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A Supply-Chain Made of Paper: Is It Sustainable?

Don't tell anyone, but deep into the Electronic Age, we're still using paper.

A Supply-Chain Made of Paper: Is It Sustainable?

Hundreds of millions of tons of it, in fact. Enough to place continuing pressure on the world’s forests, without paper producers taking dramatic steps to mitigate their impact on the environment.

Fortunately, there are some aggressive programs well underway. One is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), launched in 1993 after the failure of the Rio Earth Summit the previous year to produce an agreement that would stop rampant deforestation. The independent, non-profit group represented an unprecedented coming together of businesses, environmental groups and community leaders.

Today, the FSC sets global standards for defining “responsible forestry.” It covers more than just cutting down trees – goals include ensuring water quality, prohibiting the use of hazardous chemicals and protecting the rights of local communities.

Aligning the forest-products industry with FSC’s strict guidelines is no easy task. The paper supply chain is a complex one, says Paige Goff, vice president of sustainability and business communication with Domtar Corp.

It starts, of course, with the tree – freshly cut and combined with scraps and leftovers from the sawmill. At the mill, the trees are rinsed of impurities with huge volumes of water, then converted into chips, which are sorted by size and moved to the pulping operation. Individual wood fibers and chips must be separated, with the pulping procedure adjusted according to the type of paper being produced. Finally, water is removed from the wood-fiber “soup,” with the remaining material compressed and turned into a variety of paper products.

Founded in England in 1848, Domtar has been around a lot longer than the FSC or similar environmental stewards. Today it consists of two business segments, pulp and paper and personal care. Revenues were $5.4bn in 2013. The company is the largest integrated maker of uncoated freesheet paper in North America, and the second-largest in the world based on production capacity.

When it comes to achieving sustainability, Domtar considers itself a “trail-blazer” in the marketplace, says Goff. Its formal participation in forest-management initiatives dates back to 1997. The company’s first contact with FSC was one year later, when the organization’s Canadian arm asked it for assistance in drawing up a standard for the country’s Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region, as well as the U.S. Northeast.

In 2000, Domtar became the first forest-products company in North America to achieve FSC certification, based on the harvesting of trees in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. And in 2002, the company manufactured its first ton of paper under FSC requirements, which Goff calls “the gold standard in our industry.”

Achieving sustainability, of course, starts with figuring out what the word entails. Goff says FSC makes sure that Domtar’s audit center performs according to the organization’s wide-ranging standards. It puts people on the ground where the company sources its fiber, to ensure that it’s acting responsibly toward wildlife in those areas. And it rates Domtar according to the latter’s ability to prepare land for re-harvesting after clear-cutting. “We feel like our job is to make sure that forests are here forever,” Goff says.

Domtar works under a broad “sustainability umbrella” to produce its EarthChoice brand of paper, which the company claims is the first general-use copy paper to be produced in North America under FSC certification. The concept covers the entire manufacturing process, from fiber sourcing to production, usage and recycling. Buyers can consult Domtar’s “Paper Trail,” an online resource calculator, to determine the impact of a given product. It shows how Domtar ranks against the industry average in such areas as water usage, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, transportation distance and reliance on renewable energy. For Domtar, the tool is more than a means of blowing its own horn; it also reveals where the company might be falling short in its sustainability efforts.

Domtar’s supply-chain network in North America covers 13 paper mills, 11 converting facilities and 10 regional distribution centers, the last of which are strategically located near major accounts. The setup not only ensures better customer service; it minimizes transportation and accompanying greenhouse gas emissions. But carrier emissions are not part of the calculations that go into meeting FSC standards, Goff says.

The company’s biggest challenge in ensuring supply-chain sustainability lies in gaining access to FSC-certified fiber. Canada hosts large parcels of government-owned land, but the U.S. sourcing base consists of many small private landowners. “It’s very difficult to educate them and show that FSC certification is the way to go,” says Goff.

In what she describes as a “milestone,” Domtar announced in September of 2014 that it had sold 5 million tons of FSC-certified product through the EarthChoice line. But there’s more work to be done. Domtar has set a goal to source 100 percent of its fiber from FSC-approved sources; currently the share is just 20 percent.

Goff says the company is working closely with non-governmental organizations to ensure that it “continues to raise that bar.” Further improvement is essential to the well-being of the environment and business alike. As more companies sign on to the FSC standards, a sustainable forest-products supply chain stops being a market differentiator, and becomes a requirement for doing business.

