Domtar's collaborative approach to sustainable forestry

A tree sprout
Tree by tree, planting the groundwork for sustainability.

The following is a sponsored story by Domtar.

Billions could be spent developing state-of-the-art technologies that capture carbon dioxide out of the air, and they wouldn’t come close to the elegance and cost-effectiveness of the greatest carbon sequestration tool already at our disposal — the world’s 3 trillion trees. That might sound like a lot, but with a net loss of 12.8 million acres — the equivalent area of Costa Rica — occurring each year, we are swiftly outpacing the rate at which forests can regenerate.

In addition to wiping out entire ecosystems — and the $33 trillion worth of "services" they provide, such as facilitating food, water and air production, minimizing storm damage and producing natural medicines — deforestation is responsible for driving some 17 percent of global carbon emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

And let’s not forget about the 300 million people who call forests home. Around half this number are indigenous peoples whose traditional lifestyles are at risk.

The United Nations prioritizes sustainable forestry management in the Sustainable Development Goals as a key component of climate change mitigation. The goal aims to "protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss."

Taking action to halt deforestation by sustainably sourcing key commodities also is recognized as a business opportunity by nearly 90 percent of companies, according to a 2014 CDP report.

The paper and pulp industry, while not the leading driver of deforestation — most of it can be attributed to the expansion of soy and pasture land, palm oil production and other agricultural activities — still plays a noticeable role.

Michael Garcia at GreenBiz 16
Flash Gordon Murray
<p>Michael Garcia, president of Domtar's Pulp and Paper Division, at GreenBiz 16 in February in Scottsdale, Arizona.</p>

Domtar — recognized by many as one of the first significant sustainability players in the pulp and paper industry — has taken a collaborative approach with its stakeholders to develop an accountability structure that emphasizes performance over promises.

Foundational to Domtar’s sustainable forestry efforts are its "Sustainable Forestry Principles," which consist of five tenets governing its paper fiber procurement by requiring transparency, collaboration and accountability in all of its transactions. These principles are an important part of Domtar’s sustainability communications platform, EarthChoice, which the company says embodies its commitment to full circle responsibility, and encompasses the entire lifecycle of its products.

"The Sustainable Forestry Principles are part of our core values. It’s part of who we are. Our employees embrace it," said Michael Garcia, president of Domtar Pulp and Paper, at the GreenBiz 16 Forum during a workshop on collaborating in sustainable forestry management.

Conserve natural forest and biodiversity

Domtar works with stakeholders to conserve forests for future generations, to protect the biodiversity of natural forest ecosystems and to promote sustainable management practices that minimize environmental impacts. This also includes adopting "reasonable alternatives" to limit the use of chemical pesticides. On the backend, Domtar is committed to quickly acting to regenerate the forests in which it operates.

"We have long relationships with leading environmental groups," Garcia said. "And while we may have different perspectives, we share the same central values of sustainability: We’re all working to keep forests forests in North America."

Commit to local communities

As an influential presence in many communities around the world, Domtar invests in its people, products and manufacturing facilities — all of which help keep its business sustainable in both senses of the word. This allows the company to maintain competitive wages and insurance coverage for employees, purchase materials and services from local suppliers and provide revenue to governments to support public schools, social services and public infrastructure.

In addition to the community benefits Domtar provides by simply doing business in a sustainable way, the company also has donated more than $6 million toward direct philanthropic efforts — which it calls "community investments." These investments typically focus on promoting literacy, health and wellness and sustainability.

Empower landowners to keep forests as forests

Domtar’s demand for reliable, economical and marketable sources of fiber creates an incentive for landowners to prevent forest destruction, and avoid converting land to parking lots or other developments. This also leaves forests to continue providing their other environmental and social benefits, including the protection of water supplies, biodiversity, hunting, fishing and camping.

The company works with a range of partners, including leading environmental groups such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Rainforest Alliance, to invest in sustainable forest management practices that focus on the long term.

The forests in the southeastern United States contain globally significant conservation values, important watersheds and natural resources. Nearly 60 percent of these forests are owned by small landowners and families, according to the Rainforest Alliance, and changes in business patterns have increased industry dependence on these private forestlands for wood and fiber.

"Our challenge in the pulp and paper industry is different here in North America than it is in developing countries," Garcia said. "It’s not about deforestation, but keeping forests forests — we’re competing with other industries that want to buy land here but they don’t have that same commitment to sustainability."

To promote sustainable forestry in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky and southwest Virginia, Domtar, Avery Dennison, Kimberly Clark, Columbia Forest Products and Staples in May contributed to a $1.4 million grant to help the Rainforest Alliance engage local groups, woodland owners, foresters and other stakeholders about sustainable forest management and the Forest Stewardship Council Certification process for family woodland owners.

Domtar's Sustainable Forestry Principles

"Our foresters are engaging landowners, and because many of our employees are based in the south, they identify personally with our commitment to the land there," Garcia said. "Our true north is to always engage our supplier base and promote sustainable forest management.

"We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is and be there for the long-term for landowners. This is a long-term relationship for us. Our mills have been based in the Southeast for 100 years now. We’re not going anywhere."

The program, which formally began in July, focuses on four components: landowner outreach and education; streamlined sourcing assurance efforts; maintaining healthy forest ecosystems; and measuring and communicating project results.

"It’s important to show landowners that the marketplace wants and values the wood from their well-managed woodlands," said Andrew Goldberg, project manager of the Rainforest Alliance’s Southern Woodlands Alliance Project. "This program connects woodland owners with corporate partners and shares solid information about effective management of their woodlands."

"In the naturally regenerating hardwoods of our project area, for woodland owners, well-planned logging means that they don’t have to worry about it again. Years from now, the next generation will have their own chance to responsibly harvest their family forest land."

Much of this hinges on developing and maintaining close relationships with landowners, which is made easier through collaboration between stakeholders all along the supply chain.

"We work closely with Domtar to enhance our relationship with landowners. … It’s about having that kitchen table conversation and understanding how we can best support them," said Mark Buckley, vice president of environmental affairs at Staples. "And because Staples has the advantage of being close to the end user in our collective supply chain, we’re able to tell that story."

Safeguard endangered forests and wildlife

With the world’s forests under threat and more than half of the world’s wildlife having disappeared since 1970, according to the World Wildlife Fund, Domtar only purchases wood from "High Conservation Value Forests" if it is legally harvested based on conservation regulations and requirements. The company also makes sure that suppliers take specific measures to ensure the protection of these forests.

Domtar also aims to increase its supply of certified fiber by implementing and maintaining chain-of-custody certification to recognized third-party standards — primarily the Forest Stewardship Council as well as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. While Domtar prefers FSC where available, it uses fiber from multiple certification schemes.

Respect the culture and rights of indigenous peoples

With so many millions of indigenous peoples residing in forests, it’s impossible to call yourself a sustainable paper company without factoring their welfare into your business model. That’s why Domtar says it maintains "respectful, collaborative relationships" with indigenous communities in areas where it shares common public lands.

The company also encourages suppliers to develop and maintain working relationships with indigenous and other local communities to help ensure that the benefits of its operations remain in these communities. This can create long-term value for Domtar and indigenous communities alike.

In Ontario, Canada, for example, First Nation communities are invited by the Minister of Natural Resources to participate on Domtar’s Forest Management Planning Team, which provides the company with a formal opportunity to hear and understand First Nation values and to put in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure those values are respected. Likewise, First Nation communities are represented on Domtar’s Public Advisory Group, which discusses a range of topics and interests related to the Crown Forests, which Domtar manages on behalf of the province of Ontario.