Sustainable Fibre Success Story: Kruger Products and FSC Certification

Is it possible to both care about forests and advocate for the cutting down of trees? Most people want to “do the right thing” for the environment but identifying the right thing can be complicated and often delivers counter-intuitive results. When you can’t trust your gut, who can you trust?

FSC logs, MexicoBig Decisions in the Toilet Paper Aisle

How many of us self-proclaimed “environmentalists” have stood in the grocery aisle, wondering whether we should choose toilet tissue made from 100% recycled fibre or 100% virgin fibre?  Easy choice right…choose the recycled fibre.  But wait, the virgin fibre tissue proudly displays a logo indicating environmental responsibility – maybe that’s a better choice.  Oh dear, now the little voice in your head is awakened.   Logos are good BUT it’s better to NOT cut down trees right? Right, so you reach for the recycled one… but that nagging voice in your head still isn’t satisfied, after all, the virgin fibre did have a fancy environmental logo.  And the seesaw battle begins. Choosing toilet paper never used to leave you feeling quite so stressed.

To make the best choice, a full Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of each option is required, taking into account the environmental impacts of growing, harvesting, processing, transportation and disposal. This is where it gets counter-intuitive; the LCA1 shows that if the virgin fibre was sustainably harvested, either choice could be the right one.  So now we must ask: How do we assess sustainable forestry?  Can we trust the logo on the tissue package? I just came here to buy some toilet paper and get on with my day – why must it be so hard?!

Cutting Down the Tree isn’t the Issue

Artist and author Franke James set out to explore the question of responsible forest stewardship in her short film “Who Cares about the Forest?” In this film, she asks Monte Hummel, President Emeritus WWF Canada, “Is it right to cut down trees?” He answers, “I don’t happen to think it’s a sin to cut a tree down, but it really depends how it’s done, which brings us back to FSC – that’s the standard, the best. If you’re going to harvest trees, then let’s do it to the highest standard possible.”

FSC: The Gold Standard

FSCf5oaERForest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the only international forestry certification system endorsed by Greenpeace, WWF, Rainforest Alliance and The David Suzuki Foundation. While other forest product certifications exist, none of them offer the global recognition, rigorous criteria, and stringent quality control of FSC.  FSC is the gold standard. It is in fact the only eligible certification recognized by the US Green Building Council for obtaining green credits for the timber used in construction in  its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system.

Among FSC’s stringent standards

  • Never harvest more than what grows back
  • Protect biodiversity and endangered species
  • Save rare ancient trees
  • Guard local waterways
  • Support local populations
  • Restrict width of skidding trails so as not to disrupt the rest of the forest
  • Prohibit replacement by tree plantations (i.e. no clear cuts)
  • Ban on toxic chemicals and genetically modified trees

For a forest to become FSC certified is an involved process that includes an inventory of all of the trees and an assessment of local biology and streams.  A harvesting plan that minimizes harm and mimics the natural life/death cycle of the forest is then developed. FSC is a standard that is unique in its full consideration of multiple stakeholders; in Canada, the process includes aboriginal communities, environmental NGOs, local communities, and private economic companies/interests.

Kruger Products, FSC and Environmental Stewardship – 3 Peas in a Pod

KP Group_FamilyKruger Products, Canada’s leading tissue manufacturer and maker of such well-known brands as Cashmere, Purex, SpongeTowels and Scotties, has long considered environmental stewardship a key component of its business practices.  The company does not harvest any of its own trees but rather purchases virgin pulp from suppliers and produces its own recycled pulp.  One of the objectives of the Kruger Products Sustainability 2015 initiative (five-year commitment to reduce its environmental footprint) is to use 100% third party certified fibre.

“Kruger Products selected FSC as its certification scheme because responsible forestry management is very important to us. FSC is well recognized around the world as the most rigorous social and environmental standard in the forestry industry. Our FSC-certified products allow Canadians to become part of the sustainability solution.”

Mario Gosselin, Chief Executive Officer, Kruger Products

Kruger Products was the first Canadian tissue manufacturer to earn FSC chain of custody certification for its consumer and away-from-home tissue products and has one of the largest certified tissue product lines in North America. Anyone who purchases these tissue products can track backwards to the source to know where the fibre came from and to be assured that it was harvested sustainably or is post-consumer recovered material.  That’s something to think about next time you’re standing in the aisle at your local grocery store.

