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Why Life Cycle Assessments are the Cheat Code for Green Businesses

Even with the prevalence of email, text messages, and websites, our nation is far from paperless. According to Boston College, each American uses about 680 pounds of paper per year, and all that paper takes a lot of trees, water and chemicals to produce.

Traditional paper is resource-intensive, that’s why sustainability-minded paper producers stress using recycled material, sourced from well-managed forests, and running energy-efficient mills to make their paper in an effort to help protect the environment. The positive effects of these efforts are hard to convey to consumers. Many companies claim to be sustainable operations, but can’t provide the evidence to support these claims. Even the Forest Stewardship Council label or Green Seal certification do not always sufficiently capture the efforts a company has made to prioritize sustainability.

Environmentally friendly paper producer Rolland found itself in this very situation not too long ago. The company had taken steps to turn itself into a sustainable operation, but wanted to measure its effort and provide credibility behind its claim of being the most sustainable paper and pulp producer in North America.

Rolland opted to undergo a life cycle assessment (LCA), a holistic approach that evaluates the environmental impact by quantifying the toll of each component of the production process and its take on the planet. For Rolland, that included raw materials extraction, transportation, manufacturing, distribution, and end of life. The final report detailed each stage’s specific effects on climate change, human health, ecosystem quality, and nonrenewable resources. In other words, looking at the full effects of paper production from pulp to the recycling bin.

LCAs are regulated by the International Standardization Organization ISO 14000 and are recognized internationally as a standardized and accurate way to help decision-makers in several arenas. Specifically, they can help reduce the negative effects of new products, identify what can be improved in existing products, and compare the environmental performance of other products.

Rolland undertook a Life Cycle Assessment in 2016 to evaluate the environmental footprint of their products and compare them to similar businesses. The LCA calculated several aspects of Rolland’s environmental footprint – including greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, ozone depletion, acidification, land use, and depletion of non-renewable minerals.

The LCA results helped Rolland build credibility behind its claim of being the more sustainable brand in their field. Furthermore, the LCA helped Rolland develop and evaluate sustainability programs and policies, inform product decisions, and support engagement with end-users to reduce the impact of the paper through its life and disposal.

Undergoing an LCA can help not only green companies in the paper industry, but any producer that wants its consumers to know it prioritizes the environment. The UN provides specific instructions for how to conduct an LCA for one’s own business and several outside companies can also complete an LCA.

Rolland is an inspiring example of a brand that adapted its products to the evolution of the rules of the industry and who as a result, became the game changer in its category.

By Ashlyn Stewart
Learn more about Rolland’s Environmental Stewardship Program Here

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June 19, 2017
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