The connection between paper production and deforestation looms large in the public mind – the image of "dead trees" is hard to shake. However, a better, more productive connection between the paper business and environmental stability may be in the pipeline. Methods of planting, harvesting and protecting tracts of forest have evolved in recent years, and if new methods can take hold within the industry and the public consciousness, it may help print-based businesses increase their appeal.

Checking in on the forests
It pays to check in on the state of the world's forests every few months as new data becomes available. Protecting these natural resources is vital, especially within the printing industry, due to the close connection the sector will always have with paper production. Printing Impressions contributor Phil Riebel recently began 2017 on a positive note, citing the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's data. He noted that the information accounts for an impressive 88 percent of the world's forests.

Riebel explained that in recent years, the annual reduction in forested land is 0.08 percent. That's less than half of the 0.18 percent annual declines seen during the paper-hungry 1990s. Protected forests are growing and the general trend is positive. In fact, the U.S. space covered by forests expanded by 8 million hectares in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010. In Canada, forested area fell by 1 million hectares over that period – but considering that the total is still 378 million hectares, and that it stayed steady between 2010 and 2015, the trend line seems solid there, too.

The importance of strong and sustainable forests for the printing industry goes without saying. No field wants to see itself burning through its most central resource. Riebel explained that forests have spent the past 15 years gaining recognition for the benefits they provide, and policies have borne out the rising desire for sustainability. This stabilization may help print service providers, paper manufacturers and other key parts of the printing business enhance their public image.

Striking up new agreements
Of course, for an industry to burnish its image, it must strike up credible agreements and keep itself in check. This is where paper producers find themselves now. As Triple Pundit contributor Phil Covington pointed out, there are plenty of programs there for producers to sign up for. Nonprofit groups such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative are willing to certify forests that follow responsible rules.

Covington noted that the future of the forestry industry may include increasing use of planted forests, with these man-made resources growing and being harvested at greater rates, while existing natural hardwood forests are never considered for destruction at all. Ongoing dialogue between industry bodies, logging companies and the organizations that use the paper in their products will help ensure that the encouraging trends seen in the paper usage studies continue in the years ahead.

Inspiring resolutions
Of course, making a check-in on the status of the sustainability industry around the New Year means now is a great time to see what printing industry companies have resolved to do – and not do – in 2017. Printing Impressions columnist Catherine Stewart took this approach, asking around to see what some printing business luminaries plan to accomplish. She noted that EarthColor, for instance, is interested in paper made with alternative fibers. If companies can get access to high-quality materials that don't need wood at all, they may revolutionize the sustainability debate.

Stewart also pointed out that The Printing House hailed groundbreaking rain forest protection agreements that have been signed in the past few years, and the part that paper users played in getting them finalized. The company's business development director, Scott Dillon, is excited to sign onto the next such pact. This kind of interest and buy-in among the very organizations that use the resources in question is heartening, as it proves that environmentalism isn't an outside force at odds with the printing sector, and can commonly come from within.

Print marketing goes green
Print companies existing in the new, more sustainable marketplace developing today can take pride in their products and services and use that as a marketing tactic. People who shy away from using paper because of the perceived environmental impact may make their way back into the fold when the facts show forests stabilizing and some of the movement toward sustainability comes from within.

This expansion of print's appeal may prove critical in an era when using paper is a choice, rather than a given. Digital communications have taken some of the budget and a great deal of the attention when it comes to marketing and internal documentation, but print has held on as a more specialized field. An ability to exist within an earth-friendly context is an interesting feather in print's cap, and one that may have seemed impossible to attain during its days of greatest popularity – and heavy tree consumption.