For paper to be as eco-friendly as possible, 100% recycled is just not enough.

How to choose the paper that will leave the smallest possible carbon footprint?

We all use and consume paper, whether it’s for office use, a print magazine or to publish a promotional brochure, paper is still a great vehicle for communicating ideas. Of course, we know that we need to reduce paper waste and over-consumption whenever possible, but how many of us take the time necessary to find the right paper? And by “right”, we mean the one that will leave the smallest possible environmental footprint. Choosing the right paper can makes an enormous difference.

So how do you choose the “right” paper?


LCA points the way

Rising demand for eco-friendly products has created a wave of new choices on the market. As more products emerge to meet the need, a great deal of confusion is being generated around certifications and credible claims. Bottom line? It’s getting harder to make an informed decision.

Many people believe that if a paper is FSC™ certified or is made from recycled material, it feels like the right choice. But very few of us know how the paper we use is manufactured – which type of energy and how much water is used – and this can strongly impact the environment.

In my opinion, the Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA, is the most complete and scientific method of determining the ultimate impact of a product on the environment. LCA measurements are subject to strict research methodologies and international standards used by companies all over the world, including government and non-profit organizations. My colleague gets into more details here about LCA.


Very encouraging results

At Cascades, this method allowed us to compare our products to the North American industry average of uncoated virgin and 100% recycled papers. Validated by a third party and conducted in our R&D Centre, the LCA confirmed the overall environmentally-friendly performance of our fine papers, and allowed us to identify our products strengths and weaknesses.

The results are impressive: Rolland Enviro100™ has the smallest environmental footprint and Rolland Opaque50™ has an even smaller footprint than the average uncoated paper out there – whether virgin or 100% recycled. Just to give you an idea of how much better, the production of these two papers generates, respectively, 67% and 60% less CO2 than the virgin equivalent.

Spotlight on energy

If we look carefully at LCA results, it becomes obvious that the energy used for a paper’s manufacturing process is a huge contributing factor to its final status as either environmentally-friendly or not. Generally, the industry uses natural gas, or electricity generated from coal combustion or nuclear energy. These processes contribute to the depletion of our natural resources, while at the same time producing undesirable greenhouse gas emissions.

As a greener alternative, Cascades’ Fine Papers Group uses biogas, a local and renewable energy which is generated through the decomposition of waste. 93% of the paper machines are powered with this thermal energy. This is the major factor why Rolland Enviro100 and Rolland Opaque50 papers has a so small environmental footprint.


Are the green claims true?

Unfortunately, very few North American paper producers have published a LCA or other researches showing results as detailed as our own. This makes it even more difficult for end-users to compare, as it were, “apples to apples” when determining the most eco-friendly paper for commercial use.

In looking at these matters in more detail, one thing is certain: while 100% recycled paper content is certainly a good choice, much more goes into making a paper that is truly eco-friendly.  Ask the right questions when it comes to choosing a paper for your print needs – don’t be afraid to request LCA or other research details, and insist on evidence for questionable “green” claims. Maybe you already do this?  How do you evaluate the eco-responsibility of the products you are using?


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About the Author
Valérie Bergeron

Valerie is passionate about branding strategy, integrated communications and new product innovation. She joined Cascades in 2009 as an intern, and today she holds a position as the Marketing and Communications Advisor for Cascades Fine Papers Group. Valerie graduated with a BC from Montreal's Concordia University, specializing in marketing. Her quest for knowledge and her entrepreneurial spirit have led her to a variety of challenges. "Working with Cascades – an industry leader in sustainable development – is a great way to bring my core values to my job. I can evolve within a company and with colleagues who are dynamic and motivated to be better. I'm proud to be part of the many large projects we work on!"

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  2. Phil Riebel at 4:15 pm

    There is a misleading statement in the article: “Generally, the paper industry uses natural gas, or electricity generated from coal combustion or nuclear energy.”

    The fact is nearly two-thirds of the energy used by U.S. pulp and paper mills is self-generated using renewable, carbon-neutral biomass in high-efficiency combined heat and power (CHP) systems. In fact, the U.S. paper and forest products industry produces and uses more renewable energy than all other industrial sectors combined.

    Here are more facts with sources:

    The U.S. forest products industry far exceeds all other industries in the use of renewable biomass energy and is a leader in cogenerating electricity. In 2005, the forest products industry produced more than four-fifths of the total biomass energy generated by all U.S. industrial sectors (Agenda 20/20 Technology Alliance, U.S. Department of Energy,

    The Print and Paper industry accounts for 1.1% of global carbon dioxide emissions (World Resources Institute)

    Since 1990, total energy use per ton of production at U.S. pulp and paper mills has been re­duced by 8.2 %, and purchased energy and fossil fuel use per ton of production was reduced 26% (American Forest and Paper Association)

    For more facs and sources go to:
    Enter your comment here

  3. at 11:23 pm

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  4. Pingback: Is 100% Recycled Good Enough? - PaperSpecs