|As the demand for communications paper grades has declined, several companies have seized the opportunity to replace cotton-and petroleum-based textiles with fibers based on dissolving sulphite and kraft pulp. We have discussed the dissolving pulp boom in past columns.
Wood-based fibers have a number of advantages over cotton- and petroleum-based materials in terms of cost, protection of agricultural land and sustainability. Despite this, an environmental advocacy group called "Canopy" has recently started a campaign to question the expansion of wood-based textile production.
Canopy (www.canopyplanet.org) is a Vancouver-based organisation with an annual budget of about a million dollars that is dedicated to preserving ancient forests. Canopy recently embarked on a campaign to persuade buyers of wood-based textiles (rayon, and similar fibers made from dissolving pulp) to investigate the sources of the wood used, and to buy fiber originating only from dissolving pulp mills that use wood from sustainable, acceptable forests. Broadly, this means using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests, and avoiding old-growth forests.
Canopy is also promoting the idea of using textiles made from non-wood sources, although I am not aware of any viable technology for such production
Something like one-third of current production of dissolving pulp uses wood from environmentally sensitive forests according to Canopy. I have no way of checking this value, but a look at the locations of the dissolving pulp mills around the world suggests that it could be accurate.
The pulp and paper industry is accustomed to being criticised by environmental advocacy organisations. In the past, much of the criticism was justified, but I find it frustrating to see criticisms becoming more frequent despite the dramatic improvement in the environmental performance of the industry over the fifty years that I have been working in it.
It is also frustrating to observe poor responses by the industry to such criticism.
The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) has told its members that Canopy is asking newspapers around the world to discourage people from using wood-based textiles (P&P Canada, Sept 2014, page 12). This is not true, as is apparent from perusing the Canopy website. Canopy is asking textile buyers only to inform themselves about raw material sources. Of course, this may create difficulties for some mills, but not for all. By making this misleading statement about Canopy's activity, FPAC loses credibility, and fires up conflict between mill people and enviro groups. While the later parties are unlikely ever to agree on everything, the cost of dealing with conflicts will be lower if there is dialogue rather than escalating shouting matches, leading perhaps to litigation.
FPAC asserts, correctly, I believe, that wood based textiles are environmentally superior to cotton- and petroleum-based types, but offers no supporting references. When textile buyers read an unsupported or misleading statement by FPAC, they are liable to look askance at the industry's claims to environmental superiority.
Given the pulp industry's long track record of claiming it was not polluting air and water when everyone could see that it was, spokesmen wishing to debate current environmental criticism need to be well prepared and to back up their statements scientifically.
There are many people within the industry who are capable of dealing scientifically and rationally with environmental advocacy organisations' criticisms. These are the people who should be engaging the enviros.
I have been involved in dialogues between industry and enviro advocates in the past, and have found that reasoned discussion goes a long way toward eliminating or minimizing conflict.
Some of the industry research groups, particularly NCASI, have considerable ability to deal with scientific and pseudo-scientific criticisms, but all too often public relations departments and CEOs shoot from the hip. This is a mistake, since most of the enviro groups are sincere, and many are scientifically competent. They are generally more trusted by journalists and the public than industry personnel. This requires that the industry invest the money and effort necessary to provide sound, science-based analyses and presentations to counteract the enviros when they are wrong. When the enviros are correct, this must be accepted, even if it leads to an "agree to differ" situation rather than a mutually satisfactory solution.