Next: Closing the loop on recycling.

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Hundreds of millions of tons of it, in fact. Enough to place continuing pressure on the world’s forests, without paper producers taking dramatic steps to mitigate their impact on the environment.

Fortunately, there are some aggressive programs well underway. One is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), launched in 1993 after the failure of the Rio Earth Summit the previous year to produce an agreement that would stop rampant deforestation. The independent, non-profit group represented an unprecedented coming together of businesses, environmental groups and community leaders.

Today, the FSC sets global standards for defining “responsible forestry.” It covers more than just cutting down trees – goals include ensuring water quality, prohibiting the use of hazardous chemicals and protecting the rights of local communities.

Aligning the forest-products industry with FSC’s strict guidelines is no easy task. The paper supply chain is a complex one, says Paige Goff, vice president of sustainability and business communication with Domtar Corp.

It starts, of course, with the tree – freshly cut and combined with scraps and leftovers from the sawmill. At the mill, the trees are rinsed of impurities with huge volumes of water, then converted into chips, which are sorted by size and moved to the pulping operation. Individual wood fibers and chips must be separated, with the pulping procedure adjusted according to the type of paper being produced. Finally, water is removed from the wood-fiber “soup,” with the remaining material compressed and turned into a variety of paper products.

Founded in England in 1848, Domtar has been around a lot longer than the FSC or similar environmental stewards. Today it consists of two business segments, pulp and paper and personal care. Revenues were $5.4bn in 2013. The company is the largest integrated maker of uncoated freesheet paper in North America, and the second-largest in the world based on production capacity.

When it comes to achieving sustainability, Domtar considers itself a “trail-blazer” in the marketplace, says Goff. Its formal participation in forest-management initiatives dates back to 1997. The company’s first contact with FSC was one year later, when the organization’s Canadian arm asked it for assistance in drawing up a standard for the country’s Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region, as well as the U.S. Northeast.

In 2000, Domtar became the first forest-products company in North America to achieve FSC certification, based on the harvesting of trees in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. And in 2002, the company manufactured its first ton of paper under FSC requirements, which Goff calls “the gold standard in our industry.”

Achieving sustainability, of course, starts with figuring out what the word entails. Goff says FSC makes sure that Domtar’s audit center performs according to the organization’s wide-ranging standards. It puts people on the ground where the company sources its fiber, to ensure that it’s acting responsibly toward wildlife in those areas. And it rates Domtar according to the latter’s ability to prepare land for re-harvesting after clear-cutting. “We feel like our job is to make sure that forests are here forever,” Goff says.

Domtar works under a broad “sustainability umbrella” to produce its EarthChoice brand of paper, which the company claims is the first general-use copy paper to be produced in North America under FSC certification. The concept covers the entire manufacturing process, from fiber sourcing to production, usage and recycling. Buyers can consult Domtar’s “Paper Trail,” an online resource calculator, to determine the impact of a given product. It shows how Domtar ranks against the industry average in such areas as water usage, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, transportation distance and reliance on renewable energy. For Domtar, the tool is more than a means of blowing its own horn; it also reveals where the company might be falling short in its sustainability efforts.

Domtar’s supply-chain network in North America covers 13 paper mills, 11 converting facilities and 10 regional distribution centers, the last of which are strategically located near major accounts. The setup not only ensures better customer service; it minimizes transportation and accompanying greenhouse gas emissions. But carrier emissions are not part of the calculations that go into meeting FSC standards, Goff says.

The company’s biggest challenge in ensuring supply-chain sustainability lies in gaining access to FSC-certified fiber. Canada hosts large parcels of government-owned land, but the U.S. sourcing base consists of many small private landowners. “It’s very difficult to educate them and show that FSC certification is the way to go,” says Goff.

In what she describes as a “milestone,” Domtar announced in September of 2014 that it had sold 5 million tons of FSC-certified product through the EarthChoice line. But there’s more work to be done. Domtar has set a goal to source 100 percent of its fiber from FSC-approved sources; currently the share is just 20 percent.

Goff says the company is working closely with non-governmental organizations to ensure that it “continues to raise that bar.” Further improvement is essential to the well-being of the environment and business alike. As more companies sign on to the FSC standards, a sustainable forest-products supply chain stops being a market differentiator, and becomes a requirement for doing business.

Next: Closing the loop on recycling.

Comment on This Article

A Supply-Chain Made of Paper: Is It Sustainable?