BRUSSELS, July 20, 2010 (RISI) -Reading Mark Rushton's excellent recent series of articles on the threat posed by Information Communication Technology (ICT) to the industry, one comment in particular - from Dr Peter Arnfalk, associate professor at Lund University in Sweden - jumped out at me: "ICT communicates the [environmentally-friendly] message at every opportunity. The paper industry needs to do the same; identify the areas where it could be the most environmentally effective alternative to ICT and communicate the message to the end user."
Nowhere is it more important to get this message across than in the developing markets of Asia. It is countries such as India, and especially China, where not only are production and consumption of pulp and paper increasingly rapidly, but where consumer awareness of environmental issues is growing just as fast. As evidence of this, Chinese consumers ranked third of 17 countries on National Geographic's 2009 Greendex survey of sustainable consumption (and Indian consumers ranked first).
China's CSR boom
One clear example of increasing awareness of and action on environmental issues in China is the massive upsurge in the number of companies producing corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. Although the country's first CSR report was published in 2001, it is only in the last three years that corporate social responsibility reporting has really taken off, as data compiled by the China WTO Tribune show. Last year more than 600 CSR reports were published in China, up from less than 200 a year earlier and fewer than 50 in 2006.
Importantly pulp, paper and related industries (e.g. Tetra Pak China) have been a part of this growth, Indeed, in June APP China was presented with the "2010 Best Social Responsibility Corporate Award" by the China Foreign Investment Enterprise Association, China Charity Federation and China Enterprise News.
The CSR boom is part of a wider upsurge in interest in sustainable development in China. According to the latest Fortune/AccountAbility Managerial Survey on CSR, the corporate responsibility agenda in China is increasingly consumer-driven and, it says, "As Chinese consumers grow more savvy, they will be less convinced by greenwash or marketing campaigns without third party assurance or consumer-facing labels." This perhaps explains why growth in FSC-certified supply chains is faster in China than anywhere else.
And, as Annie Zhu reported from the 2009 Paper Industry Sustainability Forum in Jiangsu Province, China is planning to start its own forestry certification scheme this year, based on FSC and PEFC standards.
Other important steps toward sustainable development highlighted at the Jiangsu forum include tighter discharge standards for water pollutants and the closure of outdated, inefficient and polluting mills.
This event was just one of a number in recent times that have allowed the industry to communicate its green credentials to Chinese audiences. For instance, in late 2008, the China National Household Paper Industry Association launched the country's first Paper Diaper Environment and Sustainability Report at an event in Shanghai, while this May, Metso Paper held a sustainable development summit supported by the China Paper Industry Chamber of Commerce at the Shanghai World EXPO.
These and other efforts are a crucial part of convincing consumers in the most important markets of tomorrow that paper is part of a green future, not a relic of a polluting past.