Green Products Must Also Be Sustainable

Sustainability of booksIf one were to undertake the challenge of designing an environmentally sustainable product for the information industry, they would likely consider the following objectives:

  • The product could be made from a renewable plant material, preferably one with a long growth cycle.  Plant material is optimal because it will consume greenhouse gasses during its growth cycle.  Longer growth cycles are preferred because they allow lands to remain undisturbed for longer periods between planting and cultivation, thereby providing habitat for wildlife.  It would also be nice if humans living near cultivated areas found the plants visually attractive.
  • The product could be made from a plant that requires little, if any, irrigation, herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizer during its growth cycle.
  • The product could be made from plant species native to the areas in which the material is processed.  One could grow those species close to the facilities where the material is processed, so as to minimize the consumption of fuel in transporting it to those facilities.
  • Recycled PaperIf it is not possible to use 100% of the plant material harvested in the final product, maybe there would be other uses for the excess material.  For instance, it could be used as a greenhouse-gas-neutral fuel to power the processing facilities.
  • If species can be found with all the above characteristics, they could be replanted at a rate that meets, or preferably exceeds, the rate at which they are harvested.
  •  The product could be designed so that it will not need to be discarded and replaced, as long as the information it contains remains relevant and up-to-date.  Accomplishing this would require that the product be compatible with all anticipated future user interfaces.  A useful life measuring in centuries would be most desirable.
  • Sustainability of TreesFor those instances where the product is likely to be discarded, the material could be recyclable when disposed of correctly.  Of course not all users can be relied upon to dispose of the material correctly; therefore, the product could also be biodegradable.  As the material biodegrades, its byproducts could enrich soils and/or provide fuel for other human activities.

These are ambitious objectives, yet if you think about it, they are met remarkably well by the product we know of as “The Book”.

Even books made entirely or in part from virgin fiber can meet and exceed these objectives, provided the forests that fiber comes from are managed sustainably.

That’s why Edwards Brothers Malloy insists on certification of sustainable forest management from either FSC or SFI for all the floor sheets that we stock.

Today, many thousands of acres of private land in the United States are planted with trees grown for the purpose of making paper.

In the eastern part of the country, which is where the paper mills serving Edwards Brothers Malloy are located, some of this acreage is land which, in prior centuries, had been cleared to grow annual crops, such as corn, wheat, and cotton, or used to raise livestock.

It is also land which, if not for the fact that trees are an economically viable crop, would likely be converted to other economic uses by its owners.  To those who long for the day when books are not made from trees, we say:

“Be careful what you wish for.”

What is your definition of a product that is not only green but sustainable?  Can you think of any that are besides books?  Join in the conversation by commenting below.  

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