We want to embody what we say, and in order to do so, we started with one of the most common business tools used around the world. The business card. Much like a handshake, the business card is shared and used to network, create new relationships and build the future of business. Like most manufactured products, the business card has relationships with the natural, industrial and social systems that contribute to the fabric of society. The cards begin the cycle as raw materials, progresses through a process of manufacture, distribution, logistics and printing before being distributed by our team. But that isn’t the end of the journey, we must consider how the cards can be returned, recycled and begin the journey again or take a new journey and become part of a new cycle. The business card in our example, could be your cups and straws if you’re in hospitality, in fact, we believe the business card in our example represents the importance of looking at your linear supply chain from the very beginning right through to the very end in order to make the best decision for the company and to create circularity which develops sustainable practice building your legacy.
First of all, we wanted to address the fundamentals of the business card. What it is used for and what it, therefore, needs to, irrespective of materials, deliver. This is about considering the context or as Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen said “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context. A chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
We started by discarding digital business cards first, on the basis that there isn’t a single unified standard or process for exchanging this information, we need accessibility to the information on the card to be paramount as not to exclude anyone from being able to engage with us, inclusion is therefore fundamental.
Next is addressing the materials. Looking outside of the most traditional material, paper pulp, there are cotton, kozo or plant-based, kraft, metal, plastic and wood. Whilst cotton, in particular, is an emerging mainstream material for business cards the market for these cards is diminished by the demand for a strong, thick stock, high quality feel card which cotton cards are unable to achieve without bonding, a process that regularly uses adhesives that contain harmful chemicals to process. Plant-based materials are also emerging niche card materials which also have the potential to displace the industry norm, whilst upholding the quality standards of the card which customers demand. Metal, plastic and wood business cards, even when made from recycled materials, are high energy products which require whether virgin or recycled, a lot of manipulation to create the desired result.
Therefore, the mainstream choice of a pulp-based paper business card is still the forebearer for delivering a standard of card which achieves accessibility, durability, quality of stock and print and with tactile feedback and can contribute the most to a circular economy.
In order to move the lever for organisations to realise the potential of cotton or plant-based cards going forward, we need to first expand on the issues that plague the pulp industry. Addressing the issues in an already highly competitive and invested market will exponentially increase the viability of the cotton and plant-based alternatives which are equally hampered in their progress due to similar constraints.
The production of raw materials which are used in pulp production is typically spruce, pine, fir and larch which are all softwood compositions. The UK currently has 3.19 million hectares of woodland of which just 0.86 million hectares are managed. Incredibly, there are only two paper mills in the UK which are actively working to turn raw materials to a pulp for production into paper. These mills import materials from Germany, Finland, Poland, the Baltic states Russia, Denmark, Norway and Ireland to produce the finished paper product. There are, unfortunately, no 100% UK forested paper pulp products which are accessible to us for our business card.
Why is this a problem. Logistics, as we will unpack later, contributes a huge amount of C02 to the atmosphere, adds additional costs to production and under invests in the local managed forestry sector which therefore doesn’t contribute as greatly to the local economy. Therefore we recognise that some of the pulp used in our business cards is going to need to be distributed, imported into the UK in order to be turned from raw material to the paper pulp that can be printed on. This presents an interesting opportunity to explore. Would it be possible to launch a 100% UK based pulp product? Could blockchain be used to increase accountability and transparency in this sector?
The production process of paper pulp requires managed forestations, debarking, chipping, pulp processing, blending, refining, screening, cleaning and then it can be turned into paper with the last stage of the business cards production requiring conversion and printing.
The process engages with 5 stakeholders directly. These are forestry, milling, logistics, distribution or warehousing and print companies. Indirectly, these industries have an impact on wider stakeholders from biodiversity to energy.
Exploring the logistics
So why do logistics play such a large role in our decision making? Minimising the importation of goods and utilising the land for local raw materials reduces logistics and transport costs both economically and environmentally. The importation of materials has an impact on local employment potential, the opportunity for innovation and the increase of demand for materials which drives fair pricing through market moderation by the demand. This is why it’s troubling when manufacturing takes a downturn, as it’s localised systems of circularity that yield the largest global environmental benefits - particularly if the process of production incorporates the need to transport raw goods from multiple sites.
For example, the carbon footprint of the Caledonian UPM Mill attributes 25kg of fossil C02 per tonne of paper, that’s approximately 25% of what it already environmentally ‘costs’ to produce pulp and paper, therefore a significant reduction in transportation would significantly impact the global climate ‘cost’ of production.
