We use technology more and more every day. Many people constantly look at their phones, read books on devices, and essentially feel that they use less paper than ever. We do use less paper than around the turn of the century. In fact, in the United States alone, we used over 28 million tons less paper than in 1999. That’s still a lot of paper, though, at 77.6 million tons - the equivalent of over a billion trees.
Several years ago, some people predicted that paper would go away when digital technology caught on. While we may not use quite as much, we still use a lot and will continue to do so. We order things more than before, so the use of invoices and packaging is actually on the rise. Mailed ads provide a more personal touch than email, so we still use those. Many people prefer the feel of a book in their hands when they sit down to read. It’s not likely that paper will go away.
There are only so many trees on the planet now. We plant more daily, and regulations are in place that require replanting and other conservation measures when loggers clear-cut trees. But we also build more offices, shopping centers, and homes, which means we use more land that consisted of forests in the past.
Paper is indefinitely a part of our lives, which means that we will continue to need trees to make it. So, how do we balance the need for that paper with the need to conserve our natural resources?
The Roots of Sustainable Business Practices
The idea of sustainability has been around for over a century, though we’ve called it conservation, resource management, or other terms. The national parks in the United States are an example of early conservation efforts. Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and others were created specifically to set aside a place where people could enjoy nature.
In the late 1900s, we started looking at our natural resources again. We realized that our resources, such as natural forests, really might be completely destroyed if we don’t do something to prevent it. Activists called for change, and more businesses started looking at sustainable practices. Many of us don’t remember a time that we thought our natural resources were infinite, but that’s why we have the problem we have now. Many people didn’t, and some still don’t, understand that sustainability is necessary.
More businesses than ever use sustainable business practices. Most use them because they believe that it is the right thing to do, and they realize that businesses in the past ignored the problem, believing it would go away on its own, rather than cut into their profits to make a difference. What they didn’t realize is that sustainable business practices are not just good for the world – they also make a difference to consumers. People want to know that the businesses they use are doing their part for the good of the world.
Core Sustainable Business Efforts
The first thing many of us think about when we hear “sustainable business practices” is conservation of the planet. That is a part of it, but there’s more than just the planet. A truly sustainable business practice considers and finds a balance in conserving the environment, being responsible to people, or social responsibility, and keeping economic value for the business. That balance allows the business and society to continue to function together, even as they work as long-term individual goals.
There are some areas that we consider core goals – areas where businesses can begin their focus on corporate responsibility.
Most businesses start with waste reduction. This means that the business, as a whole, aims to throw away less trash. A business can accomplish this by reducing paper use, purchasing reusable packaging, and other ways to create less waste.
More people recycle than ever, and businesses are included. Recycling bins for paper and plastics are available, and recycling companies pick those up regularly, making recycling more common in businesses. This allows us to reuse some of those resources instead of simply throwing them away.
Preventing pollution is another area of sustainable business practices. Manufacturers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their plants. Even offices that don’t create their own pollution can give employees incentives to carpool or use public transportation.
Another thing businesses can do for a big impact is use (or even produce) sustainable products. There are sustainable products in almost every industry, from the paper we use to food products. These products provide the environmental, economic, and social benefits that allow us to continue using resources while replacing them and having a lower impact on the earth.
There are other areas of focus, such as replanting, training others on sustainable practices, and using clean energy. All of these practices provide ways for businesses to become more sustainable.
Read more: Sustainable Business Resources
As we learn more about the earth and technology, we find new and better sustainable business practices. These trends allow us to continue to evolve as a business society and improve our sustainability. Earlier this year, the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership identified eight sustainability trends that will help define 2018.
Our world is chaotic. The future is ever-changing. We have disruptive technologies and political uncertainty, and our business practices should be adaptable to keep up with that volatility. Our society is growing to depend on sustainability. It’s not just liberal conservationists and activists anymore. We are conscious of the problem and expect businesses to lead the way, working towards sustainability. Businesses will either need to lead, adapt, or fail.
