I love bush walking through Australia's incredible natural wonderlands, rich with ancient Indigenous history and unique flora and fauna. Knowing that wild places are threatened by habitat loss and climate change has always inspired me to tread as lightly on the Earth as possible.
Back in 2003, inspired by my joy for nature, I wondered if we could find more enlightened ways to live, work and create. Where businesses could operate as a model for good, to help heal the Earth and restore these precious wild places.
I had a few years experience working in the publishing industry in my early 20's, witnessing wasteful print practices first hand. The books and stationery were not made from recycled paper, and I would hold my nose when I visited the printing press because it smelled so toxic. I also noticed that there were very few greeting cards produced using recycled paper, so I thought that producing recycled paper products sustainably would be a good place to start! So I quit my dreary office job, to start an Earth friendly greeting card and stationery business.
But I had no concept of how challenging producing "Earth friendly" paper products would be.
The more I researched, the more horrified I was at how much environmental destruction can be caused by the paper making process. Dense, diverse forest which took years to establish is destroyed, wildlife loses its home or is confined to smaller areas, to the carbon-emmitting transportation of the wood, the pulping process using vast amounts of water, and pollution created in paper bleaching and printers ink ending up in our air, water and food.
I was now even more determined than before not to use any paper that had been created in this way for my products. However I soon discovered that 100% recycled or alternative fibre for offset print was not even available in Australia. In 2003, the highest recycled content card stock available was only 50% recycled. The printer (and the paper supplier) were full of reassurance, telling me that this is "the most environmentally friendly stock available" and that it was produced at a mill with numerous environmental accreditations.
It also proved difficult to find printers and paper companies that took my questions seriously and were able to provide information about their environmental impact.
Eventually, after lots of research and phone calls (this is before the internet was everything!) I came across a printer who use vegetable inks exclusively (which do not contain mineral oil - which releases volatile organic compounds and hazardous heavy metals into the atmosphere) and at the very least lent an ear to my environmental concerns.
Every day, the major Australian greeting card manufacturers produce around 100,000 greeting cards. Unfortunately price still remains a barrier to commercial use of recycled stocks, which are often more than twice the price of a virgin fibre or mixed source stock. Presumably this is why most commercial greeting cards are still not printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper.
Thankfully, manufacturers are now becoming more aware of a growing concern about the environment, which is driving a change for the greener in many industries.
There are now a number of imported 100% post-consumer waste papers available in Australia, however they are still price-prohibitive, inhibiting their widespread use. There have been some small changes to production practices here to keep within legal Environmental Protection Authority limits, however the Australian paper industry has a long way to go to catch up with European practices.
Unfortunately there is still a distinct lack of 'alternative' fibre papers such as hemp or kenaf available in Australia that are suitable for offset print. There are also questions to be raised over forest-clearing land to grow the alternative crops in the first place.
100% post-consumer recycled paper is the best environmental choice.
That's because there are studies available which have revealed recycling paper uses much less energy and waste than making paper from virgin forest fibre. (Please see Paper, Printing & The Environment for more info.)
The forests that absorb carbon dioxide which is a major cause of global warming, are still dissappearing. Our water and atmosphere is still being polluted with poisons. Paper pulp mills are using water at an alarming rate. Our wildlife is losing its home. If we as consumers refuse to buy products that cause this level of destruction then manufacturers will be forced to use alternative methods.
The good news is, we now have a growing number of greener choices!
As well as making informed purchasing descisions, perhaps you would like to consider joining an environmental organisation committed to preserving trees and wildlife for the future.
Despite the growing accessibility of electronic media, giving a greeting card is still valued today as a simple and thoughtful gesture to connect, care and celebrate life. I want to make this choice easy for people who care about reducing their environmental footprint. I also hope to inspire others to appreciate nature more and therefore endeavour to protect it. You can listen to me talking about the story of my business in this podcast.
Heide Hackworth - Earth Greetings Founder