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The Science Behind a Sustainable Paper Towel
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Q&A

The Science Behind a Sustainable Paper Towel

C hris Reeves is a Senior Scientific Communications leader at P&G Family Care division. He’s also a Certified Forester. This means that he has spent years studying—in higher education and in the woods—how to make forest ecosystems healthy and functional for generations to come. We spoke with him to learn about the surprising ways that Bounty paper towels (a P&G brand) fit into the sustainability landscape, and how our planet’s future depends on a unified front across industries and fields.

Atlantic Re:think

How would you explain forestry to the completely uninitiated?

CHRIS REEVES

You can drop foresters onto any piece of land and they’ll know how to gather a bunch of data about the area. So we go measure the trees that are out there—how big they are, how many are out there, what species they are, how tall they are—and that data helps landowners determine what is currently on the ground and how they can achieve their objectives for the land.

Landowners could want to attract more birds or deer on their land, sequester more carbon, or sell wood products. Whatever it is, we’re trained to help them with those objectives. Also, “landowner” can mean different things. It could even be the federal government, which owns land through the U.S. forest service. They could want to protect endangered species or preserve archeological sites. You’ve also got industrial and private owners of forests, which are managing them for economic return.

Foresters obviously have a sense of responsibility for taking care of the land. When you’re a forester, you have to have long-term thinking because you’re looking at areas with trees that may live for several decades. Responsible forestry means keeping forests healthy for generations to come. At Bounty, we’re following a three-pronged approach to responsible forestry that we refer to as “protect, grow, and restore.”

Atlantic Re:think

Tell us more about those prongs.

CHRIS REEVES

It’s about protecting the forests that we source from, sustaining them for generations to come, and restoring forests outside of our supply chain.

When we talk about “protect,” we’re talking about our utilization of third-party certification. This helps ensure that the wood pulp that we buy comes from responsibly managed forests. The Forest Stewardship Council® and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® convene a bunch of stakeholders—including environmentalists, Indigenous Peoples, forestry workers, and economists—to get a consensus of what responsible forestry looks like. Third-party certification is one of the many ways P&G ensures responsible sourcing of our wood fiber.

On the “grow” side, we’re making sure that working forests are continually managed properly. Working forests provide a steady and renewable supply of wood for the more than 5,000 different paper items that consumers use every day. At Bounty, we regrow two trees for every one that we use.

The “restore” pillar is about the forests beyond our own supply chain. We’re working with a non-government organization that partners with family forest landowners inside and outside of the U.S. to responsibly manage their forests and to preserve their wildlife habitats.

Atlantic Re:think

In the larger paper manufacturing industry and landscape, are those three approaches common?

CHRIS REEVES

Obviously, everyone in the paper industry wants to be sustainable and ensure that there is a steady supply of raw materials, so regrowing forests is pretty common. Our other two pillars—”protect” and “restore”—are more unique. All certifications require there to be some form of reforestation. But these third-party certifications we use require that the air, soil, and water is protected. They require consultations with community members, and this obviously involves Indigenous Peoples. They also require protection of the endangered species that live in the area. So already having 100 percent of our wood fiber certified in this way is a good accomplishment.

P&G’s ambition to source 100 percent FSC®-certified pulp for our paper products by 2030 also sets us apart. Only 11 percent of the world’s working forests are FSC-certified, so it’s already hard to source mainly from certified forests. FSC certification is more rigorous than the average. For example, FSC has specific requirements to conserve caribou habitat in Canada. The added rigor is why we want to be 100 percent FSC- certified.

Atlantic Re:think

Why take those extra steps?

CHRIS REEVES

It’s part of being a force for good and a force for growth, and taking the responsibility that comes with sourcing wood and forest resources from around the world. When you source from any forest, you want to make sure that you’re having a positive impact, that the forests are being responsibly managed, and that there is an independent third party checking on it.

Atlantic Re:think

What do you think the average person would be surprised to hear about when it comes to Bounty’s practices, or about paper manufacturing in general?

CHRIS REEVES

The biggest thing they would be surprised by is that we use the byproducts of other wood processing. When logs are turned into lumber, we receive the parts that are too small to make lumber or the rounded parts that you can’t turn into lumber. Put simply, a portion of our pulp is made from these lumber “leftovers.” Other parts we use come from thinning and other activities that support healthy forest management like removing small and diseased trees. People have this assumption that we’re taking large trees that are then fed immediately into a chipper from a national monument site and that’s simply not the case. I think that’s probably the biggest misconception out there. We have an obligation to safeguard that we are sourcing responsibly from the world’s forests. Bounty’s support for third-party certification and the requirements in our Wood Pulp Sourcing Policy ensure our sourcing is sustainable.

Atlantic Re:think

What do you think—or hope—will come in the future in terms of moving the needle on sustainability and responsibility?

CHRIS REEVES

We’re partnering with conservation organizations to help restore forests and protect wildlife.

We’re also reaching out to the lumber industry and larger home improvement stores to continue moving responsible forestry forward, as well as home builders at some point to hopefully crack that market and get them more interested in the certification space.

We use such a small amount of the tree—those rounded edges that are essentially a byproduct of lumber and smaller trees—to make our product. We’re going to need some support from our industry partners, as well as those outside our industry, to reach our long-term sustainability goals. If we don’t get everyone else to come along with us on this sustainability journey, we’re not going to make it. We’re in this together, so it’s important to collaborate.