Kompass Nachhaltigkeit

Öffentliche Beschaffung


Social and ecological risks in the supply chain of paper

Short overview (in German)

What you should take into consideration when purchasing paper products

Public administration in Germany uses around 80,000 metric tons of paper each year. The energy needed to produce one metric ton of paper made of fresh fibres is equivalent to that needed to produce one ton of steel (UBA). Here, you can learn more about the social and ecological risks in paper production. You can use the procurement process to reduce negative impacts. Procuring recycled paper for example can reduce energy consumption.

Further Information

For general information on integrating sustainability into the procurement process, see here.

An online tool to assess the local human rights situation by "Helpdesk Business & Human Rights" is available here.

Municipal best practice examples of sustainable procurements of paper, see here (German only).

Further information on paper (in German):

Supply chain risks of paper products in detail

Supply chain in detail

(according to UBA)

Click on the individual stages in the information graphic on the left to learn more about the ecological and social risks when procuring paper products.

01 Extraction

Wood is needed to produce paper from fresh or primary fibres. Although it is a renewable raw material, the high demand is anything but environmentally friendly: Every year, 13 to 15 million hectares of forest are lost worldwide – equivalent to about 35 football fields per minute. And not all forests are the same: Virgin or semi-natural forests are cleared, often illegally, for non-native tropical species such as eucalyptus. This also applies to logging in northern boreal forests. Furthermore, tropical timber is often grown on plantations, as monocultures. This means that using wood which does not come from sustainable forestry leads to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of habitats.

Environmental risks

  • Forest degradation and deforestation, especially due to illegal logging
  • Loss of carbon and water sinks
  • High pesticide and fertiliser use in monocultures, which at the same time deplete soils through one-sided nutrient requirements
  • Monocultures cause loss of land for alternative use (e.g. agriculture)
  • Negative impacts on biodiversity (loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity)

Social risks

  • Loss of homes and livelihoods, especially for indigenous communities
  • Precarious and dangerous working conditions in the logging industry
  • Violation of workers' right to assembly and the right to collective bargaining
  • Low wages

Further reading

02 Production

The paper manufacturing process is highly energy-intensive, making the paper industry one of the largest industrial energy consumers of all – and causing correspondingly high greenhouse gas emissions. In groundwood or pulp mills, fibres are detached from the wood composite – a process which uses large amounts of energy, chemicals and water. By contrast, recycled paper and other paper products made from recovered paper fare much better by environmental comparison: The process water required to produce paper from secondary fibres is two to six times lower, and the energy consumption three to four times lower, than that of production from wood.

Examples of the negative impacts of paper production include:

Environmental risks

  • High material consumption
  • High energy consumption
  • High water consumption
  • Use of chemicals

Social risks

  • Precarious and unhealthy working conditions
  • Violation of workers' right to assembly and the right to collective bargaining
  • Low wages

Further reading

03 Consumption

Local governments can reduce their paper consumption, for example by implementing digitisation measures and making double-sided printing and copying standard practice. They can also use recycled paper that has been certified to high sustainability standards. Furthermore, regardless of whether the paper is produced from primary or secondary fibres, paper with a high degree of whiteness should be avoided. This is because it is produced using bleaching agents or a more complex fibre cleaning process.

Further reading

04 Disposal

Paper becomes waste paper, and waste paper becomes recycled paper – to promote this cycle, municipalities must ensure proper waste separation. From an environmental perspective, disposing of waste paper in landfills is the worst solution. Recycling waste paper and making new paper from it is much more environmentally sound than incinerating it to obtain energy.

Environmental risks

  • Generation of quantities of waste
  • Contamination of air and water through waste incineration

Further reading

05 Transport

Logging in Russia, production in Finland, then transport to Germany: supply chains for paper can look more or less like this. Transport from the point of extraction to the finished product usually involves covering long stretches by sea, HGV and rail. Fuel consumption and exhaust fumes cause harm to the environment and the climate, which also damages human health. The Euro VI emission standard applies to transport by heavy vehicles such as lorries, and public purchasers should require it for transport. From an environmental perspective it makes sense to regionalise production in order to avoid transportation of the various product parts over long distances.