By Kathi Rowzie, President, Two Sides North America
You’ve no doubt seen the impassioned ENGO fundraising claims warning that “billions of trees are cut down each year to make paper products,” and as a result, “deforestation is accelerating at a rapid pace.” Their suggested solution to this “deforestation crisis and its climate impacts” is to eliminate the use of wood fiber to manufacture paper products – 50% by 2030 – and replace it with recycled content or so called “next generation” alternative fibers.
But as President John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” And the fact is that sustainably produced North American paper products are not a cause of deforestation, no matter what some ENGOs say or how many times they say it.
Deforestation is defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other credible environmental organizations as the permanent conversion of forestland to non-forest uses. Every five years, the UN FAO publishes its Global Forest Resources Assessment, a comprehensive report on the state of the world’s forests. Its most recent report states, “The rate of net forest loss decreased substantially over the period 1990–2020 due to a reduction in deforestation in some countries, plus increases in forest area in others through afforestation and the natural expansion of forests.” The UN FAO also reports that those areas of the world that consume the greatest amount of wood have the least amount of deforestation – areas like the United States and Canada.
Yes, deforestation remains a problem, particularly in the developing world due primarily to the conversion of forestland to agricultural crops for animal feed. But net forestland in the U.S. actually increased 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, even in the face of deforestation driven by rapidly expanding urban development and climate change, and net forestland in Canada remained stable during the same period (UN FAO).
Thanks in great part to the sustainable forestry practices advocated by the paper and forest products industry, the annual increase in U.S. tree volume is roughly twice the amount that is harvested (US Forest Service, USFS). By law, every hectare of forestland that is commercially harvested on Canada’s public lands (94% of all Canadian forestland) must be reforested (Natural Resources Canada, NRCan). Only 0.2% of Canadian forestland (NRCan) and less than 2% of U.S. forestland (USFS) is harvested annually, and the vast majority of that harvest is used for non-paper purposes.
Recycling as much paper as possible is indeed a desirable environmental goal, and recycling is critical to a more sustainable, circular economy. In the U.S., 68% of paper and paper-based packaging gets recycled, and the recovery rate for corrugated cardboard stands at an amazing 91%. But paper can be recycled only five to seven times before its wood fibers become too weak to bond into new products, making the use of only recycled content a practical impossibility. If fresh wood fiber isn’t continuously added to the manufacturing stream, the supply of recycled fiber would quickly run out and paper production would cease.
Expanding the use non-wood fibers to meet the growing global demand for paper products, especially packaging, can be an environmentally sound option, and for some uses they make sense. But suggesting that wood fiber simply be replaced with non-wood alternatives as a one-size-fits-all solution to deforestation and climate change ignores both the science and economics of papermaking.
In North America, it is the consistent demand for responsibly sourced paper products that provides the economic incentive to keep land forested and sustainably managed, land that might otherwise be converted to non-forest uses. However, in countries where wood resources are scarce, such as China and India, non-wood fibers including purpose grown fibers and agricultural residues, have been effectively used in papermaking. Wood, agricultural crops and crop residues are all important sources of papermaking fiber. Which sources make the most environmental and economic sense are inherently driven by:
Those who genuinely want to solve the problem of deforestation and its climate change impacts need to stop following the “dictates of their passion” and focus on real world, fact-based solutions that will make a meaningful difference for our planet.
Simply put, certification labels are a quick and easy way to tell consumers that the wood fiber in the paper products they buy and use comes from sustainably managed forests. The certification systems behind those labels provide the proof that’s true.
Certification is a voluntary, market-based incentive system that’s implemented through two separate but linked processes: sustainable forest management certification and chain of custody certification.
Forest Management Certification
The United Nations describes sustainable forest management as a “dynamic and evolving concept that aims to maintain and enhance the economic, social and environmental value of forests for the benefit of present and future generations.” Forest certification, which covers the certification of actual forestland, assures that forests are responsibly managed in line with challenging environmental, social and economic requirements.
This certification involves a voluntary process in which an independent, accredited third-party auditor conducts an onsite assessment to determine the quality of forest management against these requirements, typically referred to as forest management standards. These forest management standards are developed in an open, transparent process by a public or private certification organization and are adapted to local context to reflect different forest types and cultural considerations in different regions of the world.
