5 messages about paper and sustainability

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In a time where sustainability is at the forefront of global conversations, the paper industry stands as a shining example of environmental responsibility.

But what makes paper sustainable?

Circular economy: One of the most recycled materials

Industries are increasingly looking to design products based on circular economy thinking to position themselves for the future. And yet the paper industry is, and always has been, based on these principles. Did you know that paper is one of the world's most recycled products, with a recycling rate of 71% in Europe and close to 70% in North America? Made from renewable resources, it forms a perfect example of circular economy. 

UPM Communication Papers is a trailblazer in the circular thinking, aiming to optimize resource efficiency and reduce waste and inefficiency by making the best possible use of materials during production and after use. UPM Communication Papers has a zero waste target for 2030, and already today, 94% of process waste is recovered or recycled.

Sustainable forestry: Made from renewable resources and highly certified

Europe’s forests grew by an area larger than Switzerland between 2005 and 2020, but only 15% of consumers believe that forests are growing, not shrinking (Two Sides Trend Tracker, 2023)​.

UPM ensures 100% traceability of wood through a third-party verified Chain of Custody. FSC and PEFC certifications guarantee sustainable wood sourcing, avoiding tropical rainforests or converted plantations.

When it comes to certification, the paper industry is a highly certified industry, for many areas of the value chain. The EU Ecolabel has the widest scope of criteria, such as use of recovered fibre, emissions, chemicals, and waste management. All UPM papers have been awarded at least one of the leading ecolabels.

Climate: Continuously improving and moving towards net zero

The paper industry is playing an important role in energy transition. From electrifying steam production for reduced CO2 emissions to stringent emission reduction targets, UPM Communication Papers is taking big actions to reduce its emissions.

UPM is aiming for a net-zero future, through ambitious reductions across the entire value chain to limit global warming to 1.5˚C. Recognized with a triple ‘A’ score by the global environmental non-profit CDP, UPM is set to reduce own emissions by 65% and supply chain emissions by 30% by 2030.

Digitalization: Spending more time with print does not increase its carbon footprint

Paper is a sustainable material, but still we see companies promoting sustainable action with phrases like “go paperless”. The challenge is that digital footprints may be largely “invisible” to the consumer even if they are significant. In addition, calculations do not always consider the additional environmental baggage of energy-intensive data centres and electronic waste. The internet emits 1.6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, which exceeds the annual footprint of the UK, one of the world’s largest economies.

Whether going paperless is a sustainable action or not, depends on many factors such as the environmental footprint of the paper at hand, and what digital asset it is compared to.

Take the comparison of magazine consumption. Digital can surely deliver a low footprint, if you read only a few headlines here and there. But the larger the data and the longer time spent with the content, the higher the footprint for digital media consumption. A print magazine which is read cover to cover can easily deliver a lower footprint than if the same content was consumed online, with all the imagery, all the text, and the time spent using the digital device and loading that data, while consuming battery power. In addition, books and magazines are frequently shared and read by more than person, lowering the footprint/consumption ratio further.

Beyond fossil: Paper is not fossil, and never was

The core of what makes paper sustainable can still be captured in the natural essence of paper. Paper is not a fossil-based material, and it never was. As such, it cannot even be compared to something like a tablet or a cell phone, manufactured with fossil carbon and possibly creating piles of hazardous waste. 

With responsible sourcing and sustainable manufacturing processes, paper as a renewable product is an invaluable material that answers to the needs of a future circular economy, while serving as a unique and sustainable medium of trust, impact, learning and inspiration.

About the Author

Niina Niemelä is Senior Manager Sustainability at UPM Communication Papers

Source: UPM Communication Papers