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The Paper Chase: Choosing the Paper with the Best Environmental Profile

Many purchasing agents who buy paper have adopted guidelines for paper selection which include evaluating the ecological impact and social responsibility of their paper suppliers.

Four commonly used tools to aid the decision-making process include the following:

  • Environmental Paper Assessment Tool (EPAT)
  • WWF – Check your Paper
  • PREPS – Publishers Database for Responsible Environmental Paper Sourcing
  • The Paper Calculator

No single member of the group is recognized as an industry standard. Here is an overview of these tools. You may find one of them to be an ideal match for your company’s needs.

Environmental Paper Assessment Tool (EPAT)
EPAT was developed by sustainability organization GreenBlue, in collaboration with several paper buyers and suppliers.

EPAT is based on these seven factors:

  • Efficient use and conservation of raw materials
  • Minimization of waste
  • Conservation of natural systems
  • Clean production
  • Community and human well-being
  • Credible verification and reporting
  • Economic viability

EPAT is a web-based tool ( for member companies only. Suppliers can provide specific buyers access during the selection process. It is considered the most comprehensive of the tools in its coverage of environmental and social responsibility.

Most major pulp and paper producers in North America are signed up to EPAT, as well as several large corporate paper buyers such as Time Inc., J.C. Penney, Hearst Corporation, Bank of America, REI, Best Buy, Sears, Staples Inc., Starbucks Coffee Company, Transcontinental, FedEx Office, and Best Buy.

Laura Thompson, Director of Technical Marketing and Sustainable Development at Sappi Fine Paper explains: "Sappi currently supports the EPAT tool because we believe it is the most comprehensive resource available. Furthermore, EPAT does not build in a bias toward recycled fiber usage or FSC-only certification but rather it acknowledges all of the major forestry certification programs."


Screen shot of a typical EPAT results page — courtesy of GreenBlue.


  • Thorough coverage of indicators and categories.
  • Primarily data-driven.
  • Used by several large corporations in North America.


  • Weighting can be changed by the user and this manipulates scores.
  • There are some subjective indicators that can effect scoring.
  • Requires training.
  • Restricted to North America.


World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – Check Your Paper
Check Your Paper (CYP) is an updated version of the earlier WWF Paper Scorecard and is presented as an on-line paper rating scheme. Paper producers, merchants and other distributors can input data, allowing pulp and paper buyers to search for products in the following categories: uncoated, coated, newsprint, tissue, packaging, specialty and pulp.

The database is open and transparent to the public and can be accessed at

CYP focuses on a limited number of topics including: 1) forest impacts through wood harvesting, 2) greenhouse gas emissions, 3) water pollutants, and 4) wastes. Each topic is assigned a maximum of either 10 or 20 points, adding up to a potential 100 points. The total rating is shown as a percentage figure. According to WWF this illustrates the total environmental impact of the product.

Forty points are given to the fiber sourcing category and sixty points are given to environmental indicators from the mill sites, such as emissions to air, water and solid waste to landfill. To earn maximum points on fiber sourcing, a paper product must contain high proportions of post-consumer recycled fiber and/or virgin fiber originating from FSC certified forests. PEFC and its associated schemes (SFI, CSA, and other National Standards) meet WWF’s criteria for legality but not for certification and controlled sources. So, paper without recycled content and certified under those schemes can score 10% at best in the fiber sourcing category.

Screenshot of the results listed on WWF – Check Your paper.

A scoring system that favors materials like recovered paper and FSC certified wood fiber may limit the use of CYP in the marketplace since many grades still contain virgin wood fiber and the certification system covering the most global forest area is PEFC and its affiliated standards (see


  • Environmental data based on EU Eco-labeling scheme for paper.
  • User-friendly and simple scoring system.
  • Open and transparent.
  • The data for papers listed on the website is third-party audited  


  • Key indicators missing, including water use, effluent flow, air emissions like sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and particulates.
  • Rating is biased towards the use of FSC and recycled fiber.