Forest management certification is issued to a forest owner or manager who is assessed to be managing forests according to the standards. Often times, auditors request that land owners make changes in their management practices to better conform to the certification standard before certification is awarded. Landowners and land managers who have completed a successful audit can then make claims their forests are certified to these standards, and sell wood fiber off their land as certified. A summary of certification audit findings is made publicly available in support of these claims.
Forest certification increases the value of forests by building consumer trust, which in turn creates additional demand for forest products like paper and paper-based packaging. Creating additional value and demand for these products is one of the best ways to keep forests standing because it prevents them from being permanently cleared for alternative land uses like urban development.
Chain of Custody Certification
Chain of custody (CoC) certification tracks forest-based products from sustainable forests to the final product. It demonstrates that each step of the supply chain is closely monitored through independent auditing to ensure that unsustainable fiber sources are excluded. Chain of custody certification is available to those who process or trade certified wood products, such as manufacturers, mills, paper merchants, converters, printers, wood dealers, wood yards, wholesalers and brokers.
A CoC system, coupled with a product label identifying the certification system, helps consumers make informed choices by verifying that any paper or paper-based packaging labeled “certified” was produced with wood from a sustainably managed forest.
Forest Certification Standards
While there are dozens of different forest certification standards in use around the world, they share many of the same basic objectives. All demonstrate an additional measure of commitment to sustainable forestry and are effective mechanisms for encouraging and expanding a responsible marketplace for print, paper and paper-based packaging.
The Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification™ (PEFC™) standards account for the vast majority of certified forests and chain-of-custody certificates around the world.
Forest certification programs operate at a national or regional level. An important mission of PEFC™ is to evaluate and endorse national and regional standards, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) standard available in the United States and Canada, and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard.
Over 770 million acres (312 million hectares) are managed in compliance with PEFC’s™ internationally accepted sustainability benchmarks. Three quarters of all certified forests globally are certified to PEFC™ standards. PEFC™ has 55 national members and 50 endorsed national certification systems around the world. 750,000 forest owners are PEFC™ certified globally. Approximately 13,000 PEFC™ chain-of-custody certificates have been issued globally, with 253 in the United States and 176 in Canada.
In North America, the growth of SFI® forest management certification leads all other standards with more than 375 million acres (150 million hectares) certified. Among the SFI® Forest Management Standard’s requirements are measures to protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk, the rights of indigenous peoples, workers’ rights (including gender equity), and forests with exceptional conservation value. SFI® accounts for nearly 35% of global certified forests and 46% of PEFC™ certifications worldwide.
FSC® forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers while ensuring it sustains economic viability. Approximately 533 million acres (216 million hectares) globally are certified to the FSC® standard, with 37 million acres (15 million hectares) certified in the United States and 121 million acres (49 million hectares) certified in Canada. Approximately 52,000 FSC® chain of custody certificates have been issued globally, with 2,143 issued in the United States and 508 in Canada.
Global Certification Status
According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment (2020), approximately 11% of the world’s forestland – about 1 billion acres (426 million hectares) – is certified, with the majority of certified forestland in North America and Europe. This is net certified area, owing to the fact that some forests are certified to more than one standard. Canada has by far the most with 413 million acres (167 million hectares) certified, followed by Russia with 133 million acres (54.1 million hectares) and the United States with 94 million acres (38 million hectares). These three countries together account for more than 60% of the world’s certified forest area.
If you’ve been following Two Sides or other authoritative sources, you know that the paper products you use do not contribute in any major way to climate change. Why? Because most of the energy used to manufacture them is generated using renewable, carbon neutral biomass. But what does this really mean?
The life cycle of paper, like that of any other widely manufactured and used product, does involve the emission of carbon – the key element in most greenhouse gases. However, with paper, there’s a critical difference.
To put it simply, the carbon released from burning biomass does not contribute to climate change, while the carbon released from fossil fuel does.
Biomass, also called biogenic carbon, is carbon that is absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in trees and other vegetation through photosynthesis. When that biomass later decays in the forest or is burned – either in forest fires or as fuel in a paper mill – its carbon returns back to the atmosphere in an endless natural loop that continuously recycles the same carbon atoms (called the “terrestrial carbon cycle”). Consequently, no new carbon is added to the environment.
