Printing your emails won't hurt forests

2013-10-18 Ashley Bach

We've all seen the taglines: "Please don't print this email" or "Save trees: Print only when necessary." But most people who stick these lines at the end of their messages have no idea about how forestry is accomplished, how paper is produced or about the real threats to the world's forests.

This disconnect - between easy cut-and-paste rhetoric and a true understanding of forestry and the paper industry - is what James McDonald, the sustainability manager for International Paper, wanted to address in his talk last week at the South by Southwest Eco conference in Austin, Tex.

Triple Pundit was there to cover McDonald's speech:

There are many products, besides paper, that are made from forests, including furniture, lumber, cereals, deodorant, grout, cancer drugs, cinnamon, cork, toothpaste, antacids, and rayon. Many of them, McDonald explained, are made from sustainably, responsibly maintained forests. While managing this list may be even more daunting than dealing with paper responsibility, McDonald argues that trees are one of our most renewable resources, easily replanted and grown, as long as they are harvested responsibly so they can be replanted and regrown again. This cycle allows these products to continue to be made.

Advocating for working forests helps protect those forests from development, McDonald said:

Sixty-eight percent of the forests in the United States are working forests that generate income. McDonald estimates that 90 percent of those are privately owned and comprised of parcels of 100 acres or less.

Why is it important for companies like International Paper to have a reliable, sustainable source of material to make paper? McDonald believes that those landowners can have a more productive acre that yields more and takes pressure off harvesting from the world’s natural forests. “Not only is it the right thing to do,” McDonald says, “but I believe it is the only thing to do.”

International Paper is a longtime advocate for third-party forest certification, even sponsoring an ongoing series in Triple Pundit on the benefits of sustainable forestry. One article in the series quotes Nigel Sizer, director of the global forest initiative at the World Resources Institute.

Sizer:

“Most of the pulp and paper in the world comes from plantation-grown wood – fast growing wood with harvesting cycles ranging between five and 20 years,” adding, “These are fast growing and well-managed plantations that are on land which was cleared of forest a long, long time ago.” The point being, a large wood harvest doesn’t necessarily mean further decimation of existing natural forests.

More than anything, McDonald, in his speech, set out to challenge pre-existing notions in the environmental and green community:

We want to ensure that our global forests are healthy, that they’re able to provide the resources that we need, the recreation, the entertainment, and, certainly, the products for generations to come. But if I can leave you with one thought, as your finger hovers over the Print button, the next time you are considering printing that email, remember the renewability of the raw material, remember the renewability of energy that goes into the production of the product and the recycling ability of that product, that has the ability to go on to become several other products in its lifetime.

The theme of McDonald's comments was similar to a widely distributed 2011 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal co-written by Chuck Leavell, a forester and the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones. Here's how Leavell closed his column:

We appreciate and applaud people who are sensitive to environmental issues. We both love forests and are avid environmentalists. But we are going to continue to print out those necessary emails without guilt.

Honest, it's okay to print. Trees are renewable, recyclable and sustainable.