Fiber testing reveals dirty secrets of office paper

At WRI, we are working to understand and minimize our environmental impacts. Using research and expertise from around the Institute to guide us, WRI is committed to limiting the resources we use and purchasing products that reflect our environmental and social mission.

Our guidelines at our Washington, D.C. office require paper products to be certified and have high recycled fiber content. However, we had not identified other requirements beyond product certification, nor had we effectively communicated these guidelines or any paper purchasing standards with our non-D.C. offices. We also found that we were not maintaining records on all our offices’ paper purchases.

Considering our ongoing work to help companies comply with U.S. Lacey Act requirements, we decided it was time to examine the paper products in our own offices. We wanted to better understand our supply chains and use fiber analysis to test the paper content.

The results showed that:

  • Some products in our offices are not certified;
  • We actually know little about the origin and the supply chains of some of these products; and
  • In one instance, we inadvertently had purchased a potentially controversial product.

This realization underscores how important it is for organizations to take a closer look at their purchasing decisions. Even with the best intentions, it is easy to lose track of where paper comes from.

Testing our paper supply chains

The first step was to identify what paper products we use. Our offices in Washington, D.C., Beijing, and Mumbai developed a spreadsheet that listed the brand, manufacturer, distributor and/or retailer and the country of origin for each paper product in the office. We compiled this information from the labels and, in some cases, by directly asking our suppliers. The lists included office paper (envelopes, notebooks, printing paper), personal hygiene products (facial tissues, paper towels), and other odds and ends (paper plates and cups, promotional goods).

Together, the three offices identified 64 products from more than 10 manufacturers all over the world. For some products, we found little information about their origin, particularly those purchased by our India and China offices.

Photo of paper assortment provided by HomeStudio/Shutterstock

Next page: Developing purchasing guidelines