On the other hand, the carbon from fossil fuels originates from deposits that have been stored in the earth for tens of millions of years. When coal and oil are extracted from those deposits and burned for energy, “new” carbon from outside the terrestrial carbon cycle is added to the atmosphere. The result is a net increase in greenhouse gases. And that is what’s warming the climate.
In an interesting take on the difference between the two sources of carbon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture compares them to the relationship between landlords and tenants. Biogenic carbon emissions are like tenants who “stay only the duration of their short-term leases, and politely leave over time as the regenerating forest calls them back,” while fossil fuels are “carbon tenants who squat permanently in our home and change the balance we previously had.”
Think about it. Humans have been burning biomass – especially wood – as a primary source of heat for millennia. Yet, as paleoclimatologists have found, not until the industrial revolution, with its massive reliance on fossil fuels, have greenhouse gases begun to increase so dramatically in the atmosphere. Before the widespread use of fossil fuels, the maximum concentration of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) held steady at a maximum of around 280 parts per million (ppm). Since then, however, that concentration has climbed to over 500 ppm, and it continues to increase.
The work of the national and international agencies and bodies directly responsible for the study, regulation and accounting of greenhouse gases is based on the fundamental finding that fossil fuel carbon, not biogenic carbon, is the problem. Among these organizations are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency, the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, to name a few.
It follows then, that a biomass-based industry like papermaking, which uses and emits mostly biogenic carbon, is not a major contributor to climate change. In fact, that’s what the numbers show. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Natural Resources Canada report that the pulp and paper industry in their respective countries is responsible for only 0.5% and 1.2% of total annual CO2-e emissions. The IPCC states that over the course of a year, the CO2 emissions from the combustion/oxidation/decay of biomass are balanced by carbon uptake prior to harvest, so the net emission is zero. IPCC also states that when used to displace fossil fuels, wood-based fuels can provide sustained carbon beneﬁts and constitute a large [carbon] mitigation option.
It is true that over the life cycle of paper, some carbon is released as greenhouse gases other than CO2. For example, paper that decomposes in landfills releases methane. However, the more paper products are recycled, the less methane is emitted, and paper is recycled more than any other material in the United States. By reducing the amount of paper products going to landfills through recycling, U.S. greenhouse gases emissions were lowered by 155 million metric tons of CO2-e in 2018 – the equivalent of taking over 33 million cars off the road for an entire year, this according to the U.S. EPA.
The recent United Nations global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, brought the world’s leaders together again to try to reach agreement on further commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. High on the agenda was preserving the health of the world’s forests – a critical natural resource for absorbing these emissions.
With this heightened international attention on preventing deforestation, primarily in the developing world, now is a good time to remind ourselves that the North American forests that supply the wood fiber for our paper and packaging products are among the most sustainably managed in the world.
They are so well-managed, in fact, that our forests continue to be a net absorber of carbon. In the United States, sustainable forest management practices, the regeneration of forest area and modern harvesting practices resulted in a net sequestration of carbon every year from 1990 to 2019, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) reports that U.S. forests annually capture and store 14% of economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions. Natural Resources Canada reports that forestlands capture and store around 19% of all carbon dioxide equivalents emitted in the country.
The production of wood and paper products is a powerful economic engine and driving force in keeping North American lands forested. By providing a dependable market for responsibly grown fiber, the paper industry encourages landowners to manage their forestland instead of selling it for development or other non-forest uses. More than half (58%) of the forestland in the U.S. is privately owned and managed, mostly by millions of small landowners, and they are under no obligation to keep their lands forested. Without the economic incentive provided by the forest products industry, untold millions of acres of forestland would likely have been lost permanently to commercial land development – converted to building projects, strip malls or parking lots.
For proof, look no further than countries where there is little economic incentive to keep lands forested. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment, those areas of the world that consume the least amount of wood have the greatest problem with the kind of deforestation that the Glasgow conferees were trying to address.
Compare that with North America’s forest products industry. While they were producing the wood and paper products that enrich the lives of consumers, net forest area in the U.S. grew by some 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, according to the UN FAO, and Canada’s forest area of 857 million acres has been stable over the same period. By law, every acre of Canadian forest that is commercially harvested must be regenerated.
