Our industry’s dedication to sustainability is not surprising, as the lifeblood of our industry—paperboard—is renewable and recyclable by its very nature. However, the sustainability of our product goes beyond its natural features: the trees used to make paperboard packaging are harvested from forests and tree farms maintained via sustainable forest management practices that ensure that, as a society, we will continue to have healthy and abundant forests for decades to come.
Sustainable forest management (SFM) first came to global prominence in 1992 when the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development introduced the topic. Later, in 1993, a working group established criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management practices, such as conservation of biodiversity, maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality, conservation and maintenance of soil and water resources, maintenance of forest contribution to carbon cycles, maintenance and enhancement of long-term, socioeconomic benefits to meet societies’ needs, and legal framework for forest conservation and management.
In general, SMF practices strive to maintain a balance between our current and future needs for forest products while ensuring minimal harm to delicate and precious forest ecosystems. One way that suppliers and converters can support these important aims while ensuring the sustainability of their packaging is by sourcing pulp and paper from forest land that is certified by forest management programs such as the American Tree Farm System, the Forest Stewardship Council (International and U.S.), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
PPC’s webpage on forest certification programs describes each program, but they all lay out a basic framework for achieving the above criteria. Additionally, most programs offer certifications in wood fiber sourcing and chain of custody that help manufacturers ensure sustainable sourcing and permit the use of special labels that alert consumers to products’ and packaging’s sustainable origins. For instance:
Wood Fiber Sourcing Certifications ensure that fiber is purchased from responsible sources. In many instances, these responsible procurement programs also require purchasers to educate the landowners of non-certified forests on sustainable management practices.
Chain of Custody Certifications provide for the tracking of certified fiber from forest to final user in order to ensure that the fiber found in a final product in fact originated from certified forests. Chain of Custody certification may be the most valuable component for converters of paperboard packaging, as it allows them to verify their folding cartons’ sustainable origins and communicate it to consumers who value and demand social responsibility from the companies they support.
While not essential, forest certification programs offer definitive confirmation that paper or paperboard is sourced using sustainable practices. Indeed, for the paperboard packaging industry, sustainability is not a marketing ploy or a secondary concern, but instead infuses all that we do. Converters strive to profit while operating in ways that minimize environmental impact. By doing so, our industry supports future generations’ ability to prosper equally as well as their forbearers.