Digging Into Verifying Responsible Sourcing (VRS)

April 2021

The VRS is a developing Collaborative of SPC Forest Products

The VRS collaborative was created with three major marketplace trends in mind. First, many companies and brands are adopting 100% sustainable sourcing policies, which typically outline certified, verified, or recycled fiber sourced as acceptable. Prior work, by GreenBlue and others, has outlined the important role that certification plays including physical limitations of recycled fibers (fibers can only be recycled five to seven times before virgin inputs are needed) but there remains a gap in understanding regarding guidance for the vast amount of fiber that is neither recycled or from certified forests. Secondly, many companies are in the process of, or, considering replacing plastic packaging with paper alternatives; and while the Forest Products team loves fiber packaging, they recommend companies consider important performance characteristics and other potential environmental trade-offs before making the switch. Thirdly, companies have a better understanding today that using fiber from responsibly managed forests can support important conservation outcomes like cleaner air, water, biodiversity, and climate change mitigation. 

Nonetheless, increased interest in fiber-based packaging makes the work of the VRS that much more important. Currently, sustainable fiber procurement is a time-intensive and challenging process that involves verifying claims from a complex supply chain. The VRS Collaborative is considering ways they can help to simplify this procedure and provide educational content for companies who are committed to sourcing responsibly. 

The overarching vision of the VRS Collaborative is to develop a resource that provides information on the principles of responsible sourcing while also developing supplier questions that help to streamline the fiber procurement-verification process. This collaborative is still in the developmental stages, but an example of what some guiding principles may look like are outlined below. They are intended to help companies verify that they are purchasing fiber from sources that protect and promote healthy environmental, social, and economic systems. 

  1. Know where your wood comes from. Procurement managers should be able to track their wood back to the region it was sourced from inclusive of the level of risk in that specific region. 
  2. Ensure legality. Companies should further explore how their wood or fiber was sourced to ensure that the harvesting practices were in compliance with regulatory laws for that region.
  3. Protect unique forest features. Procurement managers should be aware of the high species richness, endangered species, breeding grounds, migration routes, etc. of where their fiber was sourced and whether or not those woods need to be protected or managed alternatively. 
  4. Verify product information, and build good working relationships with your suppliers. Building strong relationships with your suppliers can lead to transparency and positive outcomes for both parties. 
  5. Contribute to and invest in conservative outcomes. Companies can go the extra mile, going above and beyond, by investing in projects that enhance the resilience of forests regarding biodiversity, ecosystem restoration, etc. highlighting their passion for foresting sustainably.   

While the guiding principles in this collaborative are continuously improving, the team is hoping to create a practical foundational resource for companies that use wood or fiber in their products and packaging can utilize in the near future. For more information on this collaborative, or how to get involved, check out the VRS webpage here.