and climate change. More information is available from Sharon Pond at UPM North America, 630/386-2681, E-mail sharon.pond@upm-kymmene.com.

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