Celebrating the sustainability of a "common future"

Today, Wednesday 4 August, we celebrate the birthday of sustainability. Yes, because on August 4, 1987, thanks to the so-called “Brundtland report”, our common environmental future was first discussed in terms of “sustainable development”


The Brundtland report and the definition of sustainability

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

With these words, the report “Our Common Future” by the World Commission on Environment and Development (United Nations) introduced the concept of “sustainable development”. It was August 4, 1987, and the report was presented by the first female Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, called to chair the commission four years earlier.

The word “sustainability”, originating from the Latin “sustinere”, was well recognized in green circles at the time and referred to man’s footprint on the planet but without any reference to planning for the future.

The Brundtland report presented a definition of sustainable development based on axes such as the responsibility of present generations towards future ones, the right to the satisfaction of needs, well-being extended to all people, and the removal of socio-economic-structural factors upstream of pollution.

It was a new paradigm, a Copernican revolution that is still considered an absolute reference today. Among the calls to action, we find: “sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations for a better life. A world in which poverty is endemic will always be prone to ecological and other catastrophes.”


The modernity of the Brundtland report

The Brundtland report – the reading of which is strongly recommended – is well-argued, comprehensive and brimming with concrete ideas. The spheres of action of sustainability defined by the report – namely environment, economy and well-being, viewed in particular in terms of their interdependence – remain today the pillars on which we base discussion of the environment. In 2021 more than ever, on the threshold of what many refer to as an ecological revolution, Our Common Future stands out for its clout and vision.


The role of the tissue industry in the pursuit of sustainability

Tissue paper products are humanity’s best solution for a set of basic needs. This does not mean, however, that the methods of production, distribution, consumption and disposal/reuse cannot be improved in all respects. Improvement in ecological performance is possible and is concretely achievable, as is zero impact. And at a time when the Earth’s resources are being stretched beyond their limit (i.e. humanity is living in such a way as to deplete the planet’s resources), must become an imperative.

Tissue production begins with taking something from the environment. Already in this very first phase, a meeting of political choices, respect for regulations, good practice and technology can cancel out the impact. If there is a clear and well-defined regulatory framework, if we adopt industrial choices aimed at safeguarding resources and bringing IoT technology directly to the forests, it is possible to take from the environment while still being respectful of forest life cycles. This will generate a continuous turnover of wood fibre that guarantees the quality of the raw material, sufficient supply, and the maintenance of green spaces. All the actions involved in this phase, from harvesting to transport, from primary processing to the distribution of the processed material, can be performed sustainably, through choices that limit the impact, through new hyper-efficient technological solutions, and through mitigation. The role of technology in this context is foundational, enabling trees, forests, land, modes of transport and machinery to “talk” to each other through algorithms and control systems governed by the synergy between machine learning and human intelligence. And all to create increasingly efficient, less impactful, and – above all – continuously improving processes.

The brands that produce and distribute tissue products play a fundamental role in spreading a culture of cleanliness and hygiene. The acquisition of new technology and new hygiene and sanitary habits have constituted a crucial step in the attainment of improved levels of collective health and well-being. To understand how tissue paper products are essential to achieve the highest levels of global health, just think about the fact that infectious diseases introduce pathogens to the body via the skin and mucous membranes. So this is where wipes, toilet paper, handkerchiefs, napkins and similar products can intervene, allowing for effective and safe cleaning. As we were saying, the brands that make these products play a fundamental role in collective well-being, but by entering homes and becoming part of people’s daily habits, they can also play a part in health education – based on trust and familiarity – supporting small and large communities in the acquisition of new healthy habits. Cleaning, personal hygiene, environmental hygiene (from the car to the kitchen, from the bathroom to public spaces) must be accepted and adopted the world over. This is the only way to limit the spread of diseases and conditions that, if contracted, reduce quality of life and lead to the production of new sources of pollution (antibiotics and drugs, non-recyclable disposable items, services, transport and travel by road). In short, health does not generate impacts on the environment when it is achieved thanks to simple habits and recyclable products. This, too, is sustainable development.

Even the disposal/reuse phase can and must be designed with optimum environmental performance in mind, based on accurate and correct information and making use of processing technologies which, through their impact on the packaging and distribution phases, can create finished products that are distributed with minimum emissions and ensure total recyclability or disposal without burdening the environment.

At the heart of all this is the actual creation of tissue products that starts from the raw material, then converts, creates and packages. This is a phase in which technology is constantly improving in terms of additives, energy efficiency, and continuity of production.

Sustainable technology for tissue production today means machinery that:

  • complies with strict consumption criteria
  • can be updated without interrupting work cycles
  • is safer and quieter.

The processing itself is also increasingly sustainable thanks to:

  • limited impact
  • continuous development of new, eco-sustainable processes and concepts.

The path which the iT’s Tissue companies follow is clear and well defined:

  • design oriented towards limiting impact
  • optimization of all stages of machinery production
  • development of user- and environment-friendly tools for monitoring and optimization
  • customer assistance for preventive maintenance
  • continuous research aimed at efficiency.


Best wishes, then, to sustainable development: the future that the planet deserves and a responsibility on all our shoulders. The iT’s Tissue companies will celebrate in the belief that next year, on the occasion of the 35th birthday of the Brundtland report, they will already be able to make the decisive step towards eliminating polluting production, achieving total sustainability in the world of tissue.

In the meantime, to contribute to better understanding of the logic and dynamics of sustainability, the Tissue Convergence platform is ready and active. The platform is reserved for tissue industry professionals who, through registration, can gain access to documents, case histories and focus areas. And today on Tissue Convergence it is also possible to access the speeches and industry data presented during Scenario 2021, with guests including Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel laureate in economics), Luciano Floridi (University of Oxford) and Blake Moret (Rockwell Automation).