In the U.S., the net average annual increase in growing stock on timberland is about 25 billion cubic feet, according to the USFS, and forests in the U.S. annually grow nearly twice as much wood as is harvested. USFS also reports that tree harvesting in the U.S. occurs on less than 2% of forestland per year in contrast to the nearly 3% disturbed annually by natural events like insects, disease, and fire, and most of this harvested wood is used for non-paper purposes. Harvesting in Canada occurs on only 0.2% of forestlands, while 4.7% is disturbed by insects and 0.5% is disturbed by fire, this according to Natural Resources Canada.
The Glasgow summit also kicked off a discussion of the inherent advantages of bio-based materials – like paper and paper-based packaging– in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and their potential role in a more broad-based, circular bio-economy. The FAO released a report demonstrating how renewable wood-based products can help combat climate change and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
According to Dr. E. Ashley Steel, Forest Statistics Expert at the UN FAO:
“There is strong evidence at the product level that wood products are associated with lower GHG emissions over their entire life cycle compared to products made from GHG-intensive and non-renewable materials. Wood and wood-based products are generally associated with lower fossil and process-based emissions when compared to non-wood products.”
The document left open for later study the extent to which paper and paper-based packaging may serve as substitutes for non-wood products in the search for those that contribute to the net reduction of greenhouse gases, but there’s little doubt that any product sourced from materials that are grown and regrown are better for combating climate change than the non-paper alternatives.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released updated projections about the effects of human activity on our planet, warning that inaction to immediately address climate risk will yield dire consequences. The IPCC’s conclusions and recommendations will no doubt be the subject of continuing debate, but there are three things that most people agree on: the climate is warming, humans play a role, and we need to do something about it.
However, without broad-based public understanding of how the environment works, there is an unfortunate tendency to believe that all manufacturing industries and processes must be part of the problem, a misconception that some in the ENGO community and the news media are only too happy to exploit. They push the thoroughly unscientific narrative that paper contributes massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, a byproduct of tree harvesting, manufacturing processes and paper waste. Far from mitigating climate change, it’s a narrative that could stifle an industry that is, in reality, a part of the solution.
Mitigating climate change demands a common-sense approach that is grounded in sound science, embraces proven strategies, and invests in driving continuous improvement. This approach, in a nutshell, is why the North America paper and paper-based packaging industry is a climate mitigation leader.
Paper’s Carbon Footprint
A look across the life cycle of paper shows that its carbon footprint can be divided into three basic elements: carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and avoided emissions. Each of these elements is influenced by important characteristics that distinguish paper from other products: it’s made from a renewable resource that stores carbon, it’s manufactured using mostly renewable, carbon neutral energy, and it’s easily recyclable.
Sustainable Forestry and Carbon Sequestration
Sustainable forest management, the cornerstone of the North American paper and paper-based packaging industry, helps increase the ability of forests to sequester carbon while also protecting and conserving other forest values like soil, air and water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. An infinitely renewable resource, healthy forests sequester carbon by capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and transforming it into biomass through photosynthesis. The carbon stored in forests helps to offset releases of CO2 into the atmosphere from sources like the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation (the permanent loss of trees).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that sustainable forest management practices resulted in net carbon sequestration each year between 1990 and 2018. As reported in the agency’s Inventory of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Sinks, U.S. forests and wood products captured and stored roughly 12% of all carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions in 2018. CO2e is a measure of the global warming potential of all GHGs compared to CO2. The Canadian government reports that forestlands captured and stored around 19% of the country’s total CO2e emissions in 2018.
Planting new trees and improving forest health through thinning and prescribed burning are some of the ways to increase the uptake of forest carbon in the long run. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the perpetual cycle of harvesting and regenerating forests can also result in net carbon sequestration in products made from wood and in new forest growth. In its 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment, the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization reported that net forest area in the U.S. increased by approximately 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, while net forest area in Canada remained stable at around 857 million acres during those same years.
The Paper Industry and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The North American paper and paper-based packaging industry was among the first industries to take voluntary action to reduce GHG emissions. Between 2011 and 2019, the U.S. industry reduced greenhouse gas emissions from 44.2 million metric tons to 35.2 million metric tons or 20%, according to the US EPA. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) reports that between 2007 and 2017 the Canadian industry reduced GHG emissions from 22 million metric tons to 13.1 million metric tons or 40%.
