Ten years ago, with support from a small group of far sighted funders, representatives from 56 national and grassroots environmental organizations joined together in northern California for three days to discuss how we might shift the marketplace away from ecologically inferior tree-based paper and towards ecologically preferable paper made from post-consumer recycled content and other ecologically preferable attributes.
The reason we came together was ecologically urgent: Along with the fossil fuel industry, the pulp and paper industry may contribute to more global and local environmental problems than any other industry in the world. Most of us don't think about these impacts when we casually buy and discard paper products, but the fact is that each and every day, in all regions on Earth, paper manufacturers reach deep into species-rich forests for timber, razing trees, polluting waterways and destroying precious wildlife habitat. Pulp and paper mills that rely on trees to make paper are among the largest consumers of freshwater of all industries, and are classified by the US EPA as major generators of hazardous air pollutants, including dioxins and other cancer-causing chemicals. And the industry is among the top industrial emitters of global warming pollution.
The outcome of that meeting ten years ago resulted in two historic initiatives: First, for the first time ever, all north American NGOs working on forestry and paper industry issues agreed upon ecological principles that became known as the "A Common Vision for Transforming the Paper Industry: Striving for Environmental and Social Sustainability" or "The Common Vision" for short. Second, we created the Environmental Paper Network, an organization designed to help all the assembled groups continue to coordinate and advance our ongoing messaging to the marketplace about ecologically preferable paper procurement and production.
Since then, the original signatories who crafted the Common Vision and created the Environmental Paper Network, have worked tirelessly to promote paper use reduction, a shift towards post-consumer recycled content paper, and ecologically better forestry practices by the world's largest paper companies. Our collective work has seen many successes, including the proliferation of responsible paper procurement policies by large buyers and historic conservation agreements and forestry reforms, all of which have been helping to accelerate the transformation of one of the world's most ecologically and socially impactful industries.
But despite our progress, much work remains and for that reason today, another important initiative related to the paper industry is being announced: A new "Global Paper Vision" for environmentally preferable paper procurement and production is being launched with the endorsement of more than 120 environmental NGOs working in every region on Earth.
Perhaps even more so than ten years ago, there is an urgent need to coordinate NGO and marketplace efforts to reform the paper industry: despite the proliferation of the electronic workplace, paper demand is projected to double within the next 30 years due to growing population and increasing consumption. But the Earth cannot afford another decade of business as usual in the paper industry. It is for this reason that the new Global Vision has been crafted, harmonizing regional concerns and visions from throughout the world about how paper procurement and production must be reformed.
According to the Preamble of the new Global Vision for paper procurement and production:
"We share a common vision of a forest, pulp and paper industry that contributes to a clean, healthy, just and sustainable future for all life on earth. We seek a world with new consumption patterns that meet the needs of all people while eliminating waste and over-consumption, where paper production is less reliant on virgin fiber and not associated with loss of biodiversity or forests, maximizes use of recycled materials, respects human rights including local people's land rights, provides employment and has social impacts that are beneficial, conflict-free and fair. We seek the successful transition to pulp and paper that is part of the solution to climate change and is made from responsibly sourced fibers, using entirely low-carbon, renewable energy, with water that is as clean after paper production as before, producing zero waste and zero emissions."
The Global Vision calls upon the transnational paper industry, consumers, retailers, governments, investors, and nongovernmental organizations to commit to the following priorities related to the entirety of the paper life-cycle:
• reduce global paper consumption and promote fair access to paper;
• maximize recycled fiber content;
• ensure social responsibility;
• source fiber responsibly;
• reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
• ensure clean production;
• ensure transparency and integrity.
Reforming the way paper is used and produced is not a political issue. It is an urgent ecological need. The transnational paper industry is contributing so greatly to so many global and local ecological pressures, from climate disruption and biodiversity loss to the pollution of local water supplies and the eradication of forest-based indigenous cultures, that even the non-partisan, non-political Green Sports Alliance, a coalition of more than 250 professional and collegiate sports leagues, teams and venues has endorsed the Global Vision. Bravo! to that group for doing so. Now it is time for all businesses, all consumers, all levels of government to follow the lead of the Green Sports Alliance and other NGOs to start asking "What's in Your Paper? and embrace the principles in the Global Vision for paper procurement and production in order to help protect life on our planet and the conditions that sustain it for future generations and, indeed, for ourselves.
To download a copy of the Global Paper Vision go to www.environmentalpaper.org/vision.