The Paper Calculator
The Paper Calculator was developed and operated by Environmental Defense Fund from 2005 until 2011, at which time ownership was transferred to the Environmental Paper Network.

A web-based tool designed to promote the use of recycled fiber in paper, it can be accessed at: and is currently used by several companies to demonstrate the benefits of using paper with recycled content.

Users can enter the amount of recycled content in a grade of paper and the calculator generates environmental savings resulting from using recycled fiber instead of virgin wood fiber, in terms of:

  • Trees saved
  • Water (number of Olympic-sized swimming pools)
  • Air emissions (number of trucks or buses)
  • Greenhouse gases (number of cars)
  • Waste to landfill (number of garbage trucks)

The Paper Calculator is based on a model first developed by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in concert with the Paper Task Force, a voluntary, private-sector initiative created to make recommendations for purchasing paper. In 2005, EDF built an analytical model based upon the original Paper Task Force findings and updated it to reflect the most current paper industry data. Another set of revisions took place in 2008 and 2009.


Results generated by the Paper Calculator when comparing two grades of uncoated stock: one made with no recycled content and the other made with 30% recycled content.


  • Simple and user-friendly.
  • Based on life-cycle assessment calculations.
  • The model includes an advanced feature to customize pulp content and recycled content.


  • Unrealistic assumptions made around recycling.
  • Use of industry averages to compare specific paper grades within an industry where site-specific mill performance is key to determining the environmental footprint of paper grades.
  • Printed claims of environmental savings do not apply to the specific paper grades they are printed on.

Publishers’ Database for Responsible Environmental Paper Sourcing (PREPS)
PREPS is a joint initiative of nineteen leading publishers and includes a database of technical specifications and details of the pulps and forest sources for several paper grades.

PREPS was developed and is managed by Acona, a CSR management consultancy based in the UK. It is the outgrowth of people in the publishing industry demanding more information related to forest sources of purchased paper.

The system engages with mills and printers in order to collect relevant data that can be used by publishers in decision making. The initiative is driven by the members who decide how they are going to use the information to influence purchasing decisions. It includes information on forest sources and certification as well as quality indicators like basis weight, opacity, and brightness. The database now incorporates between 4,500 and 5,000 paper grades.

Normal user view for PREPS (courtesy of Acona Partners, LLP).

PREPS currently enjoys the support of global publishers such as Egmont, Cambridge University Press, Hachette, Harper Collins, McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press, Reed Elsevier, Scholastic, Wiley-Blackwell, and others.
Papers are awarded a grading of 1 to 5 stars. The grading system focuses only on fiber sourcing and does not include other elements of the life-cycle of paper. However, improvements are underway to gather supplier data on water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. PREPS gives preference to FSC certified fiber and recycled fiber as proof of responsible fiber sourcing, and only awards 3 out of 5 stars to papers certified using other third-party forest certifications schemes such as PEFC and its national affiliates.


  • Simple scoring system.
  • Supported by several large publishing companies.
  • Covers several paper grades and several regions of the world.


  • Rating is biased towards FSC and recycled fiber.
  • Missing important environmental indicators that make up the environmental footprint of paper.

The acceptance of these systems has been inconsistent. The following features may increase the likelihood that some tools become used more widely:

  • Ensuring that key environmental indicators in the life-cycle of paper are included.
  • Avoiding bias towards certain fiber types used as raw materials.
  • Focusing on measurable data and life-cycle-inventory, instead of subjective indicators.
  • Offering a low cost and user-friendly system, including time required to complete.
  • Requiring mandatory third-party verification of the scorecard or declaration.
  • Getting endorsement from environmental organizations.


Do any of these tools make it any easier to make critical decisions regarding paper selection?

It is easy to see that while these tools offer plenty of information upon which to justify one paper source over another, it could just as easily be argued that the decision-making tools themselves are not without bias and thus render their guidance as questionable.

Recognizing that it is an imperfect world, we can only suggest that if any of these tools can be of assistance in your decision-making process, then take advantage of them.  

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