“We believe in FSC as the right thing, not only for us, but for everybody. It’s not about competitive advantage. We would like everybody to be able to have FSC certified fibre. We had an industry leading advantage, but it is validating that others have now chosen the same standard and joined us.”

Steven Sage, Vice President, Sustainability & Innovation, Kruger Products

FSC Certification: Benefits Outweigh the Challenges

FSC standards are complex; FSC chain of custody certification took about 1 ½ years for Kruger Products.  The process wasn’t easy, and yet the benefits have far outweighed the challenges.  These benefits include expected ones such as being able to sell to major customers who are potentially accountable to NGOs for their product sourcing as well as consumers who are asking for such products.

The process wasn’t easy, and yet the benefits have far outweighed the challenges

Other benefits have included reinforcing Kruger Products’ leadership position as a Canadian market leader and innovator in distribution and sales of tissue products, reinforcing corporate credibility through third party auditing (Kruger Products’ auditor is Rainforest Alliance), and increasing pride among company employees for working together to achieve certification and lead by example in their industry.

FSC Certification:  Advantages of Leadership

Kruger LogoThe success of Kruger Products’ adoption of FSC standards in its supply chain is directly attributed to its people.  People like Sage, who explains, “We didn’t have to do this, we chose to do this.  We did this because collectively it was the commitment of the company to align ourselves with the values of FSC, with all the good and challenges that come with it.” Sage not only talks the talk of forest stewardship, but walks the walk, acting as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of FSC Canada.  Kruger Products and its people are committed to being part of the process and the conversation.

As Sage explains, “Our FSC certification effort touched marketing, sales, finance, IT – everyone had a piece of the big project as we engaged knowledge experts in their fields, and created cross functional teams. It brought us together as a company and we felt tremendous collective pride in being among the first to do this.”

Why are We Still Cutting Down Trees to Make Tissue?

So if recycled fibre and virgin fibre are equally environmentally responsible, why aren’t we using recycled fibre exclusively? Why are we still cutting down trees to make tissue?

1. Consumer demand
People want softer thicker tissue that simply can’t be produced using recycled fibre. Along with products made from virgin fibre, Kruger Products offers recycled fibre bath tissue but such products account for only 5-6% of the bath tissue market in Canada.

2. Limited supply
China is consuming a significant share of the worldwide supply of recovered paper and there may not be the needed supply of recycled fibre in the future.

3. Recycle fibre limitations
Fibre can only be recycled a limited number of times before it is no longer of viable use and requires virgin fibre as an ongoing input.

Consumers expect “good” products.  More and more, they expect that “goodness” to include product quality, social responsibility and environmental stewardship. With virgin fibre accounting for so much of the tissue supply chain, it is imperative that it be sustainably sourced with third party accountability and certification.  And here lies one of the problems.  There are not yet enough FSC certified forests to meet such a demand.

Kruger Products Leads Industry

Kruger Products achieved its FSC certification in March 2011 and that year 43% of its virgin fibre was FSC certified (56% in 2014). Kruger Products has set a goal to achieve 100% FSC certified fibre but supply is a limiting factor despite the fact that Canada has almost 30% of all FSC certified forests in the world (53.6 million FSC certified hectares in Canada; 185.6 million hectares worldwide).

Kruger Products brings together leading members of industry to promote collaboration and the development of sustainable solutions.

Kruger Products was an industry leader in choosing FSC fibre but now that most North American tissue manufacturers have chosen to align themselves with FSC, supply simply can’t meet demand. Kruger Products is actively engaged in working to change that reality.  As hosts of the Leaders in Sustainable Thinking round table series, Kruger Products brings together leading members of industry to promote collaboration and the development of sustainable solutions. Roundtable discussion topics have included Uncovering the Drive Towards Responsible Sourcing by the Consumer Packaged Goods Industry and (re)Defining Sustainable Paper.

Kruger Products is a company with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, a belief in doing the right thing and a commitment to leading by example.  It is actively working to continue increasing the demand for sustainably sourced virgin fibre, recognizing that if they can drive everyone in their industry to demand FSC fibre, then all forest management companies will be motivated to undergo the rigorous certification process, and our forests will be protected for future generations.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The next best time is now.” – Chinese proverb