Award-Winning Paper and Packaging Sustainability Initiatives
At the American Forest & Paper Association’s annual meeting in South Carolina a few weeks ago, the association awarded its annual “Better Practices, Better Planet 2020” awards, recognizing individual member companies for their creative and important work on sustainability.
All of the winners deserve recognition, but a few projects stood out to me in particular. First, Resolute Forest Products’ “Concrete Actions to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions” initiative, which has been recognized for three consecutive years. Resolute has done a lot on energy efficiency, renewability, and waste reduction in their U.S. and Canadian paper, tissue, and wood product operations, which combined have resulted in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of a whopping 81 percent compared to 2000 levels.
And they are doing it in creative and fun ways. In 2014 Resolute donated a 45-hectare property in Saint-Félicien, Quebec so that the town and local investors could build a massive greenhouse to grow vegetables—English and Lebanese cucumbers, to be precise. Resolute also supplies enough hot water from its nearby mill to cover 25 percent of the greenhouse’s heating requirements. Opened in late 2016, the greenhouse covers one million square feet and employs over 100 workers. By 2020, the number of jobs is expected to grow to 500. Resolute also ingeniously captures CO2 from its mill and repurposes it for the greenhouse, enhancing natural photosynthesis.
The project isn’t just a boon to a local economy and a salve to Mother Earth, it’s also good for business. And that’s something that is all too often missed about our industry in both the media coverage and the public’s imagination. Whether it is providing non-fossil-fuel energy alternatives for our operations or supporting recycling collection so we can make more products from recycled fiber, our very business model depends on responsible resource stewardship. That’s a very happy marriage, and one that is almost unique to our industry.
Domtar’s award for their sustainable forestry efforts is another example of how doing right by the planet can mean doing well in the market. Facing challenges in sourcing fiber from independently certified, sustainable sources in the rural South, Domtar helped found the Appalachian Woodlands Alliance and the Four States Timberland Owners Association, which combined helped hundreds of small landowners enhance their practices and certify hundreds of thousands of acres in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. This means family-owned forests in rural communities will be better cared for and offer a product that increasingly sustainability-conscious customers are demanding.
Packaging companies’ customers are asking for fully recyclable food packaging, and that demand is behind WestRock’s own award-winning offering: EnShield® Natural Kraft, a new, completely recyclable material that is an alternative for existing, plastic-lined takeout food, bakery, and frozen food packaging.
AF&PA’s awards are a reminder how hard the paper industry works to build on and leverage its intrinsic environmental advantages. Energy efficiency, waste-reduction, sustainable sourcing and the circular economy have been a part of our DNA for decades, driving innovation and shaping the way we think about our businesses, even if they have only entered the public consciousness more recently.