Monday, 24 October 2011

Tesco, Sainsbury's and Oxford notepads

BFTF needed to buy some notepads this week and wanted to ensure that they were made from paper that had been sustainably sourced, so as not to contribute to the destruction of the worlds remaining natural forests. First stop was a Tesco Superstore where the options were:

i) Tesco own brand, which was 60% recycled paper - not bad, but 60% isn't 100% which is what BFTF was looking for.

ii) Oxford Optic Notepad. This packaging claims that the paper "sourced from sustainably managed forests" and has a logo with a picture of a tree and the words "The Paper by Nature certificate guarantees the low environmental impact from raw materials selection to the finished product". BFTF wanted to find out a little more so went home to have a look on the Interweb for some more information. Visiting the Oxford website, BFTF found a statement that "All the paper used in the Notebooks range comes from a sustainable souce. Paper by Nature accredited". So far so good. There was a link to the Paper by Nature website and, from there to the Paper by Nature standard, which BFTF followed. The standard is a little difficult for a layperson to follow but, so far as BFTF can determine (the key bit seems to be Section B, Part 6A) , a manufacturer can pass the standard by using only 50% sustainably sourced/recycled paper. Oh dear. 50% is a long way from the website claim that "all the paper. . .comes from a sustainable source". BFTF was not a happy bunny after reading this, not a happy bunny at all.

Having discounted Tesco, BFTF tried Sainsbury's, and was delighted to find that they stocked pads made from 100% recycled paper. Result !

BFTF, being BFTF, couldn't let things lie, so sent off emails to Oxford paper, Tesco and Sainsbury's (see below). . .

To Oxford Paper :
"I was looking to purchase a number of notebooks this week and wanted to ensure that they had been produced from paper that had been sustainably sourced / recycled. So I was chuffed to find that your notebooks had a note on them saying that they were made from paper that had been "sourced from sustainably managed forests" and was further reassured by the statement on the Oxford website stating that "All the paper used in the Notebooks range comes from a sustainable source. Paper by Nature accredited"

I've followed the links to the Paper by Nature standard and, so far as I can tell (the key bit seems to be Section B, Part 6A) this only requires that a manufacturer use 50% sustainably sourced/recycled paper.

I have to say that 50% seems to be a disturbingly long way from the "all paper" stated on the Oxford website, and from the statement on the product packaging. I'm sure I've got the wrong end of the stick somewhere and am hoping that you can explain where I have misunderstood the Paper by Nature standard."

Update(13 Nov): Following a little email tennis, received an email from Oxford that included the comment:
". . . All paper used in Oxford Notebooks is from a sustainable source . . "

which sounds great, but BFTF wanted to find out exactly what Oxford meant by "sustainable", so asked them the following :

. . . When you say "sustainable", what do you mean? Do you mean FSC certified (which would be a good thing)? Or PEFC (which would be a less good thing)? Or IS014001 (which does not guarantee any kind of sustainability really)? Or something else? . . .

Update(17 Nov): Received a response from Oxford Books saying that their products are "made in numerous factories all of which have different certifications" and requesting a product reference so that they could give the correct infomation. BFTF hasn't done this yet, but hopes to in the next few days, inahallah.

To Tesco:
"I was looking to purchase a number of notebooks this week and wanted to ensure that they had been produced from paper that had been sustainably sourced / recycled. I noticed that you have a line of notebooks that are made from 60% recyled paper.

I just wanted to say thank you for making this effort but I'm afraid that when I know that 40% of the paper is NOT sustainably sourced, I get a bit nervous.

So in this case, I'm afraid I have made my purchases from Sainsbury's, who have a line of notepads made from 100% recycled paper. I hope that, at some point in the future, Tesco is able to offer notebooks that are made with 100% FSC certified / recycled paper."
Update(03 Nov): Tesco emailed back saying that my comments had been registered as a suggestion with the buying team and that "Hopefully, you will soon see 100% recycled Notepads within our stores"

To Sainsbury's:
"I was looking to purchase a number of notebooks this week and wanted to ensure that they had been produced from paper that had been sustainably sourced / recycled. I initially visited Tesco, but they did not have any pads that were made from 100% FSC certified/ recycled paper. They did have a line of notepads by Oxford that were certified as conforming to the "Paper by Nature" standard, but this (so far as I can tell) only requires manufacturers to source 50% of their paper from a sustainable source. So I was chuffed to find that Sainsbury's do a line of notepads made with 100% recycled paper. Well done and please keep up the good work."
Update(03 Nov): Sainsbury's emailed back. Understandably chuffed, they commented that they had "forwarded your comments to our team of buyers who’ll be delighted to receive them". This comment makes BFTF recall the words of a number of guests from NGO's like Greenpeace who have told the BFTF radio show that the people in the communications and marketing departments at retailers and manufacturers are not soulless automatons but are living, breathing, feeling people like you and I. And they will react to customer comments in just the same way you or I would if we were in their postion.

You can find other small examples of consumer activism in the "sustainability" page on this blog.

If you are finding that a retailer is falling short in an ethical area, why not email them and let them know what standards you expect. Many guests on the Building for the Future radio show have pointed out that only a few emails need to land at a company HQ before the staff there start getting nervous. It would be great if readers could give an example of where they have challenged retailers in the comments section below.

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