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Determine Carbon Footprint through Life Cycle Analysis
by Glenn Ostle

"We market our 'green' company rather than just 'green' products," says Craig Liska, Vice President, Sustainability for Verso Paper Corp., a leading North American producer of coated freesheet and groundwood papers for publishers, catalogers, advertisers and commercial print producers. "Sustainability is integrated throughout our entire organization."

Liska says that Verso tries to promote its sustainability in the broadest terms possible as different customers have different concerns. "Price and quality seem to be at the top of the list of what our customers want. But after that, sustainability aspects become important," he says. While sustainability may become an expectation, how well you deliver it can be a differentiator."

"Our latest push is to use recycled content where it makes the most sense," says Liska. "People are starting to realize that there is an additional cost for recycled content, and there's a lot of evidence that it doesn't necessarily improve the carbon footprint in all paper grades."

For years the use of recycled content for magazines and catalogs has been quite small compared to its use in other paper grades, notes Liska who says that to increase it dramatically probably isn't worth the effort.

"We produce high quality magazine and catalog grades which require high brightness pulp in order to meet the final brightness requirements. It is difficult to find high quality office grade recycle that meets our quality standards," says Liska. "It is also becoming more apparent that there often really isn't an environmental benefit for recycled content in our higher grades. A life cycle analysis we've recently done with National Geographic (see the upcoming March/April issue of Paper360 for the complete article) has shown that using recycled content doesn't improve the carbon footprint, and in some of our other studies we've even seen an increase in carbon emissions as a result of the use of recycled content."

Liska feels that recycled content is better used for grades such as containerboard and boxboard where there are no brightness level requirements and where contaminants in the recycled content can be better tolerated. And as there is less need for processing, cleaning and deinking, the resulting carbon footprint is lower.

"Publishers have been pressured by environmental groups to use more recycled content, so this is something we've offered for many years. But our sale of paper containing recycled content has gone down in the last three years. I think a lot of it has to do with the carbon footprint we've been working on. As publishers begin to understand and recognize that recycled content may not be appropriate for their sheet--and they have life cycle analyses to back it up--they can go back to the environmentalists and say that what they are asking for isn't really going to result in an environmental improvement."

Environmentalists then argue that using recycle helps keep paper out of landfills. "This is a better argument than to save trees (which isn't really a relevant concern in the U.S. anymore due to the high level of sustainable forestry practices)," claims Liska, "but we don't have a lot of paper going to landfill. Everything being recovered is essentially being recycled here in the U.S. or exported. So this impression that using paper with recycled content in magazines and catalogs saves trees or prevents paper from going to a landfill, is incorrect."

Liska says that a more desirable objective would be to continue collecting as much paper as possible for recycling but to use it in paper grades that make more environmental sense. It could be argued that forcing recycled content into magazines and catalogs is forcing it into an application that requires more energy, more cleaning and more cost. And in doing so, there is less recycled content available for more suitable uses, such as containerboard, chipboard and boxboard.

"We've been able to educate our customers with a lot of lifecycle assessment studies," says Liska. "Good science and hard facts help them make better choices. And it is starting to show as we're seeing less paper with recycled content being purchased. Five years ago that was portrayed as a bad thing. Today it is okay, and it actually makes good environmental sense for magazine and catalog papers. Many publishers are finding that purchasing paper certified to SFI, FSC or PEFC standards can result in promoting responsible forestry practices, which can offer the positive environmental attributes they are seeking."

Liska warns that doing a good carbon footprint life cycle assessment is necessary because there are calculators out there that show that using recycled content will automatically improve a carbon footprint. "That depends on which mill you are talking about," he says. "You can't make general statements about whether using recycled content is good or bad. You need to look at the specific mill, and that's where the life cycle analysis needs to be done."

Craig Liska is Vice President, Sustainability, Verso Paper Corporation. Contact him at: Craig.Liska@versopaper.com.

Some of Verso Paper Corp.'s recent sustainability efforts include:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 23% over the last 10 years.
  • 100% of purchased wood comes from responsibly-managed ("controlled wood") forests and 70% of that from certified forests-which has doubled since 2004.
  • Produces 55% of power from renewable sources. (After improvements, should be 62%.)
  • Launched a US$ 43 million Renewable Energy Project to position its Quinnesec, Mich., mill to meet more than 95% of its energy needs using renewable biomass sources.
  • Launched a US$ 40 million Renewable Energy Project at its Bucksport, Maine mill to provide a 43% increase in thermal energy production from renewable biomass and generate additional green power.
  • Received an energy grant from the state of Maine as well as a US$ 9.3 million DOE grant for 12 projects that will reduce energy consumption by 1.27 trillion BTUs per year.
  • Signed the "Save Energy Now" LEADER pledge to reduce energy intensity by 25% in 10 years. YTD has achieved 33% of that goal.
  • Began a "Maine on Paper" campaign two years ago to educate policy makers in Maine on the importance of the pulp and paper industry and the challenges it faces.
  • Received the SFI President's Award for promoting sustainable forest management initiatives in Maine.


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