These reductions are attributed to the predominant use of carbon-neutral, wood-based biofuel (which accounts on average for around 60% of energy generation at North American mills), the switch from coal and oil to less carbon intensive fuels such as natural gas, and investment in equipment and process enhancements that improved overall energy efficiency. Contrary to the claim that the North America paper and paper-based packaging industry is a major contributor to GHG emissions, EPA and NRCan data show that U.S. and Canadian producers account for only 0.5% of total GHGs in their respective countries. A continuing increase in the use of biomass energy at North American mills has the potential to reduce GHG emissions even further.
Some in the ENGO community argue that because biomass releases just as much CO2 in the atmosphere as fossil fuels, it isn’t really carbon neutral. But the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other experts disagree. As DOE explains: “Burning biomass releases about the same amount of carbon dioxide as burning fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide captured by photosynthesis millions of years ago – an essentially “new” greenhouse gas. Biomass, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that is largely balanced by the carbon dioxide captured in its own growth.”
In other words, biomass contains carbon that was only recently removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis, and that same carbon is returned to the atmosphere as part of the natural carbon cycle when it is burned to generate energy. This inherent property exists whether or not trees are regrown. Sustainable forest management practices help make sure that biofuel use does not outpace forest regrowth. The IPCC concludes that, “Regardless of how carbon neutrality is defined and calculated, the use of forest biomass produced under conditions where forest carbon stocks are stable or increasing always yields long-term mitigation benefits.”
Avoided Emissions: Paper’s Recycling Success Story
When paper products are sent to landfills, they release GHGs as they decompose. When they are recycled, these GHG emissions are avoided. That’s a significant environmental benefit when you consider that around two-thirds of all paper and paper-based packaging is recovered for recycling in the U.S. and Canada, more than plastics, glass and metals combined. When you single out corrugated cardboard, the recovery rate jumps to nearly 90%. The US EPA reports that the amount of paper and paper-based packaging that was recycled instead of going to landfills lowered U.S. GHG emissions by 155 million metric tons of CO2e in 2018, an amount equivalent to taking over 33 million cars off the road for an entire year.
The North American paper industry continues to invest billions of dollars in technology to increase the types of paper products that can be recycled as well as infrastructure investments that expand recycling capacity. For example, U.S. producers have announced or planned $4.5 billion in manufacturing infrastructure investments by 2023, more than $2.5 million per day. The industry also is focused on “recyclable by design” innovations that help brands, retailers and other end users develop fully recyclable paper packaging by eliminating non-recyclable elements.
Paper producers’ commitment to sustainable forest management, the use of renewable, carbon neutral energy, and strong support and investment in recycling has transformed the circularity of paper products from vision to reality, and will help to drive further GHG emission reductions.
For more facts about the sustainability of print, paper and paper-based packaging, click here.
North American consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of the products they buy and use, and they want to do the right things. But when it comes to paper products, the right things are often buried under an avalanche of misinformation and outright falsehoods that are made to sound plausible. Environmental advocacy is too often wrapped in a veneer of misleading, science-sounding terminology, or worse, reduced to slogans like “paper equals deforestation” or “billions of trees are cut down every year to make paper packaging.”
Consumers are presented with images of endangered forests in faraway places like the Amazon and Borneo, the implication being that these forests are the source of trees for paper products manufactured in the United States and Canada. The only beneficiaries of these bait-and-switch tactics are anti-paper activists and paper industry competitors, not consumers or the environment.
Most consumers are fair-minded and justifiably concerned about deforestation, so it’s easy to see why many fall for this type of misdirection. A recent Two Sides North America survey showed that 48% of Americans believe paper is bad for the environment, and 60% believe U.S. forests are shrinking. The facts tell a different story. But these misconceptions will continue to proliferate if we don’t actively debunk the myths about paper and the forest.
Every person in the print, paper and paper-based packaging value chain can play an important part in this effort. Sustainable forestry is a comprehensive, science-based approach to protecting and conserving this vital natural resource. But you don’t need to be a scientist or have a special degree to credibly participate in the conversation. All it takes is a basic understanding about the foundations of sustainable forestry and a few facts from credible sources to make the case.
First, let’s lay a little groundwork.
Most people think sustainable forestry simply means planting trees to replace those that are harvested. While that’s certainly a critical element, sustainable forestry is about so much more than that. The U.S. Forest Service defines it as meeting the forest resources needs and values of the present without compromising the similar capability of future generations.
