What Publishers Need to Know About Foreign-Sourced Papers: A Q&A with Green Press Initiative’s Todd Pollak
Indonesia’s Sumatran tiger population has declined by an estimated 70 percent in less than 30 years—with some estimates indicating that fewer than 200 Sumatran tigers now exist in the wild. The outlook for elephants and orangutans in this region is just as bleak. What does this have to do with where you’re buying your paper? Everything, according to Todd Pollak, program manager, book sector, for the nonprofit organization Green Press Initiative (GPI).
Pollak says China and South Korea may be sourcing your paper from Indonesia, which in turn could be doing considerable damage to the social and environmental health of that country.
“There’s no denying that it’s a lot cheaper,” he says of printing in those Asian countries. “It’s a cost issue, and that’s why they’re printing over there. The balance comes from the consideration of what you’re getting for what you’re paying for. How does it affect the people and wildlife that depend on the forest?”
Pollak spoke with Book Business Extra about how book publishers can be more environmentally and socially responsible when sourcing paper.
Book Business Extra: What are the impacts of foreign-sourced paper on Indonesian forests?
Todd Pollak: Obviously, the impacts are likely to be most significant if the paper is sourced from countries that import large quantities of Indonesian pulp and paper. By far, the largest two purchasers of Indonesian pulp are China and South Korea. So, books printed in those countries pose the greatest threat to Indonesia’s forests and people.
As for the impacts of the pulp and paper industry on Indonesia, they are quite significant. … Pulp production [there increased] 10-fold … between 1988 and 2001, while paper production increased by more than eight times during the same time period. Global demand for paper products, as well as other forest- derived products, has resulted in deforestation on a massive scale in Indonesia, with pulp and paper accounting for half or the country’s forest-derived exports. Indonesia is seeing deforestation at rates as high as 4.5 million acres per year, and as much as 65 percent of all logging is occurring illegally. In many cases, natural forests are replaced with single-species tree plantations that can only support a tiny fraction of the biodiversity of the tropical forests they replace.
Extra: How is this threatening the wildlife populations there?
Pollak: This is having devastating effects on the wildlife that depend on these forests. It is estimated that the Sumatran tiger population has declined by about 70 percent since 1982 with some estimates as low as fewer than 200 individuals existing in the wild. The province of Riau, which once had one of Indonesia’s largest elephant populations and has had the highest rate of deforestation, has seen it’s elephant populations drop from nearly 1,500 in 1982 to just over 200 today. Orangutan populations have also dropped sharply, declining by more than 40 percent in the past decade.
Extra: What else should publishers know about the paper they are sourcing abroad, specifically in Indonesia?
Pollak: Publishers should know that in Indonesia and many [other] countries … that are major suppliers of pulp and paper, it is not just forests and wildlife that are being harmed as a result of unsustainable logging practices, but millions of people are affected as well. In Indonesia alone, an estimated 30 million people rely directly on the forest for their sustenance. In many cases, entire communities are forced off the land they rely on.
The other thing publishers should know is that deforestation in Indonesia is playing a significant role in climate change. This is because many of the country’s forests are on peat bogs, which store immense amounts of carbon, which is released [into] the atmosphere when the forests are cleared, drained or burned. In fact, a recent study by Wetlands International concluded that if releases from Indonesia’s peat bogs are accounted for, Indonesia is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China. A major paper- producing region, the Riau province, which is losing forests at rates as high as 11 percent per year, stores an estimated 14.6 billion tonnes of carbon—equivalent to one year’s worth of global greenhouse-gas emissions.
Extra: How can publishers make sure foreign-sourced paper comes from a responsible source?
Pollak: The best thing to do is to … avoid using papers for which you cannot confirm the origin of the fiber. Using papers with a high recycled content is a great way to ensure that the fiber is not sourced from controversial sources, as is using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified papers …. It’s really important that publishers start a dialog with their suppliers about the origin of the fiber and send a message to the supply chain that this is an important issue …. GPI has developed a survey publishers can use as a tool for asking these kinds of questions of suppliers (www.GreenPressInitiative.org/tools/bookindustry.htm).
… Over 150 publishers, including Random House, Scholastic and Simon & Schuster, have set strong environmental policies. Some of these policies not only set goals for the amount of recycled fiber they use, but also set a target or state a preference for FSC-certified paper. Some publishers like Amber Lotus, Pearson and Chronicle are also importing the paper themselves so that they can be sure they know where it is coming from, and that is has ecological attributes. … Staples has stopped sourcing paper from Asia Pulp and Paper, the largest paper producer in Indonesia. That’s the best way publishers can help—to send a clear message to their suppliers that they are not willing to purchase paper that is potentially from endangered forests or areas of social conflict.
Extra: What are the human/social implications of obtaining paper from Indonesia?
Pollak: The human impacts are very severe. In the past, communities in Indonesia have been forced from their land, often with the presence of armed police or military officials, who have close ties to the paper industry. This is in direct violation of Indonesia’s constitution, which grants its people traditional land- use rights. In some cases, with the forest they depend on destroyed, the people who [are] displaced by the logging companies have no choice but to work on the plantations for exploitative wages. Much of this resulted from corruption under Indonesia’s former President Suharto, who nationalized much of the country’s forests and granted logging concessions to friends, family and political allies. Though he has been out of power since 1998, meaningful change has been slow to come.
The alternative is to ensure that virgin paper is FSC certified. FSC certification is the only certification system that requires a consensus solution when conflicts arise between logging companies and communities that rely on the land.
Extra: What can you tell me about the expansion of the Lacey Act that could help to address illegal logging? What are other actions that are currently in the works to help address these concerns?
Pollak: The expansion of the Lacey Act to include illegally sourced forest products is definitely a positive step in that it sends a clear message that products derived from illegally harvested wood [are] unacceptable in this country. What remains unclear is how this change to the law will be enforced or how effective enforcement will be. We have always encouraged publishers to work with suppliers to fully understand the source of the fiber in the paper they use; the expansion of the Lacey Act will hopefully motivate more publishers to do that.
… Publishers should be aware … that having paper from legally sourced fiber does not, by any means, ensure that the paper is derived from well-managed forests and is free of any social conflict. The best way to ensure that social and environmental impacts are minimized is to use recycled and FSC-certified paper. There are a number of resources that can help publishers address these concerns. PulpWatch.org documents the environmental performance of paper mills throughout the world, and at GreenPressInitiative.org, we maintain a list of environmentally responsible papers as well as printers that can supply them.