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The sustainable nature of paper

Paper is a unique and versatile product that we use frequently in our everyday lives. It is hard to imagine going a day without encountering at least one paper product – whether it be in the mail delivered to you each morning or the toilet paper in your bathroom. Paper is everywhere.

In this age of growing concern for over consumption, the thought of such high usage of any product may be concerning. Single use plastics and mounting unrecyclable waste is of course a worry for most. We are all consciously aware of how we consume.

The good news is paper has many positive attributes that make it an appealing and environmentally kind product.

Based on wood, a natural and renewable material, paper is sustainable and recyclable. The trees which the paper comes from absorb CO2 and produce oxygen back into the atmosphere. This CO2 is then stored as carbon in the tree throughout its lifetime. Should the wood from this tree be harvested and used for a paper product, that carbon remains stored in that product. So, should you have a book in your hand or a notepad on your desk, you know that that carbon is still locked away inside.

This all sounds very promising, however it is likely you may be asking yourself a question about how many trees are used. Are we not decimating the forests to feed this need for paper?

There is more good news. Through carefully controlled forestry practices and respected certification schemes, European forests (from where 90% of the wood pulp we use comes from 1) have grown by 44,000 square kilometres in 10 years 2 – that’s the equivalent of 1,500 football pitches each day.

Thanks to forestry accreditations, we, as end users of paper, can be confident in the products we buy. In Europe, the two most recognisable certification schemes are the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) and the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). It may be that you are already familiar with them – or at very least their logos, but what do they actually do?

Through carefully controlled forestry practices and respected certification schemes, European forests (from where 90% of the wood pulp we use comes from) have grown by 44,000 square kilometres in 10 years

Both organisations strive for the same goals, to protect forests by promoting sustainable forest management.

PEFC and FSC’s certification system consists of two components. The first being sustainable forest management. By definition, used by Forest Europe and adopted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Sustainable forest management is “The stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.”

The second component is that of a ‘chain of custody’. This enables traceability of forest products from the sustainable source right throughout the supply chain to the final product. This ensures that the materials have been checked at each point of the manufacturing process, so that the customer can be confident they are purchasing sustainable and certified FSC or PEFC products.

Over 60% of forests in the EU are certified.3 Although there are other accreditation schemes, the most common and widely used are FSC or PEFC certified.

There are many similarities in the way that these accreditors operate and, by looking out for the logos on wood and paper products you can be assured that you are buying from a certified sustainable source.

The FSC use the ‘tree tick’ logo to indicate that the products are certified on the FSC system.

The PEFC logo notifies the buyer that the product they are buying is that of a certified renewable PEFC source.

These logos will appear on a wide range of products such as wooden toys and furniture across to printer paper and packaging.

By choosing wood and paper products that are certified, you know the products you are using  come from a sustainable and renewable source that has been carefully governed across the full supply chain from tree to your home. By choosing certified products, you are in turn helping to support and promote the healthy and sustainable management of forests across Europe and the world.

Both the FSC and PEFC websites are full of useful and interesting information about how they operate, their principles and case studies on the work they carry out.

You can find out more at:


  1. CEPI Statistics, 2018
  2. FAO
  3. EEA European Forest Ecosystems – State and Trends 2016