Going far beyond just the physical act of reforestation, sustainable forestry is a land stewardship ethic that integrates the growing, harvesting and regeneration of trees for useful products with the protection and conservation of soil, air and water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity, forest contributions to global carbon cycles, aesthetics, and long-term social and economic benefits that meet the needs of society. Achieving these objectives is a tall order, and U.S. and Canadian paper and paper-based packaging companies are instrumental in making it happen. Yes, because it’s the right thing to do, but also because their very existence depends on a thriving and sustainable supply of trees to manufacture the products consumers want and need.
Few enterprises on earth have the benefit of so vast or scientific an infrastructure to promote sustainability and the protection of landscapes and natural values as the North American paper industry. This infrastructure links paper companies; university forestry schools; federal, state and provincial foresters; landowners and loggers; silviculture and soil experts; wildlife biologists; conservation groups; forest certification bodies and others to lead world-class forest stewardship.
Partnerships among these diverse entities drive innovation and real-world sustainability progress grounded in research, the continuing evolution of forestry best management practices, education and training for loggers and landowners, and targeted initiatives to address emerging challenges. In addition, certification organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative rigorously audit forestry practices on the ground to independently certify to paper consumers that the products they use come from responsibly managed forests. More than half of the world’s certified forests are in North America (UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 2020).
Here are a few key facts to help make the case that paper is not “destroying forests.”
North American forests are a renewable resource and are not shrinking. U.S. forest area grew by 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, and net forest area in Canada remained stable at 857 million acres during the same period (U.N Food and Agriculture Organization, 2020).
Tree harvesting in the U.S. occurs on less than 2% of forestland each year compared to the nearly 3% disturbed annually by natural events like insects, disease and fire. (U.S. Forest Service, 2019)
About 89% of wood harvested in the U.S. comes from privately owned forests (U.S. Forest Service, 2019) which provide most of the wood for domestically produced wood and paper products. Demand for sustainably produced paper products provides a strong financial incentive for landowners to manage their land responsibly and keep it forested rather than selling or converting it for non-forest uses, which is the leading cause of deforestation in the United States. (U.S. Forest Service, 2019).
Thanks to innovations in sustainable forest management techniques, today’s private forest owners in the U.S. are growing 59% to 98% more wood (depending on geographic region) than they remove from their timberlands. (Forest2Market, 2021)
Over 90% of Canada’s forestland is publicly owned and managed by provincial, territorial and federal governments. Canada’s forest laws are among the strictest in the world, protecting forests and ensuring that sustainable forest management practices are followed across the country. (Natural Resources Canada, 2021)
Harvesting occurs on 0.2% of Canada’s forestlands annually, while 4.7% is disturbed by insects and 0.5% is disturbed by fire. (Natural Resources Canada, 2020)
For more facts about the sustainability of the North American paper industry and its products, visit www.twosidesna.org/two-sides-fact-sheet.
All too often we see email footers with negative and misleading messages about the environmental impacts of print and paper. Messages like “Think before you print – Our forests will thank you” and “Please consider the environment before printing this email” imply that electronic communication always has a lower environmental impact than printed materials.
But this conclusion is not supported by credible and reliable scientific evidence. Such claims not only fail to consider the growing environmental footprint of our electronic infrastructure, but also ignore the unique sustainable features of print and paper.
Paper is made from a natural, renewable resource (wood from trees grown in sustainably managed forests) and is one of the most recycled commodities in the world. Nearly two-thirds of the energy used to produce paper in North America comes from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass. When produced and used responsibly, print on paper is an environmentally sustainable way to communicate.
So, if you need a more convenient or permanent copy of your emails, don’t feel guilty about printing them! But be sure to recycle those you don’t need as a permanent record.
If you’d like to share the great sustainability story of print and paper in your email footer, here are a few alternatives to consider:
• Responsibly produced paper has unique sustainable features. It comes from a renewable resource and is highly recyclable. If you print, please recycle.
• The demand for sustainably produced paper supports sustainable forest management in North America. The income landowners receive for trees grown on their land encourages them to sustainably manage, renew and maintain this valuable resource.
• Paper is one of the most recycled products in the world and is made from trees grown in sustainably managed North American forests – a natural and renewable resource.
• Paper is based on a natural and renewable raw material – trees. Sustainably managed North American forests are good for the environment, providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.
• Print on paper is a practical, attractive, and sustainable communications medium. If you print, please recycle.
