Do You Know Where Your Paper Comes From?

By: Karin King

Feb 23, 2022

Almost all of the world’s paper comes from trees. It’s a basic fact you probably learned as a child: trees are one of the world’s greatest renewable resources. We harvest trees to make paper, which can then be recycled. Meanwhile, new trees are constantly being planted, providing a home for wildlife and helping to purify our air and drinking water. It’s an idyllic picture of sustainable manufacturing, but is all paper made responsibly?

The Power of the Paper Consumer

Most designers have a favorite paper brand. They love the way it feels and how it makes their work shine. Likewise, all printers have a house sheet, the default stock they like to print on when their customer hasn’t specified something else. But how often do we think about the companies who manufacture these papers? 

You have the power to choose paper that comes from sustainable forest ecosystems, made by companies that are committed to protecting our environment. Deforestation is a real threat to our planet, but paper manufacturers have the opportunity to prevent deforestation through stewardship and responsibly managed working forests. Every time you buy or specify paper, you can shop your values by choosing sustainably-made paper.


The Key to Responsible Paper Production: Working Forests

The first question to ask is whether your paper comes from a working forest. A working forest is one that is harvested and replanted again and again in a way that helps to preserve the plant and animal ecosystems that live there. 

Maintaining land in this way helps to keep forestland forested — rather than losing forests to development or other land uses — while also creating jobs and fueling local economies. This model allows forests to thrive while also supporting the creation of the paper we rely on for education, communication and entertainment. It might seem counterintuitive at first, but demand for paper that comes from responsibly managed forests can actually result in more forestland.


Also Critical to Sustainability: The Paper Manufacturing Process

Just as important as where the trees come from is the process that is used to make your paper.

Paper is made by debarking and chipping trees and turning those chips into pulp. Paper products that have been recycled can also be pulped, and often paper that is made from post-consumer fiber is made from a combination of new and used fibers. 

The pulp is then dried, flattened and cut into rolls or sheets. This process involves a lot of water. Paper manufacturers who are conscious of water waste have processes in place to reduce water usage, reuse water as much as possible and return high-quality water to watersheds. 

In the same vein, paper can be made in an energy-intensive way using fossil fuels, or it can be made in an energy-efficient way. Paper manufacturers who have a commitment to sustainability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, at Sylvamo, we have made our processes more efficient by using renewable biomass.


How to Make a Sustainable Paper Choice

Does your paper come from responsibly managed working forests? Is it made by a company with commitments to sustainable manufacturing? In addition to asking these questions of the companies that make your favorite paper brands, you can look to reliable third-party sources such as the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to verify the responsible supply chain of your paper. Each of these organizations provides a chain of custody that shows where a paper manufacturer’s products originate. 

You can also choose paper that is made from recycled materials, such as Accent Opaque RE-30, which is made with 30% post-consumer fiber and is FSC certified. 

And, of course, one of the most basic ways to be a part of the sustainable life cycle of paper products is another lesson we learned as children: when you’re done with your paper, recycle it. 

Paper is a renewable resource, and we all have the power to help keep our forestlands forested by choosing paper brands that are made responsibly. To learn more about how we work with third-party partner organizations on conservation initiatives, download our Did You Know on Responsible Forest Management