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Sustainability's three P's

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Sustainability's three P's

September 12, 2011 - 16:00
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BRUSSELS, Sept. 13, 2011 (RISI) -Not so long ago, if a forest products company was asked about sustainability, it would proudly point out the number of trees it was planting. Sustainable was a word most often used to define forests or forestry practices.

Sappi realized that the term would have to mean much more than that. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002) set out key factors inherent in sustainability: prosperity, people and planet. These "3 Ps" formed the basis of Sappi's commitment to sustainable development.

The company defines sustainable development as "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

So while sustainability does mean growing trees, it goes far beyond. The executive vice president, strategic marketing, and chief sustainability officer, Sappi Fine Paper North America (SFPNA), Jennifer Miller, explains that it is very important to understand that sustainability at Sappi is a "business strategy" as important as any marketing or environmental strategy. "We need to make adequate returns to be able to grow."

Sappi Fine Paper North America's current initiatives had their beginnings in 2007. "We realized we had operated as a sustainable company dealing with good practices (e.g. forestry, effluent treatment, etc), but that the whole holistic story was not well understood by customers, communities or the NGOs," Miller adds. "Therefore, we had to demonstrate the power of what we did everyday in the mills to minimize the impact on our natural resources."

A strong and explicit corporate governance policy was established. A steering committee led by SFPNA CEO Mark Gardner and which includes Miller was formed. A monthly meeting reviews the status of the company's initiatives. "Corporate governance is very important," Miller states. "Laura Thompson, Ph.D., is our director of sustainable development and technical marketing. She oversees all the work from our line operations and sets the directions." (SFPNA has three mills: Somerset and Westbrook, ME, as well as Cloquet, MN.)

For example, Miller cites the Somerset Mill where almost $50 million was invested recently on the recovery boiler and other projects. "The decision was difficult but we were able to return good energy efficiency, maintain the mill' competitiveness, debottleneck other processes in the recovery and reduce the mill's reliance on fossil fuels.

"There were huge benefits to the environment but also to the future prosperity of Somerset."

The benefits are seen by the employees and understood as not just another technological advancement, but as part of the larger umbrella of sustainability and the 3Ps.

The final leg of the corporate governance strategy is to ensure how best to communicate the company's progress with customers. Sustainability is not a marketing initiative, but SFPNA realizes it is important that the marketplace understand its actions. To this end, a customer council was created with a cross-section of clients who are "proud of their involvement with us," Miller says.

Meetings are held twice yearly and, Miller adds, "We show them our progress and talk about how best to communicate what we've done. They give feedback and suggestions on new products and service ideas. Sustainability is an assumed part of any discussion.

"All the work we do is fact-based, but we try to declutter the jargon. That is the genesis of theeQ Journal."

TheeQ Journalis a print and online publication that looks at various aspects of SFPNA's holistic approach to sustainability such as carbon footprint and carbon management as well as case histories and customer questions and observations. Each employee receives a copy of theeQ Journal. The catch line for eacheQ Journalis: Elevating your environmental knowledge.

Jennifer Miller: Our commitment to sustainability is sincere

Chopsticks from Georgia?

The eQ (environmental quotient) is a brand that SFPNA created that is designed to be a trust mark. There is the online eQ tool, developed to help assist paper buyers in making informed decisions on the environmental effects of their paper choice. It includes theeQ Journalas well the Environmental Quotient blog ( that is authored by Thompson.

Launched in May 2011, the blog is really designed to take SFPNA's desire to be engaged and interactive to the next level. "Laura's blog provides real time immediate dialogue to entice response. It is our commitment to transparency," Miller says.

Recent posts by Thompson have covered such topics as single stream recycling, the high content of recycled fiber in Canadian-made packaging paper, the carbon disclosure project, why a company's paper procurement policy is important and in early August, a piece about a Georgia company that makes chopsticks from wood species previously considered almost useless.

Thus far the blog has attracted a lot of observers. "As with any new social media outreach, we have to get some experience. My belief is that we can get some relevant information and generate a response. The quality of dialogue thus far has been excellent and will only get better."

Miller explains that as SFPNA's customers number in the thousands, it is impossible to visit them on a daily basis. The blog is a way to increase that dialogue, to get in front of them. It is also a way to show that print can be a partner with social and electronic media.

The blog was primarily designed for customers but the company has been pleased to see that students and NGOs are also following it. "We hope John Q. Public goes to the site and tells us where they are still confused or need more information or even disagree," Miller says. "We welcome the input."

Sappi’s Somerset, ME, mill has reduced use of No. 6 fuel oil considerably