Smarter Business: Greening Advisor


Environmentally preferable purchasing

Environmentally preferable paper products can often be purchased at little or no extra cost. In addition, paper use often can be decreased by taking a few simple steps, such as double-siding copies and reducing the number of printers in use. These measure can reduce your company’s overall paper budget.

Contact your company’s paper suppliers and ask about environmentally preferable alternatives to products you are currently buying. The specifications below provide a useful guide when speaking to suppliers. When buying paper, first look for the highest percentage of postconsumer recycled content available (30–100 percent for most office papers). Then ensure that any remaining virgin wood fiber content has been harvested legally and more sustainably by looking for products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

In addition to the specifications below, consult NRDC’s Shopper’s Guide to Home Tissue Products for a listing of preferable options for household tissue. Conservatree’s Recycled Products Database contains several preferable options for a range of different paper types. Also consult EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database, which contains product specifications and contract language for a variety of additional paper products.

Paper Products Specifications

The average American consumes seven times more paper than residents of other nations worldwide, and three times more paper than the average European. Reducing paper use is key to reducing the environmental footprint of the paper industry. And when you must use paper, paper products should feature the following attributes:

  • Highest feasible percentage of postconsumer recycled content
  • Processed chlorine-free (PCF) bleaching process
  • Wood fiber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council
  • Mercury-free pulping caustic

Consider adopting a company-wide paper purchasing policy including the above specifications. Your policy can include a price preference (a pricing leeway, often 10–15 percent) for products meeting your environmental criteria. For more detailed paper procurement specifications, see this sample procurement policy.

Sample Letter to Current Suppliers

Dear _______,

In an effort to improve the environmental performance of our company, we would like to meet to discuss the environmental attributes of the paper products that you supply to us. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less-harmful paper products within the next few years.

We are aware that the worldwide demand for paper products creates incentives for harvesting and manufacturing practices that are harmful to the environment and that can irreparably damage ecologically irreplaceable forests. We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful environmental impacts associated with our paper consumption and we are particularly interested in improving the following attributes of the paper we buy:

  • Postconsumer recycled content
  • Forest Stewardship Council certification
  • Chlorine-free bleaching processes
  • Mercury-free pulping caustic

We look forward to discussing this with you. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Additional Resources

Greening Advisor

The Business Plan

The Opportunities

Quick Tip

When buying paper, first look for the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content available (30–100 percent for most office papers).

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Paper made with recycled content avoids habitat impacts, produces significantly less air and water pollution and uses less energy than paper made entirely from wood fibers.

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