Approximately 300 million tonnes of paper are produced worldwide each year. That’s a staggering amount. – the weight of 30,000 Eiffel Towers every year!

Recycling paper is always a good idea for the environment, even though it isn’t a completely clean process. The problem is that paper cannot be recycled indefinitely as the wood fibres get ‘chopped up’ in the recycling process and eventually become too short to hold together, so trees will always need to be felled for paper making (some paper is produced from non-tree fibre – cotton for example – but the vast majority is still wood fibre).

So where does this wood come from?

The short answer is that unless controls exist, wood can come from anywhere. It’s possible it has been responsibly grown and managed; equally it can come from the destruction of natural habitats.

Without controls and regulations, clear cutting of timber from rainforests (mainly equatorial regions) and Boreal forests (Canada, Northern Europe and Russia) have devastated whole regions. The loss of trees, coupled with the damage caused by the building of roads to transport workers in, and timber out, quickly reduces forested land to wasteland, with a corresponding effect on biodiversity and soil quality.

Tree plantations grown on clearcut land don’t even come close to matching forests that have taken thousands of years to develop. Forests grow in distinct layers, each plant and tree jostling for their share of light and nutrients and all finding a place where they can grow happily. Animals from the largest predators to the smallest insects also have a place in the forest, growing and regulating their populations according to what they can give and receive from the ecosystem. A single species plantation will, in comparison, support a very much reduced range of plant and animal species.

Relentless logging of ancient forests threaten indigenous cultures (in the Amazon River basin alone around 70 tribes have been identified who have had no contact with western civilization at all).

So what is the answer? It’s unrealistic to expect that demand for paper and wood products will decrease, but we have to ensure we protect human rights, biodiversity and sustainability.

A forest certification scheme ensures forests producing wood and wood products (including paper and card) are managed in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. A good system will also ensure human rights and a fair income for workers.

Out of the many independent forest certification schemes that are running worldwide, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is perhaps the best known; and is currently the largest – with more than 117 million hectares of certified forests in over 82 countries.

There are two parts to the scheme: forest management and chain of custody.

Forest management ensures the wellbeing of ecosystems; trees are replaced as they are cut down and crucially the system ensures the protection of high conservation value forests, (forests with high biodiversity, socio-economic, environmental values) either by banning commercial logging entirely or by enhancing the management of the area to preserve the unique characteristics of the forest.

Chain of custody ensures that timber grown and harvested under a forest management scheme is correctly identified and controlled throughout the supply chain. As FSC says ‘every link of the chain is audited’.

These audits are carried out by certified third parties on behalf of FSC. Finished products are given a certificate number, which can be checked against the FSC database. If you look on the back page of our autumn and winter newsletter you can see the FSC logo and certification number – an example of our creative team working with our print suppliers to produce a fully certified item. The certificate number is unique to the supplier and can be verified on the FSC website. In fact, any product with an FSC logo can be checked on the website to confirm whether it is genuine or not.

At Liz Earle, we use FSC paper and card wherever possible in our packaging. All our Christmas 2010 boxes and gift packs were produced from FSC certified materials, and we are working on converting our standard boxes. Some parts of our packaging have already been converted to certified card, but until we have produced a fully FSC certified version we won’t be putting any indication in the form of a logo on the box.

FSC has three categories of product certification:

FSC 100%: products carrying the 100% FSC label come only from well-managed forests that have met all of FSC’s high social and environmental standards.

FSC mixed sources: products supporting the development of responsible forest management. This can mean wood from FSC-certified forests, recycled material and/or controlled wood (controlled wood comes from sources that do not completely fulfil all the requirements of FSC but adheres to five specific criteria to ensure it is responsibly sourced).

FSC recycled: products with 100% Recycled label support the re-use of forest resources, which helps to reduce the pressure on natural forests.

As with any system, unscrupulous manufacturers and suppliers may try to subvert the system and pass off unregulated goods as FSC certified, and there is some evidence of bad management of forest and plantation areas, which goes against the ethos of FSC. But perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider that global sales of FSC certified goods was 20 billion US Dollars in 2008!

So is it the perfect solution? No, but if we accept that worldwide use of paper and card is inevitable then sustainable sourcing in general, and FSC in particular, is the best, most responsible way forward.