You can find more great email footers to promote the sustainability of print and paper here. We’ve also created an Information Sheet on Alternative Email Footers that you can download and share with your colleagues, customers and other stakeholders.
For more information and supporting facts related to our suggested email footers, be sure to check out our Two Sides Fact Sheets.
Earlier this month, the global forestry advisory body to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) released details on how sustainable forest management and forest products are well-positioned to drive a healthy, green and inclusive recovery as the world continues to face serious challenges related to COVID-19. In its statement, the Advisory Committee of Sustainable Forest-based Industries (ACSFI) referenced the essential role that forestry and forest products have played during the pandemic – and how they can help drive much-needed economic recovery.
ACSFI is a statutory body that guides FAO on issues concerning the sustainable consumption and production of forest products. It also provides a forum for dialogue between FAO and the private sector, with a view to identifying strategic actions that promote sustainable forest management. The United States and Canada are represented on the committee by American Forest and Paper Association President and CEO Heidi Brock and Forest Products Association of Canada CEO Derek Nighbor, respectively.
The ACSFI statement highlights that during the pandemic, forest products have played a crucial role in keeping people safe and healthy by providing personal protective equipment and other supplies and services, including hygiene and sanitary products, biomass for heating, ethanol for sanitizer, respirator paper, and packaging for food and other goods. In order to continue the uninterrupted supply of these products, the paper and forest products sector has been appropriately recognized in many parts of the world, including the United States and Canada, as an essential service.
As policy makers work to enable sustainable approaches to COVID-19 recovery and support industries that can help ensure a better future, the ACSFI advises that sustainable forest-based industries provide:
The paper and forest products industry and our workers across North America continue to embrace this call to action by delivering quality products with health and environmental benefits, practical solutions to lower our carbon footprint and family-supporting jobs for our people. The ACSFI global statement confirms that we have opportunities to do even more.
You can read the full ACSFI statement here.
Across all environmental issues related to the manufacture of paper-based products in North America, the harvesting of trees for wood fiber is arguably the most familiar, yet also the most misunderstood. Decades of misguided marketing messages that suggest using less paper protects forests along with deliberate anti-paper campaigns by environmental groups that twist scientific facts to suit their own agendas have left many feeling guilty for using products that are inherently sustainable. They are made from a renewable resource, are recyclable and are among the most recycled products in the world, and are manufactured using a high level of renewable energy – all key elements in a circular economy.
So, what’s the most effective way to reverse the misconceptions of those who believe the North American print, paper and paper-based packaging industry is shrinking U.S. and Canadian forests? It’s simple: Show them the data.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been monitoring the world’s forests at five- to 10-year intervals since 1946. The FAO’s 2020 global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) presents a comprehensive view of the world’s forests and the ways in which this important resource changed between 1990 and 2020. The data from 236 countries were collected using commonly agreed upon terms and definitions through a transparent, traceable reporting process and a well-established network of officially nominated national representatives. These include the USDA Forest Service and Natural Resources Canada.
Since 1990, there has been a net loss of 440 million acres of forests globally, an area larger than the entire state of Alaska. A net change in forest area is the sum of all forest losses (deforestation) and all forest gains (forest expansion) in a given period. FAO defines deforestation as the conversion of forest to other land uses, regardless of whether it is human-induced. FAO specifically excludes from its definition areas where trees have been removed by harvesting or logging because the forest is expected to regenerate naturally or with the aid of sustainable forestry practices.
In contrast, despite deforestation by urban development, fire, insects and other causes, total forest area in the United States actually increased and forest area in Canada has remained stable since 1990. This is due in great part to sustainable forest management practices implemented by the North American paper and forest products industry, the highest percentage of certified forests (nearly 50%) in the world, and laws and regulations aimed at protecting forest resources.
The world has a total forest area of around 10 billion acres or 31% of total land area. More than half (54%) of these forests are in just five countries – the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China.
Africa had the largest annual rate of net forest loss in 2010–2020 at 9.6 million acres, followed by South America, at 6.4 million acres.
While the net loss of 440 million acres of forest is troubling, there is some improvement in the global numbers. The rate of net forest loss decreased substantially over the period 1990–2020 due to a reduction in deforestation in some countries, plus increases in forest area in others through afforestation (establishing forest where none existed previously) and the natural expansion of forests. The annual rate of net forest loss declined from 19.2 million acres in 1990–2000 to 12.8 million acres in 2000–2010 and 11.6 million acres in 2010–2020.