We need to plan better for natural disasters. We have no control over them, but they can affect business negatively, and our practices need to account for and include strategies to sustain us when they do happen. Automation is growing more popular, which will continue to change businesses and jobs.
Plastics are going away. There is a growing concern and movement to eliminate plastics because of their impact on our environment. Businesses are moving to address this. Transparency in business is key to maintaining a loyal customer base. Companies are facing more pressure to improve risk disclosure and reports. This could mean transparency is coming in other areas.
Coal is being phased out. Because it’s not renewable, businesses are moving away from coal towards renewable energy, such as solar and nuclear.
An Assessment of Recycled Paper vs. Sustainable Paper
For several decades, we’ve urged businesses to recycle paper. The American Forest & Paper Association began setting recovery goals in 1990, when paper recovery was at 33.5%. In 2017, 65.8% of paper in the United States was recovered and recycled. The goal is to recover at least 70% of paper per year by 2020. Paper recycling reduces the number of trees needed to produce paper each year. The more we recycle, the fewer trees we cut and less landfill space we need. However, there may be a downside to recycling paper.
Recycling plastics is known to be good for the environment. Plastics do not biodegrade in landfills and recycle efficiently, so even though there is a little effort, plastic recycling is better for sustainability. Paper, however, uses more energy to recycle. Before you can recycle the paper, the ink needs to be removed, which means chemicals are used. Most paper also sheds small fiber during recycling. The chemicals, ink, and fibers still end up as waste in landfills.
Paper is made of wood, which is a renewable resource when handled appropriately. Well-managed forests and responsible production continually grow new trees while still supplying paper that we need. Recycling, for its benefits, still has its problems. But with sustainable paper, you can be assured that the forests are being managed properly and provide the oxygen and carbon footprint we need while growing, and the paper and other resources we need afterwards. Several certifications, including Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) are available to ensure that the paper is sustainably sourced.
There are ways to create a sustainable office culture. If everyone is involved, the business’s goals towards sustainable practices are more likely to succeed. We all want to be involved and want our opinions to be heard. When developing sustainable business practices, involve the entire office in defining and planning. When everyone agrees on a plan, they are more likely to be excited about it and more fully participate.
You can also encourage your employees to get behind sustainability to share and learn from other companies. This doesn’t have to be an official consultation, though it could be. It doesn’t even need to exclude your competitors – customers will see your willingness to work with competitors on such a global benefit and be proud to give you their loyalty. When you encourage communication about sustainable practices both inside and outside your organization, you get fresh ideas.
Above all, encourage positivity about the changes. Whether we like it or not, individuals and businesses need to adapt to continue to grow. Sustainable business practices are not a change for the negative; they are positive to the business, society, and the environment.
Corporate social responsibility extends beyond using sustainable products and environmentally-friendly business practices. Giving is becoming a big part of a business’s best practices. Some companies encourage employees to volunteer, some give donations from profits or hold fundraisers for charitable organizations. The most important part is that they give back to the community and world.
Many consumers now look at how a business gives back before making a decision to purchase. Along with the satisfaction of helping our society, that has encouraged more and more companies to begin corporate giving programs.
Admired Sustainable Businesses Outside the Paper Industry
Many companies have been founded on sustainable business practices, or have even successfully moved to them after years of unsustainable practices.
Fair Harbor uses recycled plastics to make their primary product – men’s swimwear. The founders believed they could do something useful with the plastic waste they saw washing up on beaches, so they found a way to reuse it.
Paladino and Company not only uses sustainable business practices in their own firm, they’ve made it their business to help other companies do the same. As a sustainability consulting firm, Paladino works with architects and developers, as well as other companies, to use green building practices and create sustainable buildings.
Natura, a Brazilian cosmetics company, is committed to producing sustainable and safe cosmetics. Not only do they following sustainable practices in their own company, they provide their supplier communities with education that preserves the Amazon rainforest and attempts to neutralize carbon and water footprints.
With the right outlook and knowledge, any business can start making changes to improve sustainability in the environment, society, and economy. At Double A, we believe it is important to start with this philosophy.