The Link Between Forest Fires and Your Paper Choices

Photo by André Bessa.
Photo by André Bessa.

Originally published in Printing Impressions by Canopy Campaigner Catherine Stewart.

Record-breaking heat is blasting the southwest as fires devour parts of California, New Mexico and Arizona. Eighty-thousand people were recently evacuated from the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray as fire raged through Canada’s boreal forest. Another dry, hot summer with the risk of more massive fires looms across much of North America.

What does this have to do with printing?

Good question.

It is well documented that the carbon footprint of printing is mainly attributable to paper. Several studies have shown that 48-79% of the carbon footprint of books, magazines and catalogs comes from the manufacturing of paper and only 4-17% of the carbon footprint of a major printed product is attributed to the printing process itself.

Only one of these studies tracked printed products back to include carbon loss from the forest of origin of the paper. That U.S. Book Industry Report on Environmental Trends found that 61% of carbon emissions associated with book publishing were a direct result of the loss of carbon-rich forest biomass. In other words, 61% of the carbon footprint of paper comes from the loss of forests!

As ancient and endangered forests are cut and carbon-rich soils disturbed, we exacerbate the impacts of climate change and lose the high carbon-absorbing capabilities of these intact forests. The climate changes, the temperature rises and the forests dry out and burn.

Yes, trees can be replanted. And yes, young trees absorb carbon. But look to the weight of scientific evidence and it’s clear that newly planted seedlings and second growth plantations cannot — and do not — replace the carbon storage capacity of intact tracts of undisturbed ancient forests.

This is why printers can make such a significant contribution to mitigating the impacts of climate change. Taking steps to choose low carbon footprint papers that don’t come from high carbon value forests, sourcing recycled papers, opting for FSC certified or paper made from straw leftover after the grain harvest are meaningful ways to help reduce the impacts of climate change.

For many brands, working with sustainable printers and using sustainable papers is an increasingly important aspect of meeting their own green business targets. For printers, it can be a performance indicator that differentiates them from competitors in an increasingly tight market.

In May 2016, Canopy released an update to our award-winning Blueline Report,which profiles the environmental performance of North America’s largest printers. It ranks major printers on a set of 28 key criteria giving consumer brands the information they need to choose print partners who are leaders in environmental performance. The rankings also enable printers to assess their own performance relative to peers across the sector. The top sustainability performers in the North American print sector were EarthColor, Hemlock, The Printing House Canada and TC Transcontinental.

The update comes within a year of its original publication and reveals significant improvements in the environmental performance by numerous large players in the sector as well as a widening gap between the leaders and those who are “slow to move.”

  • Seven of North America’s largest printers occupy the top 10 of Canopy’s Printer Ranking, proving that being successful goes hand and hand with sustainability.
  • Using The Blueline Report as a guide, major print customers have approached their printers about their performance, resulting in improved rankings and new printer engagement with Canopy during the past year.
  • Of the top 50 North American printers, 20% have now developed endangered forest commitments with Canopy.
  • Arandell completed a policy with Canopy and moved up from #15 to #6 in the ranking. Many other printers have been actively engaged on supply chain improvements and/or improved sustainability content on their website.
  • Sandy Alexander was the biggest mover in the ranking, rising 10 points to place 15th, up from 25th in late 2015.
  • The top sustainability performers in the North American print sector were EarthColor, Hemlock, The Printing House Canada and TC Transcontinental. The gap between these leaders and printers that are slow to move continues to widen. Now, only seven of the top 30 printers in North America have no substantial sustainability content publicly reported.
  • A few of North America’s largest printers such as Quad/Graphics, Cenveo Inc. and Deluxe Corp. have not yet engaged to increase transparency on robust sustainability indicators. Canopy looks forward to constructive discussions with these printers in the coming months.

As one of North America’s print elite, your paper choices make a difference in the world. Smokey the Bear’s famous words, “only you can prevent forest fires,” may have been aimed at careless campers and hikers — but an updated version would surely point out that you can help by making paper purchasing decisions that alleviate the impacts of climate change.

We invite you to work with Canopy to ensure you’re making the best paper choices for our common future.

To see the full updated assessment of printers visit The Blueline Printer Ranking.