100% Recycled Paper: The Big Reveal

Last month, Cone wrote about a beta tool called Sourcemap. Below, Cone’s vice president of corporate responsibility, Liz Gorman, takes a deeper look at Office Depot’s plans to offer more transparency to customers, and how it relates back to the company’s own environmental commitments.

In a recent article, Office Depot and one of its suppliers, New Leaf Paper, revealed plans to launch a new kind of app using Sourcemap, which will allow purchasers to trace the source of their 100 percent recycled office paper. The intent is to demonstrate that 100 percent recycled paper originates from a waste paper collection facility and not some pristine forest. For some consumers, accessing this app may be just the impetus they need to spend the premium for 100 percent recycled paper and have peace of mind. If you’re curious about how Sourcemap works to trace paper back to its source, watch the short video in this GreenBiz article.

One thing the Sourcemap video doesn’t answer is how 100 percent recycled paper (meaning it’s made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled content) stacks up against paper made from 100 percent virgin fiber or a blended mixture of virgin and post-consumer content. I think buyers will need to be convinced that 100 percent recycled paper has, when all is said and done, a smaller environmental footprint than other options. Personally, I’m convinced that 100 percent recycled paper is a better option, but I had to do some digging and turn to the experts to find out. Office Depot may want to consider this before officially launching Sourcemap later this year.

As Marc Gunther pointed out in his post, all of this is aimed at selling more recycled paper. Not only will this benefit the bottom line, but it may also help Office Depot demonstrate its environmental leadership around three stated commitments: Buy Green, Be Green and Sell Green. I did some probing to find out more about Office Depot’s environmental responsibility and how 100 percent recycled paper fits into the mix.

The first thing I discovered is that lots of things get tracked and measured at Office Depot, nearly 50 key performance indicators – everything from the estimated average pounds of CO2 per customer delivery, to the number of ink and toner cartridges that customers recycle. So I wasn’t surprised to see that Office Depot tracks its internal paper purchases, including the average amount of post-consumer recycled content that’s in the paper it uses. And guess what? The paper Office Depot used in 2009 for internal purposes contained, on average, 28.8 percent post-consumer recycled content – down from 32.4 percent in 2008. Not a lot of 100 percent recycled paper being used there. (No reporting available yet on 2010 purchases.)

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I do believe when a company pushes an environmentally preferred product by creating a special barcode on the package so buyers will watch a video on their mobile device and be convinced of the product’s benefits, then the company should make the same choice. But I’m also a realist, and I know cost is king, even when you want to be an environmental leader.

- Liz Gorman, Vice President


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