Which office paper is the most sustainable?

With logging of old growth forests still a contentious issue in Australia and rainforest destruction continuing across the globe, companies and individuals need to think carefully about how to exercise their purchasing power if they desire a sustainable pulp and paper industry.

Now that technology has enabled the electronic storage of documents, environment and sustainability policies should focus on elimination of paper as the number one priority with a long term goal of the “paperless office”.  Such a transition presents a win-win for the environment and the economy due to the productivity gains of reducing office clutter together with easy retrieval and safe storage of records.  In the short term companies can reduce the consumption of paper with double sided printing as the norm, carefully implemented so that people don’t make mistakes and re-print.

The big question is that when its necessary to buy paper, which one is the most sustainable?  In an effort to help decision makers make sense of the many eco-labels that appear on reams of office paper, the Buying Better Project at the Total Environment Centre in Sydney released a useful policy on Printer Paper dated December 5, 2012.

They don’t endorse any particular product but suggest that the most important buying criteria are in the following order:

  1. Recycled content with 100% ideal and verification against ISO14021 desirable.
  2. A label from  a recognised sustainable forest management certification body such as the Forest Stewardship Council( FSC) or PEFC.
  3. Carbon neutral or carbon reduced,  if it is verified by a recognised 3rd party such as National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS).

The Buying Better Project guidance is the result of a simplified life cycle assessment (LCA) process which determined the most significant (material) stages in the lifecycle of office paper to be raw material (extracts and processes) and  manufacturing. Download the guide at: http://www.greencapital.org.au/projects/buying-better.html

12 thoughts on “Which office paper is the most sustainable?

  • Adam P
    January 3, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks, this is useful. In our small business we are now accounting for scope 3 GHG emissions and our two significant emissions are waste to landfill, business travel and purchase of office paper. Still not sure whether to buy “carbon neutral” office paper or not but your article and the analysis done by the TEC is good information.

  • Julie D
    January 4, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for the update and views on sustainable paper usage. I have been using 100% recycled paper in my small office without any difficulties, but as an environmental auditor, I hear many excuses as to why companies don’t use recycled paper. Excuses include “gets jammed more often” and “too expensive”. I have also seen paper supplies that have some kind of “green” label, but have no further information on the sustainability of the product, and these were generally manufactured in Indonesia or China.

    I would be interesting to hear more about whether recycled content paper is more liable to paper jams, or whether this is just an excuse!

    • Suzy Orme
      March 10, 2013 at 11:03 am

      Hi there Julie,

      Like you I’ve been using 100% recycled paper for years with no problems at all. I haven’t detected any difference in the quality and suspect the real reason for not using recycled paper is that it is slightly more expensive. A green procurement policy would fix that!
      If people are genuinely having problems with jammming, then its time for them to invest in a modern printer which is user friendly, faster and connects wirelessly to the internet. Printers these days are more energy efficient and have fewer VOC emissions than those previously on the market so they will improve indoor air quality and the likelihood of respiratory irritation in the user. Choosing the most energy efficient model will also save running costs.
      Of course all superceded electronic equipment should be disposed of in a responsible manner through an E waste collection service. This way components will, one would hope, be recycled or reused to minimise the impact at the end of life stage of the printer. I know you know all this though and I’m preaching to the converted! So best of luck out there in the trenches!

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