A side note - whilst we haven’t been able to publically examine the exact stakeholders in the logistics chain for transporting raw materials to the mill itself, we can ascertain from these figures that the emissions costs are higher than solely locally sustainable raw materials.
So, what about offsetting?
Consider Newton’s third law “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If a process creates produce and waste these become our pair of forces. The more we produce, the more waste we create. If we cannot utilise the waste to contribute to the existing or a new product life cycle, offsetting is often seen as the best option. The problem with offsetting is that this creates an entirely new action with equal and opposite reactions, equal and opposite natural, social and industrial impacts. Through a purely natural system lens, the carbon sequestration period takes a considerable amount longer than the process of carbon creation - therefore offsetting carbon through this process continues to contribute negative biosphere impacts long after the product has been produced. Offsetting is often better than no system at all, but we consider offsetting a process of renovating business as usual and not innovation, which is what is required to address the systemic challenge of climate action.
As we can’t source entirely locally grown raw materials, let’s explore reforestation projects. In particular, where reforestation is taking place in locations where the economic value is not balanced by the local demand for the produce. In a nutshell this is where certain raw materials require specific natural environments to thrive but that the resources are not required to stimulate circularity locally. This isn’t to say that projects that support managed forestry shouldn’t be taking place globally, however it does highlight the question of where and for what purpose.
Ultimately, if the raw materials are processed at the source and transported in an appropriate form to various processing sites located within the areas of greater demand, as this system achieves global benefits for a lower environmental cost.
Why we use Iggesund Incada
Why did we select Igguesund’s Incada Silk for our business cards? Iggesund, part of the Holmen Group, takes their environmental and social impacts very seriously, publishing publically and transparently all the details about the production. The video above explains how the Incada product is made, including how the mill in Workington is operated.
In addition to the environmental impacts, Iggesund also operates a Grow Your Income project encouraging local farmers near the mill to produce willow as an energy producing crop. These long term index-linked contracts help the planting, harvesting and transport of the materials to operate the mill whilst returning economic value back to the farming community and the wider local economy.
In fact, the Grow Your Income project received the prestigious Rushlight Bioenergy award for returning over 1.5 million pounds annually to the local agriculture industry, creating a new and resilient income for close to 200 farms in Cumbria and Scotland.
Now we have considered the natural, industrial and social systems in the allocation of land, growth of the raw products, extraction, processing, logistics, manufacturing, packaging, transportation and usage we can turn our attention to the last part of the cycle.
Why we use Corona MGA
Once the business card has served its purpose we want to complete the loop. The card is recyclable as we’ve worked with local printers to use Corona MGA vegetable oil based inks and a water based coating, absent of any UV products. The Corona MGA inks are certified to biodegrade, meaning that the nutrients from the inks can be extracted during the recycling process and used to grow more trees to produce future cards, starting the new cycle. In addition Corona MGA uses environmentally safe and recyclable materials during production along with a commitment to use regenerative forms of energy and responsible water usage.
Are there any negative impacts?
Unfortunately there are some negative impacts of the production and we are working to improve in these areas, but we feel it’s important that everyone is able to understand and appreciate the negative and positive impacts of sustainable practice so that together we can contribute to improving the services, solutions and connections towards a stronger and more reliant economy.
Chemical bonding. Incada Silk does use a chemical bleaching process to create a strong and high quality stock, the mechanical pulp isn’t able to reach the quality standards to achieve the product longevity and overall durability required for a business card. We are working hard to identify new products that reduce or replace the chemical bonding process with an annual review.
Hardwood. 29% of the product is made out of eucalyptus trees from Chile and Portugal. It’s well documented that the planting, harvesting and overall production of hardwood in Chile has contributed to creating a skills gap whilst reducing the stability of local agriculture by redirecting natural resources such as water to intensive hardwood production. We are identifying local initiatives run and managed by local people to reduce the skills gap, upskill and integrate into a more resilient local economy whilst encouraging global hardwood producers to lead and invest in local programmes.
Carbon Sequestration. The length of time and the nature of the sequestration don’t sufficiently reduce our short term GHG emissions. Therefore we’re looking to work with new initiatives that increase the sequestration cycle or use carbon for the process of creating new products and energy.
Logistics. The chain of transportation companies involved in the product life cycle is a broad and complex grid of independent stakeholders who all play a vital role in the environmental and economic impact of the product. We are working to identify and invest in the move towards new technologies that reduce emissions from air, shipping, rail and road transportation. In addition, we’re working to find local sources of alternative raw materials that could replace the materials which are required to be transported over prolonged distances.