There is no doubt that pursuing sustainability and making a positive environmental impact are two topics on the minds of people and businesses around the world, as we start to feel the effects of climate change all around us. Businesses have a clearer understanding now more than ever that making a commitment to environmental sustainability goals, and following through with direct action, is paramount to their brand success and customer satisfaction and loyalty. Moreover, there is internal and external pressure for companies to “live their values” in addition to brand success or bottom-line profitability. There are numerous indicators that customers are also willing to pay increased prices for higher levels of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

The triple bottom line: Searching for sustainability in business

As modern-day businesses, we think more than just about how we can continue business as usual, but with a greater focus on reducing our overall environmental impact, both for the greater good and the looming challenge of fighting climate change, but also for addressing what is commonly referred to as the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits. It is at the intersection of these three that we find sustainability. As we gauge our corporate social responsibility (CSR), we must keep these in balance. If we are focused on financial profitability alone, we are likely going to hurt the environment, and potentially alienate those who work for us and whose communities our operations depend on and strive to serve. If we focus only on people and the planet, we will compromise our financial stakes and not be able to sustain operations. We are searching for balance.

How sustainability affects office technology channels

First of all, sustainability is not just a trend. It is a path toward better business, better environment, and better communities. As organizations focused on office technology, we know that we need to reduce wherever possible: We need to reduce our carbon footprint, our paper consumption, and so on. We need to print the right quantities, use recycled paper where we can, recycle whenever possible, conserve energy, minimize waste. But once we reduce, what can we do to offset the rest?

As professionals in the printing industry with a keen interest in the environment and sustainability, we understood that there was a need for a sustainability-as-a-service platform for print providers. It had to be accessible, and fit right in with the way business operated, without any extra work required. By developing an easy-to-use platform that allowed companies to automatically offset their paper footprint, by reforesting in certified projects around the world, we hoped to help the industry find a sustainable path forward for printing.

Establishing industry standards for paper equivalencies

Based on widely accepted and researched equivalencies, we adopted the Environmental Paper Network’s calculation of how much paper can be produced from a single tree. Based on the EPN’s Paper Calculator, we plant one standard tree for each 8,333 sheets of A4 office paper, or 83.3 pounds of paper. How big is a tree? A standard tree is defined as 40 feet tall and 7 inches in diameter at about chest height.

How is this different from buying trees directly from reforestation organizations? The answer to this question touches on a few key points, and spurred the development of the industry’s first codified set of standards for what reforestation must entail. It is now known at The PrintReleaf Standard.

This open and public document outlines a commitment to uphold the most rigorous industry standards, and spans two main areas: global forestry partner organizations, and the reforestation projects themselves. Forestry partners must adhere to the strict operational, financial, and organizational requirements in order to ensure transparency and security. Partners must demonstrate an excellent track record and expertise in forestry best practices. They must be transparent in reporting, financially stable, and have evidence of the right to land as well as the right to plant trees on the land. Partners must have dedicated on-site project managers who are responsible and dedicated to environmental requirements, species allocation, and corresponding survival rates. It is imperative that the right trees are planted in the right environments to thrive and build the forests that will make a positive impact.

Once trees are planted, they are all verified by a third party auditor, SGS International, who conducts audits to ensure 100% survivability of the trees, for up to 8 years. Anything less than that, and replacements will be planted until 100% is reached. This is what guarantees fulfillment of a participating company’s environmental sustainability goals: tangible results. These results matter, as companies learn the value in sharing these results in corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports and environmental social governance (ESG) reports with their stakeholders, including customers, networks and shareholders. Results can also be positively shared on social networks and in marketing campaigns, where environmental progress can breed trust and customer engagement. When sustainability efforts can be trusted, and results of lifetime offsets guaranteed, companies have a sustainability asset they can confidently share to engage their professional networks.

What kinds of sustainability requirements are being introduced?

While many regions and governments have yet to require specific environmental action for businesses, smart operations and commitment to the triple bottom line (people, planet, profits) remind companies that there may well be requirements in the future, and it’s better to be ready than scrambling later. Many entities are focused specifically on carbon offsets, geared to address the greenhouse gas emissions that are swiftly and negatively impacting global climate change. While the legacy product of reforestation did not specifically address carbon emissions, trees, as we know, sequester carbon. The forests that have been planted on behalf of our customers — which include at this point over 4 million trees — are all sequestering carbon, and more and more as they mature. In addition to the reforestation opportunities, a specific carbon offset opportunity is also offered that can be bundled with reforestation (referred to as biomass offsets). The carbon offsets are Verra certified, and span the gamut from wind power projects to methane recovery and of course include reforestation projects as well.

While companies must remain aware of compliance to sustainability expectations and legislation, there is also the motivation of doing what’s right, understanding the value of the triple bottom line, and the desire to attract employees who care, and retain the next generation of professionals.

What can companies do?

Beyond reducing consumption, offsetting your forest impact and carbon footprint is the next step to neutralizing environmental impact from your business. By participating in reforestation efforts equivalent to paper consumption, there is going to be a net neutral to net positive impact, depending on the sourcing of the paper being offset. Channel dealers benefit by offering products and solutions geared towards these requirements and participating in more sustainable activities.

What else can reforestation accomplish?

Reforestation is important when it comes to protecting natural resources and absorbing carbon that is otherwise negatively impacting climate change. Forests also create habitats for animals, and can reduce erosion and protect waterways. Overall, reforestation projects address a number of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) such as: No Poverty, Good Health and Well-Being, Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Climate Action, Life on Land, and Partnerships for the Goals.

Why must sustainability matter for office technology businesses?

By committing to reforest in equivalence to paper consumption, and offsetting the carbon associated with paper usage, companies can make a big difference in fighting climate change. Not only that, it contributes to their own Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet and Profits; making it easier to retain a new generation of employees as well as loyal customers. By sharing progress towards your sustainability goals, there is not just brand building, but there is also pressure on the wider market and industry to step up the environmental contributions – and the more participation there is, the greater positive impact the industry as a whole can make.

Julie Ach, PrintReleaf

Julie Ach is marketing manager, PrintReleaf.