Exploring how paper helps you build a smarter sustainability strategy

6 minute read

From the enduring and pervasive power of print to modern processes deeply rooted in the circular economy, Stéphane Dagenais of Domtar Canada explains why smart marketing strategies embrace print as a standalone or to complement digital – no matter what you have heard.

Let me be clear: There is no reason to feel guilty about using paper.

In my work with Domtar, I meet people looking to green up their businesses by balancing print and sustainability. Most, however, don’t know how to start. That’s where I can help, by educating them on how forests are managed, where paper comes from and how the circular and sustainable natures of paper are good for businesses and the planet.

Let’s look at some of the common claims and concerns I hear about paper and see if I can help your business build a smarter sustainability strategy by better understanding paper.

What I hear: “It’s a digital world. Nobody responds to print anymore.”

How I respond: I hear this one more than anything.

Digital overload is real. People are stepping away from their devices and racing back to physical items and experiences. It’s not just us older folks, either. It’s not uncommon to see Gen Zers buying an LP or Millennial parents compiling a photo scrapbook of their kids.

That sentiment holds true for paper and print, as well. Physical book sales are on the upswing, trust in print is on the rise and print advertising has seen its effectiveness grow as people of all ages look for an escape from their screens.

This makes sense. Print is part of who we are. It has been proven that the human brain retains information better when taken from a physical book than from a screen. Our mind associates it with a physical space – where in the book it fell, what part of the page, perhaps near what graphic or picture. The brain wraps itself around this a lot easier. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t see books for learning, catalogs for browsing and advertising in all its print forms.

Print is very much alive – and the industry producing it has never been better positioned to sustain its growth and lighten its environmental footprint.

Discover 10 ways business and organizations like yours can create a smarter print strategy.

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What I hear: “Paper production is shrinking our forests and harming our environment.”

How I respond: Few industries are more focused on preserving the future than the forestry industry.

When you talk to our foresters, you’re talking to professionals who are working on something they’ll never see. In addition to managing today’s forest and protecting it from current challenges, they’re working on plans for a half century or more from now. You don’t manage a forest for the next quarter. It’s a 50-year plan.

What people think of as damage to our forests – you hear about deforestation, for example – they’re usually thinking about the changes that occur due to urban development (building housing, roads, etc.), agriculture, oil and gas or large industrial processes like mining.

That kind of damage is not a result of forestry. Quite the opposite, actually. For the last few generations, North American paper production has been a responsible, well-managed and third-party verified industry.

What does that mean? For our company, as an example, that means all of our paper mills are certified to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) and/or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Those certifications are renewed every five years.

With help from our forestry partners, we continue to educate landowners about certification and encourage an increased volume of certified fiber, improve wood sourcing traceability and better tracking of responsible forest practice use.

These certifications and processes show that forestry operations like ours meet rigorous environmental standards operation that allow us to meet consumer needs while providing benefits to the entire forest and those in it, from wildlife to outdoor enthusiasts to other industries dependent on well-managed forests.

Healthy forests and a thriving environment are not only good for the planet, but for our industry, as well.

What I hear: “Paper production is a wasteful process.”

How I respond: Go look for waste in the paper-making process. You won’t find much.

It may be surprising, but the vast majority of wood used in our production line is residue from the tree trunk (sawdust and wood chips) after it has been used by other industries in producing construction lumber, veneer flooring, doors and tables, furniture, cabinets and shipping crates/pallets

When we harvest a tree, there is a pecking order. From a financial standpoint, it makes no sense to harvest a tree to make paper alone. Lumber is the priority, and paper is way down the line.

I joke we’re not yet able to grow square trees, so when you cut lumber there will be a lot of excess that gets chipped and turned into paper.

Consider also the biomass, bark and other residues from the process. We use that, too. Our company burns that to generate steam to drive the generators that make the paper. Then once we’re done burning it, before we release the steam, we run that steam through a turbine and sell the power that generate back to the grid. Then we take the ashes from everything we’ve burned and throw them back in the forest to help balance pH of the forest soil.

People talk about the circular economy. Paper manufacturing is the circular economy at work. There is no waste. It’s renewable.

What I hear: “Recycling is enough to create a paper sustainability plan for my business.”

How I respond: You need to think beyond the blue box. Recycled paper is great, but it won’t save the world.

When we talk about communication paper, that’s not your pizza box turned into high-quality copy paper. The main stream for post-consumer recycled fiber is taken from office towers that have high-quality material collected from the copiers – and there’s a limited supply of it. Consider that if we went to using only recycled paper to create communication paper, we’d be out in six months.

One hundred per cent of paper will never be recycled. Paper degrades and can no longer be recycled. It is archived. So, the tons produced will never be one-for-one available to recycle. There’s going to be a lower percentage every time you recycle.

That means new fiber will always be important to the process.

Recycling is definitely an important element, but if you do not have the well-managed forests as part of the supply chain, you’re heading for troubled territory.

What I hear: “Sustainability is just a buzzword. It doesn’t really matter to people.”

How I respond: When you grow trees for a living, you understand some things take longer to mature. Sustainability is no different than trees in that sense. Not only is sustainability growing in importance, but also its definition is expanding, for customers, investors, regulators, employees and other stakeholders.

Take ESG – or environmental, social and governance – considerations, for example

Right now, that’s the biggest concern for large businesses. They see the trends developing that some of these sustainability concerns are going to be legislated and regulated at some point. So, they are getting out in front.

For them, buying from a credible source for paper is an insurance policy. It gives them sound answers on where their paper supply is coming from. Bigger companies are deciding that, yes, they may end up paying a little bit more because it’s not a flavour-of-the-month deal from a far-flung supplier, but it’s going to provide a steady supply with no issues.

In the corporate world, steady-and-issue-free are worth a lot more than short-term savings.

We all know change has costs, but the returns on those costs far outweigh the price tag. Some of these changes sound like the right thing to do – and they are – but in a couple of years, they may be legislated, and they will be the only thing you can do to stay in business.

Businesses of all sizes need to follow the trend lines.

What I hear: “All paper is the same – so the lowest price wins.”

How I respond: Sustainability on a budget is a bit of a fallacy; sustainability is an investment in your company and the planet. Yes, when it comes to paper, you might find less expensive options outside of North American. Ask yourself, however, what’s the cost behind that great price tag?

Sustainable companies consider everything upstream. That means understanding the origin of your products and what it took to get to your door:

How was grown and harvested? Are these certified and well-managed forests or more rogue providers? Think about water usage. How much water per ton does it take to make the paper? Or greenhouse gases – what are they emitting? Say you’re in the greater Toronto area, if you buy copy paper made in one of our mills, that paper will have travelled 500 kilometres to get to you compared to paper coming from China and Indonesia that have traveled 15,000 kilometres to get to you.

That all contributes to the overall footprint of the paper.

Applying principles around sustainability may cost a little bit more. But once you’ve got the principles figured out, the returns are worth the investment.

Stéphane Dagenais is the Director of Sales, Canada, Domtar. With Canadian headquarters in Montreal, Domtar is one of the largest manufacturers of pulp and paper in North America, committed to innovating fiber-based products, technologies, and services that provide for a sustainable and better future.

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