Research grades the paper trail of major retailers

Data shows FedEx Office leads the pack when it comes to sustainable business practices; Amazon.com and Costco still have plenty of homework to do.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor
Image courtesy of FreeFoto.com (http://www.freefoto.com/index.jsp)

Before you load up your printer with new paper this morning, think for a moment about where you sourced it. Apparently, where you buy your paper and other office supplies can make a big difference for our forests, air quality and water.

A non-profit organization called ForestEthics has collaborated with the Dogwood Alliance to release its 2010 Green Grades report card (its fourth annual effort to grade the retailers selling reams of paper). The overall conclusion of the report card is that the sector still has a long road to travel when it comes to purchasing policies that encourage sustainable forestry practices, although several companies have made substantial progress in the past year. What's more, the group is challenging the use by some companies in this category of a label created by the industry-led Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Some of the policies allowed under the cover of that label are questionable, ForestEthics and Dogwood claim, and include clear-cutting and logging in endangered forests.

Here are the areas that the two organizations use to come up with their grades:

  • Chain of custody, meaning having a clear understanding of where paper is sourced
  • Keeping tabs on endangered forests, and avoiding products that come from them
  • The organization's affiliation with questionable plantations and other controversial sources
  • The use of the SFI label (not encouraged)
  • Recycling and reduction of paper usage
  • Use of certifications by the Forest Stewardship Council, FSC (encouraged)
  • Other leadership initiatives

So who does do a good job?

Apparently, the top company in the category, according to the Green Grades report card, is FedEx Office with an "A-" grade. According to the report, the things in FedEx Office's favor include its decision to aggressively avoid selling or using paper sourced from endangered forests and to ally itself closely with the FSC. It loses some points for being relatively week on sourcing recycled paper.

No one else gets an A, but archrivals Office Depot and Staples both get "B" grades. Office Depot is praised for the detail provided in its paper sourcing strategy, although Dogwood and ForestEthics say it needs to get better with phasing out FSI-certified paper; Staples has a good strategy in place, but still uses too much paper from tree plantations and endangered forests in the U.S. south.

When it comes to buying paper, apparently its better to with a specialist in the category rather than with a superstore that has lots of different business interests. That's reflected in the scores of Walmart, which gets a "D+" for having gaps in its paper sustainability initiatives; of Costco, which earned a "D" for not having any kind of environmental paper policy; and of Amazon.com, which gets a big fat "F+" (I didn't know there was such a thing!) for basically doing nothing to monitor or adjust where it buys paper.

Chances are, your organization has taken steps already to reduce its paper consumption. Now it is time to get smarter about the environmental profile of the remaining paper you use.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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