With more than $6.5 billion in annual revenue, Domtar is a huge force in the commercial paper industry, making everything from office paper to adult incontinence supplies.
Its commitment to sourcing and harvesting timber responsibly stretches back more than 10 years, when it started using the Forest Stewardship Council guidelines. The company's EarthChoice brand is one expression of that strategy.
But to transform its sustainability initiatives from a resource-saving and cost-cutting exercise, Domtar stopped thinking of itself as a commodity pulp and paper company and started looking far more closely at which timber and wood components it was using resourcefully, and which it was not.
"It's really our vision to become a global leader in fiber innovation," said David Struhs, vice president of sustainability for the Montreal-based company. "This is the heart of what sustainability is all about."
Historically speaking, the pulp and paper industry has improved efficiency and squeezed out production costs by investing in pulp-processing technology innovation such as the ability to produce wider sheets at faster speeds, Struhs said.
"Some of the fundamentals remain true, but given the fact that we are in an industry that is declining, it has forced us to rethink long-held beliefs," he said.
As a result, Domtar has refocused its research and development on solving a different puzzle: how to make better use of the ingredients that usually wind up as waste products such as lignin, which you can think of as the "glue" that holds the tree together.
Next page: Turning waste into a commodity