New Study Shows Next Gen Solutions to Be Sustainability Keys
Since the Stone Age, humanity has been learning from our neighbors. In recent years, it’s been publicly acknowledged as a key strategy in commerce, with a plethora of business books focused on the value and success that lies in being a “copy cat.” As print customers increasingly seek to improve their environmental footprint and their company’s social responsibility ranking, relevant information can be gleaned from other sectors’ sustainability efforts. In fact, interesting findings from a new Life Cycle Assessment of cellulosic fibers commissioned by Stella McCartney offer valuable insights for the printing sector.
Like paper, manmade cellulosic fibers (MMCF) such as viscose, rayon and trademarked fabrics such as Tencel, are all derived from forests. Fashion brands and their customers love the silky, soft fabric that results from turning tree pulp into fiber for these products. But style leaders are also very attuned to their sustainability performance. In recent years, many of the world’s most recognized brands, including Levi’s, H&M, Wrangler and The Gap have turned their attention to ensuring their viscose fabrics - and in many cases, their packaging and printed materials - do not originate from the world’s ancient and endangered forests.
As of this writing, 105 fashion brands have signed policies with not-for-profit Canopy, committing to eliminate any sourcing from the world’s ancient and endangered forests and help catalyze the production of next generation solutions. Luxury fashion label Stella McCartney is one brand that is deeply committed to sustainability and to that end, commissioned SCS Global Services to undertake a truly groundbreaking Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the impact of sourcing MMCF.
The study compared the environmental performance of ten different raw material sources of manmade cellulosic fibers, examining a broad range of environmental issues from fiber derived from forests and agricultural operations right through to the production of viscose/rayon or their equivalents made with flax.
The LCA sets the bar for studies of this kind, factoring in critical yet previously omitted categories such as climate hot spot impacts, ocean acidification, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystem impacts, forest disturbance and key species loss. Land use conversion and species impacts were analyzed across global fiber sources including the Canadian Boreal forest, Indonesian mixed tropical rainforests, Indonesian eucalyptus plantations, South African plantation pulp as well as Swedish and Austrian managed forests.
While focused on the production of cellulosic fiber for clothing, the LCA’s findings are worthy of close examination by all types of forest product customers as the results revealed the impacts of extraction across a wide range of forest ecosystems.
Pulp derived from Indonesian rainforests, Indonesian plantations and Canada’s Boreal Forests registered the heaviest environmental footprints.
- The Indonesian pulp - from both natural and plantation forests - was the worst performer in multiple categories including climate change, terrestrial disturbance, threatened species habitat disturbance and human health impacts. Canadian Boreal forest pulp was the second worst performer for global climate change, faring only marginally better than Indonesian rainforest pulp where carbon loss is calculated as very high.
- Canadian Boreal fiber and Indonesian rainforest pulp were the only regions analyzed where the depletion of valuable wood resources is occurring, leading to the conclusion that these two sources were the worst performing across all potential sources of MMCF – by a wide margin.
In contrast Belgian Flax and recycled textile pulps presented favorably across the majority of the performance categories.
Of interest to paper users, these results echo three different LCAs or life cycle studies done for copy paper or tissue, including the Kimberly Clark LCA on Alternative Natural Fibers. All of these studies previously showed recycled paper pulp and wheat straw pulp to have lower impacts than virgin fiber. This growing body of scientific study provides clear guidance to Canopy, brands and all suppliers committed to improving the sustainability performance of the paper, packaging and viscose supply chains.
As Canopy Executive Director, Nicole Rycroft noted, “These findings reinforce the need to prioritize and advance commercial-scale production of pulp, paper and packaging made from closed-loop solutions such as agriculture residues and recycled paper.”
Although next generation solutions fabrics are not yet a commercial reality, lower footprint papers are available right now. The great news with paper is that you can help your clients hit their sustainability targets today by sourcing papers with maximized recycled content. We’ve even done a lot of the work for you to be able to easily identify ecopapers with Canopy’s Ecopaper database. Regardless of whether it’s the Stone Age or the Digital Age, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Catherine Stewart, a corporate campaigner with Canopy, an independent not-for-profit organization, has over 25 years of experience in the environmental movement on issues ranging from fisheries and forests conservation to water pollution and climate change. She was a lead negotiator on the Great Bear Rainforest campaign, brokering the moratorium in over 100 intact valleys and playing a pivotal role in crafting the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements in British Columbia.
Working with Canopy, an independent not-for-profit environmental organization, Stewart is continuing her efforts to increase conservation of the world’s threatened forests by assisting forest product customers in the development of sustainable purchasing policies.
Formerly a small business owner in a resource-based community, Stewart understands the importance of both jobs and a healthy environment to the viability and long-term future of rural communities.