Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The State of Green Business 2011 - good news when it comes to paper intensity and recycling

Today, GreenBiz.com are publishing the State of Green Business report for 2011, which is defined as "their annual effort to take the pulse of what and how the world of sustainable business is doing." We simply call it the best report available on green business.

This report is looking into couple of issues that are related to our areas of interest, and this week we'll be looking into all of them, starting today with

The report, as Joel Makower chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group is writing today, includes mixed news, both good and bad developments in the green markets. Paper fortunately is one on the good side, presenting positive progress on two major fronts - paper intensity and recycling.

When it comes to paper intensity, we see a continuing trend of improvement. Paper intensity represents the amount of paper used per every unit of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). In other words, it shows how efficiently paper is used in the U.S. economy.
In terms of tons of paper per billion of dollars of GDP, paper intensity went down from 6.79 in 2008 to 6.13 in 2009. As you can see in the graph below (taken from the report, data provided by the American Forest & Paper Association), only couple of years ago we were in the range of 7-10, so this is definitely a significant improvement.

I guess it's not a big surprise to see this trend, especially when saving on paper is such a win-win strategy that help saving not just trees, but also a lot of money. Only last week the Environmental Leader reported that the "Bank of China’s London operations have reduced paper consumption by 95 percent with help from IBM", saving £12,000 a year on paper costs alone. I believe we'll hear more on companies that adopt similar practices (electronic routing and monitoring system in this case) to move one step further towards a more efficient and paperless office.

The big question of course is not what will happen in the US and Europe, where demand for paper will probably continue to decrease, but what will be with the demand in growing economies such as China and India. Will they use growing volumes of paper or use paperless leapfrog technologies
to promote their economic development.

When it comes to recycling we also see good results - The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) reported that 63.4% of U.S. paper consumed was recovered in 2009. As you can see from the data they provide in the graph below, it continues a trend of growing recovery rate, and it is the first time this rate passed the 60%.

According to the report, "The American Forest and Paper Association, an industry group, estimates that once we reach about 80 percent over-all recovery, the remainder will be unfit for the reuse stream: Bath tissues and building papers alike pose challenges to recycling for both obvious and less obvious reasons." Even if it's true, I believe it makes more sense to find ways and technologies that will enable us to recycle (and even upcycle) more paper then to throw 20% of the paper volume to the trash. In any event, we're still far from reaching this ceiling and as the report explains there's still much to be done about recycling:

But there is still room for improvement, and while businesses have led the charge in making
the corrugated fibers that go into shipping products the most-recycled type of paper around, other areas of business use are lagging. For example, despite the seeming ubiquity of the blue recycling bin in offices nationwide, office and writing papers remain the least-recycled.

So good news about paper and we hope these trends will continue in the upcoming years, with or without the support of carbon regulation (hopefully with, as it will make it much simpler..). More updates from the State of Green Business report in the upcoming days. In the meantime, you can download the free report from GreenBiz.com.

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!