Back to top

LCA for paper, relevant as ever

LCA for paper
Groupe AGÉCO
December 13, 2016

Francois Charron-Doucet and Madavine Tom

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is the most commonly used methodology in the world to evaluate the environmental performance of products and services. This methodology is governed by international standards and is recognized as a rigorously scientific approach. However, in the pulp and paper sector, LCA has seen its share of detractors. Indeed, stakeholders have pointed out certain limitations in the application of this methodology to forest products and have criticized several studies for not taking those limitations into account in their findings. For example, the LCA approach has been criticized for inadequately assessing the impacts of forestry on biodiversity and carbon stocks, and for an imprecise analysis of regional and local issues.

Rolland, a pioneer in the use of LCA, to gain a thorough knowledge of its products, called upon the Groupe AGÉCO, a firm recognized for its leading-edge expertise in LCA, to recommend a study design using the newest concepts in the field.

The LCA community is always determined to improve the approach and is well aware of certain limitations. It has therefore worked very hard in recent years to develop new methods for addressing the weaknesses identified. The emergence of those new tools provided an excellent opportunity to conduct this study.

New improved methods

Based on AGÉCO’s experience, and on the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative’s recommendations, we have selected and applied new methods which are more representative of the reality. The LCA approach we have proposed includes the following improvements to the more conventional LCA approach still taken today:

  • Biogenic carbon

The calculation of impacts on climate change integrates the temporal dynamics between emissions and carbon capture with forest management, pulp production (e.g. black liquor combustion) and the carbon that remains in paper. This approach thus takes into account the period between carbon emissions from forest biomass (e.g. generated by tree cutting) and their future sequestration by trees recapturing as they grow the carbon that was released in the atmosphere.

Accordingly, biogenic carbon emissions are no longer climate-neutral, as some past studies concluded, but make a contribution that takes into account variations of carbon stocks in the atmosphere.

  • Biodiversity

We have also taken into account the potential impact on biodiversity by considering, for each type of paper, the quantity of wood originating from the various North American ecoregions. This regionalized inventory has enabled us to assess the impacts of forest management land occupation and transformation on four species (mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles) specific to each ecoregion. The biodiversity indicator’s results have confirmed the relative impact of virgin fiber on biodiversity and the relevance of having FSC-certified fiber.

The regionalized inventory has also led to the development of indicators for benchmarking specific issues, such as the number of species potentially affected by the supply of virgin fiber according to the severity of their extinction risk. The results of those risk indicators demonstrate, among other things, that virgin fiber used in manufacturing Rolland Opaque paper, as opposed to other virgin papers, does not risk affecting species in critical danger of extinction, but could potentially come from regions affecting caribou habitats.

Available results

The study’s detailed results and findings are presented in the full report, available on the company’s website,

Rolland always searches for solid data to evaluate its activities in the most relevant way possible. The LCA approach with its innovative and advanced methods provides essential credibility for obtaining the support of stakeholder groups. In fact, that recognition is demonstrated by the highly positive comments of the study’s critical review committee.

By offering a new perspective on its operations and supply chain, LCA enables Rolland to deepen its understanding of the issues and find effective ways to further reduce its environmental impact.


Groupe AGÉCO

Groupe AGÉCO has advanced expertise in measuring environmental and socioeconomic impacts and is a reference in life cycle analysis (LCA). The firm offers an integrated approach and customized projects to navigate a business environment in which productivity, quality and corporate responsibility must be reconciled.

Francois Charron-Doucet

Francois Charron-Doucet has been the Scientific Director of the Groupe AGÉCO’s Corporate Responsibility Services Division since March 2015, and also held that position at Quantis Canada. After graduating in physics engineering from Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, François obtained his master’s degree in 2007 in the field of life cycle analysis (LCA) and carbon assessments. Recognized in Canada and the United States for his great expertise in environmental life cycle analysis and for the rigour of his quality assurance controls, he is regularly invited to act as LCA chairman or expert in critical review committees. In the past decade, he has carried out or managed several hundred environmental assessment projects, such as full LCAs, carbon and water assessments, and CDP reports.

Madavine Tom

An engineer by training, Madavine Tom has been an Analyst at the Groupe AGÉCO since April 2015 and held the same position at Quantis Canada since November 2011. She graduated in environmental engineering from the University of Guelph (Canada) and completed her training with apprenticeships abroad. Madavine has conducted a great many environmental life cycle analyses related to textiles, agribusiness, packaging, information technologies and construction, in addition to working on carbon assessments and reviews of the literature reviews.