Market Issues

Environmental certification – Only a marketing tool or an unavoidable necessity for tissue suppliers?

Environmental certification – Only a marketing tool or an unavoidable necessity for tissue suppliers?

Disposable goods belong to the items carefully watched by environmentalists and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). A “use and throw away” culture does not belong to the basic philosophy of these groups. Converted tissue products are disposable, and they can hardly be recycled with only minor exceptions (converting waste and washroom paper towels in principle, although they seldom are). For this reason, tissue products have been a recent focus for several NGOs, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in particular. It is possible that tissue paper products can have high environmental impacts if produced without attention to sustainability. Recently, a growing number of tissue companies have paid increasing attention to sustainability issues, as environmental certification has become a standard requirement set by many corporate and institutional buyers. Third-party certification programmes assist tissue manufacturers and suppliers in making environmental performance claims credible.

Environmental certificates are also used as a marketing tool to sell green products, signaling to buyers that they are making more responsible choices. An environmental label on the package helps consumers identify those products that have been certified. However, many issues related to environmental certification are not fully transparent. First of all, there are various environmental certification schemes using different criteria in defining environmental sustainability. Those schemes can be divided into three groups based on their breadth:

1. Single-Attribute Certification Programmes, which address only one environmental attribute of a product, such as recycled content, for example.

2. Multi-Attribute Certification Programmes, which address multiple environmental attributes of a product and provide a more comprehensive assessment of the overall environmental impacts, while remaining reasonably simple to implement.

3. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Certification Programmes, which address the complexity of multiple environmental attributes of a product over its entire life cycle. LCAs provide a very coprehensive assessment of the overall environmental impacts, but are exceedingly complicated to implement and cannot be used as a practical tool.

In tissue, several attempts have been made to establish LCA benchmarks including all elements in tissue making from raw materials to chemicals and energy use. But the problem is how to be able to combine the tissue producer’s responsibility with its suppliers’ sustainability in a reasonable way. Chemicals are normally made on an extern location and delivered to the mill and pulp or recovered paper is supplied by third parties – problems exist even though the supplier may have its own certification available. Recovered paper is seldom classified by its source or by what origin of paper it exactly contains; pulp, on the other hand, is probably easier to define (FSC certification for pulp is becoming increasingly common). The same problem exists for energy which is purchased from a public net: who can 100% guarantee that it is based on hydrogen power, windmills or solar cells, as electricity does not bear any different characteristics originating from the production method – only suppliers can do this in their promotion. But this is not 100% plausible in a serious LCA analysis. The common debate typically concerns a product’s carbon footprint – I have seen varying results for whether virgin pulp or recovered paper is yielding a better result, but it all depends on what elements are considered in the comparison.

For this reason, the existing respected environmental certificates are based on the two first categories of certification programmes, with multiattribute programmes dominating. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) years ago published the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG), a typical single-attribute assessment addressing recycled content and defining minimum post-consumer recycled fibre content for various tissue products. But if we compare two of the main North American environmental certification systems for tissue, Green Seal™ and EcoLogo™, we can see how different the certification criteria are. Green Seal™ requires products to be based on 100% recycled fibre and minimum post-consumer waste content; EcoLogo™ does not. Green Seal™ excludes the use of chlorine and chlorine derivatives; EcoLogo™ does not. And Green Seal™ specifies environmentally preferable product packaging; EcoLogo™ not. EcoLogo™ concentrates more on other issues, such as resource and energy consumption, solid waste production, waste water effluents and governmental and industrial safety. This means that these two systems have partly contradictory criteria to qualify: there is no chance to qualify for Green Seal™ without 100% recycled fibre content in products, while EcoLogo™ requires low solid waste generation and, therefore, products containing even low amounts of recycled material are unlikely to qualify.

In Europe, the national or sub-regional schemes, such as the German Blue Angel and the Nordic Swan in Scandinavia, were the first certification schemes, emphasising the use of recycled fibre for tissue production. They were followed in 1992 by the EU Ecolabel scheme known as EU Flower, which was renewed about five or six years ago. The criteria of the EU Flower are not as strict as those of the Blue Angel and Nordic Swan – 100% recycled fibre use is not obligatory and the objective is to support sustainable development, balancing environmental, social and economical criteria. After long negotiation, the outcome was a kind of compromise. Too much compromising is probably the reason that the EU Flower has enjoyed only limited success in the tissue industry.

The main recent debates concerning sustainability have been focused on one company, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), in both Oceania and the United States. NGOs have strongly attacked APP and claimed it contributes to rainforest and wildlife habitat (tigers, elephants, orangutans) destruction in Indonesia when procuring wood for its wood pulp production and tissue manufacture. NGOs have been rather successful in their campaigning and all major retail chains in Australia and several major chains in the United States no longer source certain tissue brands from APP. The campaigns of the NGOs have been very provocative, showing a Sumatran tiger together with toilet rolls, to get people thinking about the issue.

‘The average consumer can certainly be confused by which product and which certification is the better choice.’Email: [email protected].

Environmental certification is certainly something which is helping rather than hurting the tissue industry. However, the main issue is that we have too many environmental certification schemes, including national and subregional schemes, but no single universal scheme as we do for some other forest industry products (such as FSC for pulp, for example). The average consumer can certainly be confused by which product and which certification is the better choice, and current environmental logos contain more marketing messages than hard facts. But this may change and more focus on sustainability issues should follow. However, it is unlikely that only one universal environmental certification system would be the outcome; the starting points of producers using virgin pulp vs. recovered paper are too different for a consensus to be possible.

Making Sense of Environmental Certification Programmes

At Tissue World Miami 2012, Cascades Tissue Group president and chief executive Suzanne Blanchet gave a talk on environmental standards entitled: Making Sense Of Environmental Certification Programmes. Here, TW summarises the findings of her talk.

“There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace concerning environmental standards, largely because there are too many. NGO’s are also making their own recommendations. But when it comes to which standard is best for your company, there are a set of guidelines that should be taken into account. A standard should:

“Protect consumers from myths, misconceptions, misleading information and corrupt manufacturers;

“Be credible, recognized and reputable, with scientific expertise while avoiding conflicts of interest;

“Raise the bar and stimulate manufacturers always to reduce their environmental footprint;

“Its standards have to be revised on a regular basis involving credible NGOs and industry experts;

“It audits manufacturers on site every year or every two years.”

Esko Uutela, principal, tissue, is the author of RISI’s new Outlook for World Tissue Business Study. He works out of RISI’s EU consulting office close to Munich, Germany, and can be reached at: Tel: +49-8151-29193 or Email: [email protected]