Where business and sustainability meet in the pulp and paper industry

Old spruce, fir and pine trees in wilderness of a national park.
Shutterstockzlikovec
Old spruce, fir and pine trees in wilderness of a national park.

This is a sponsored article from Domtar.

Join Paige Goff, vice-president of sustainability and business communications at Domtar; and Richard Donovan, senior vice president and vice president of forestry at Rainforest Alliance, in a Q&A discussion on how sustainability plays a role in the the manufacturing of pulp and paper products.

Starting with the facts, what does it mean to be “sustainable” in the pulp and paper industry? Aren’t pulp and paper products made from trees? 

Paige Goff: Our industry, of course, depends on the forest, but this reliance strengthens our interest to keep forests as forests. Without a sustainable source of virgin fiber upon which to rely on, we’d be putting Domtar’s future at risk. We rely on the forest, and we rely on a healthy forest. In responsibly managed forests, trees are a renewable resource. 

Sustainability is at the heart of our business strategy. How? Sustainability governs our fiber procurement through our Pulp & Paper Sustainable Forestry Principles. These principles guide our fiber procurement by requiring transparency, collaboration, and accountability.

Our Sustainable Forestry Principles focus on making a positive impact in the forests we source from, and enriching the communities in which we operate today. We want to protect forests for our families and future generations. That’s why we make choices that leave the forests that we depend on better off for the long term. 

Richard Donovan: In North America, we want to see our forests thriving  not turned into parking lots or shopping centers. We want to “keep forests as forests” wherever humanly possible. 

We know for landowners there can be an inclination to sell their land, and we work to partner with landowners  the families actually maintaining and taking care of the forests  and local organizations and committed businesses like Domtar, to explore alternatives to selling land for urbanization or other kinds of development. 

Pledges? Zero deforestation initiatives? Principles? What does it all mean? 

Donovan: From a forest conservation perspective, commitments to halting deforestation (per zero deforestation pledges) can be a good first step.  That said, the bigger challenge is to not just stop deforestation, but to move towards sustainability — social, environmental and technical performance that can create long-term, multi-generational businesses and vibrant local communities.

 

The fact is that despite these pledges, we continue to see deforestation as a huge problem in our industry. From our perspective, it is simply not enough to promise to do no harm now or in the future without making fundamental changes.  In part these changes should compensate or mitigate for damage inflicted in the past.  But the changes should also mean re-engineering companies with long-term sustainability in mind.   

The term "deforestation-free" is challenging. We are finding that  that it can sometimes detour companies off the track towards sustainability (stopping deforestation is critical, but it should not be a "stand alone" objective), lead to either a lack of transparency regarding how forest products companies can actually accomplish such a goal.  

Given the many commitments that have been made recently, we feel it is our duty to push for more consistent and transparent definitions and accountability around forest issues. So we are working with other NGOs, companies and even researchers to create innovative, effective and cost-efficient tools  that can help ensure deforestation-free pledges are actually honored.  

Goff: Domtar has a strong legacy as a sustainability-focused company. We have proven that it’s possible in North America to grow your business while simultaneously furthering sustainable forestry practices and making a positive impact in local communities. 

In 2005, Domtar revolutionized the industry when it became the first forest products company in North America to offer a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified copy paper  and today, Domtar’s EarthChoice Product Line includes the widest range of FSC-certified paper on the North American market.

Deforestation cannot be addressed in isolation — but rather it should be integrated into a more comprehensive system for sustainable forest management. 

What about the full supply chain? How is it possible to know all partners are working towards the same sustainability goals? 

Donovan: Tracing a supply chain can be complicated. We started doing chain-of-custody auditing and certification in 1990  creating the strong link between the forest source and the products we all consume. At first this was considered impossible.

Since then, certification programs, including chain of custody certification, have become accepted as an important part of our industry  reinforcing accountability and responsibility. Recognized, high quality third-party certification programs are not a panacea, but they can help ensure that forests are managed in a responsible, sustainable, and transparent manner.  

Goff: Exactly, it all starts with knowing where your wood is coming from. But third-party certification is far from simple. The standards are complicated — even for major corporations with full-time staff that are dedicated to meeting the standards — let alone for our own suppliers. 

We developed a supply chain transparency tool, The Paper Trail, for consumers to measure the impact of their paper purchases. The Paper Trail presents gate-to-gate impact estimates for Domtar products across five environmental categories, reporting both positive and negative outcomes: water; fiber; greenhouse gas emissions; waste; and renewable energy.

Additionally, the award-winning site gives users a unique look into the people and places behind Domtar products by sharing the company’s positive impact on local communities and role as a major employer throughout many North American communities. The Paper Trail allows our customers to view detailed information associated with Domtar’s supply chain, a rarity in today’s global marketplace.

Many of our suppliers are small forest landowners who often don’t have the time or money needed to achieve certification. There are a lot of unresolved issues right now around certification — but it must be more accessible in order to be feasible.  

We’re doing what we can within our own supply chain, by working one-on-one with small landowners in the southeast U.S. to help them become certified. We provide these landowners with resources to help them become certified. And they become preferred Domtar suppliers. We just recently announced that Domtar helped certify more than half a million acres of southeast forestlands through our Four States Timberland Owners Association. 

So, what does the future hold? 

Goff: We know that consumers are paying closer attention to their sustainable purchasing decisions and I think this will continue to help raise expectations related to supply chain accountability. Implementing sustainability across your organization is hard work, but it’s worthwhile work for our business and our environment. 

For Domtar, we remain committed to sustainable forest management to ensure the long-term future of forests, surrounding communities, and businesses that rely on their resources. 

Donovan: There is no single widget that will solve forest issues. After over 25 years of experience in this arena, Rainforest Alliance has learned that company leadership (at the CEO and senior staff level) is absolutely critical. If that leadership is there, building on certification and other tools, companies can contribute to conserving forests, supporting vibrant communities, and also meet their bottom-line financial targets.

Increasingly there is data suggesting that leadership companies that put stewardship at the top of their priority list are not only good companies to support or invest in, but also great places to work in or work with.

At Rainforest Alliance we like to think that the companies we are working with — however much they will change over the coming years — will be around for many years. They will continue to innovate, continually moving forward with business models that are based on renewable resources, positive relations with communities, and contributing to forest and ecosystem conservation both at home and around the globe.