Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Environmental standards in the book industry: where are we standing?


Rising environmental standards have been occurring around the world, at different paces, in different settings, and with various responses from markets, businesses and citizens. The variety of levels of individual awareness, combined with the fact that all organizations, public or private, are claiming to be at the tip of the environmental spear, can make actual assessment of the trend difficult. A look at facts, the enforcers, and the fights going on.

Norms applying to paper pulp in Europe are two-fold. The European Union which deals with the outside, on the one hand, and the national industries which come together to add to these norms on the other hand. Aware that much of the paper base products are imported from non-european countries, where clients have little overview of timber practices, the EU regulates extra-european commercial ties.

Last June, the EU negotiated environmental terms with India in Hyderabad, so as to ensure products coming in are not sub-standard, and to make sure that European companies didn’t use foreign suppliers to circumvent EU regulations. Rishi Kumar reported: “Under the new regulation, placing illegally harvested timber and products derived from such timber on the EU market is prohibited. According to a statement, the regulation applies to the listed wood and wood products, including paper and pulp, being placed for the first time on the EU market. The regulation excluded recycled products, printed note books and some bamboo products.”  The new agreement will place operators and producers under the obligation to trace the products they use or handle, an obligation they seem willing to comply with.
The main standard used in the Northern American industry is the FSC, which is enforced and promoted by various entities around the world, both public and private, and seems to be a well-respected standard throughout the world, as Lyndon Schneiders indicates: “in the 21st century the areas of real and demonstrated job growth and economic value are in the plantation sector and in native forest operations that achieve the international gold standard of sustainability, FSC.” They set the standards in responsible forest management, which are currently applied to almost 400 million acres around the world, half of which in the US and Canada.

The FSC certification label covers not only the logging practices, but the transformation and transport of timber and stresses traceability as a key part of its environmental securing strategy. FSC also positions itself not as a barrier but as a company facilitator, as Corey Brinkema describes : “Companies have to play a leading role in both boosting demand and supply of FSC products”.  The standard can be used in conjunction with WWF’s pulp origin database, named “Check your paper”. The database assess pulp on six different criteria (fiber source, CO² emissions, bleach pollution, waste to landfill, organic water pollution and environmental management systems).
Control and compliance is more a matter for NGOs than for governments, which are usually slow at launching legal action against businesses that do not comply. As non-governmental entities, they can often bring speedy and effective action against businesses, and spread the pressure into the social and business world, instead of containing it to courthouses. 

Greenpeace, for instance, recently confronted Canadian paper-producer Resolute, accusing it of non-compliance with industry standards and of harvesting timber in the Canadian boreal forest without consent of Northern tribes. The producer chose to challenge the accusations and take Greenpeace to court on charges of racketeering, defamation and tortious interference, using the anti-mafia RICO law, claiming damages in court.

Greenpeace has been attempting to rally support within the editor’s world, in the hope that Resolute’s main clients would pressure it to drop the suit. Resolute client Hachette chose a “justice of the peace” position, unwilling to pick a side in this highly technical case. Arnaud Nourry, CEO, simply wrote :”I have no intention of getting involved in the dispute, for as publishers, we have neither the expertise nor the resources to forge an educated opinion as to who is right and who is wrong in what seems to be a complex set of highly technical issues.”, while reminding his attachment to free speech.

A position shared by most other actors in the field, such as Penguin Random House, which declared : “Resolute and Greenpeace are in litigation, and we cannot interfere or comment on this dispute. We can reaffirm our ardent belief in responsible, truthful speech. We recognize and respect the right of all parties to draw attention to important causes, and to advocate their positions and perspectives.” NGOs have more nimble and quick coaxing abilities, with their capacities to launch covert, speedy and unexpected actions - but they can also be challenged by the target far more easily also.
The environmental conscience which has been at play in recent years should probably be approached in a NGO-direct-to-business perspective. While governments do have a role in the matter, they are often too slow to be of any sizable impact on the matter. Environmental issues will certainly be better addressed when norms are unified - national or regional norms being easier to circumvent. They will also benefit enhanced cooperation between States and NGOs.