While an estimated 1.04 billion acres of forest have been lost worldwide to deforestation since 1990, the rate of deforestation also declined substantially. Between 2015 and 2020, the annual global rate of deforestation was estimated at around 25 million acres, down from 30 million acres between 2010 and 2015.
Globally, 54% of forests have long-term forest management plans. FAO defines forest management as the process of planning and implementing practices for the stewardship and use of forests targeted at specific environmental, economic, social and cultural objectives. Around 96% of forestlands in Europe has management plans, 64% in Asia, less than 25% in Africa and only 17% in South America.
U.S. and Canada Data
According to the 2020 FRA, the United States and Canada account for 8% and 9%, respectively, of the world’s total forest area.
In the U.S., total forest area increased by 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, which averages out to the equivalent of around 1,200 NFL football fields every day. Canada’s total forest area remained relatively stable over the 30-year assessment period at approximately 857 million acres.
Approximately 59% of forestlands in North America has long-term forest management plans.
Help Spread the Word!
The North American print, paper and paper-based packaging industry plays a significant role in keeping U.S. and Canadian forests sustainable for future generations, and that’s something to be very proud of. One of the best ways to show that pride is by taking every available opportunity to bust the myth that the production of paper products destroys forests. For more facts to help you spread the word, check out our Two Sides fact sheet on Paper Production and Sustainable Forestry here.
Headquartered in Boston, Sappi North America (SNA) is an industry leader with more than 2,000 employees in the United States and Canada, and four mills with the capacity to produce 1.35 million metric tons of paper and packaging and 1.17 million metric tons of kraft, high-yield and dissolving pulp.
SNA has been a member of Two Sides since its beginning, and both organizations benefit greatly from this strong partnership. With its long-standing commitment to employee and product safety and its dedication to delivering products that meet customers’ needs for more sustainable solutions, SNA is an invaluable source of environmental expertise and thought leadership for Two Sides. With its global network and wide-ranging sustainability resources, Two Sides helps amplify Sappi’s voice in telling the great environmental story of print and paper products.
High on Sappi’s priority list is a continued commitment to productively engage in the circular economy through material waste reduction, product design for end of life, and carbon mitigation strategies. The company recently set ambitious new sustainability targets aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and has committed to the Science Based Targets initiative to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
As part of his broader role in pursuing those targets, SNA Director of Sustainability Sandy Taft, who also serves on the Two Sides Board of Directors, is keenly focused on how to describe and promote the role that the forest products industry can play in carbon sequestration strategies in North America and globally, and views Two Sides as a valuable resource.
“Two Sides is an important advocate for the paper industry and one that Sappi is glad to support,” Taft says. “As a current Two Sides board member, I’ve been impressed with the organization’s dedication to creating an effective dialogue about the power of paper paired with their fact-based approach. The materials they develop often take scientifically complex ideas and make them accessible and easily digestible. For example, their robust social media content is available to members, and we use it at Sappi to raise awareness with our followers,” he explains. “Two Sides is a valuable contributor to the global conversation about the sustainability of paper and paper-based packaging.”
Across its businesses, SNA is helping to accelerate the transition to a bio-based, circular economy. This includes unlocking the chemistry of trees to meet the challenges of a carbon-constrained world. “In a warming world with increasingly scarce resources, developing sustainable solutions in not just our responsibility, it is an opportunity that Sappi is embracing,” Taft says. “Trees are a renewable resource with enormous potential for broad-based advances that allow us to continue to sustainably deliver paper, packaging and other products that society needs while effectively addressing climate change.”
In addition to driving continuous improvement in the sustainability of its papermaking operations, Sappi is exploring alternative uses for wood fiber. By developing innovative new processes and biomaterials that extract more value from each tree, the company seeks to provide sustainable, low-carbon alternatives to materials commonly used today. For example, the company’s new Symbio bio-composite product aims to replace traditional materials in auto components, thus reducing total vehicle weight and significantly reducing the carbon footprint of vehicle emissions.
Sappi North America, Inc. is a subsidiary of Sappi Limited (JSE), a global company headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, with more than 12,000 employees and manufacturing operations on three continents in seven countries and customers in over 150 countries. For more information, visit www.sappi.com.