Seeing the Forest with Trees: Domtar’s Drive for Sustainable Paper Lifecycle

How do you know a company has taken serious steps to integrate sustainability into its business? Read the corporate Vision and Mission statements. Domtar’s sustainability journey has evolved over a decade, making it a North American industry leader.

It’s no secret, however, that the forest sector in Canada and the US has been struggling. I was curious to know how Domtar – a fiber-based products company – responds to a collective drive to reduce paper. How does the company link sustainability into its core business in the age of e-readers and tablets? Lewis Fix, VP Sustainable Business & Brand Management at Domtar, provides me with an overview of how the company chose to break away from industry norm by rethinking product differentiation, added value and the customer.

Race to reduce: adapting business by responding to needs

Trying to avoid the “guilt” associated with using paper, Domtar has been helping create tools that educate people about their choices. Aside from Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC®) certified paper, Domtar wants to help consumers make a smart print or no print decision. “People will try and be more efficient – they may not print something, we’re okay with that. Let’s have an elevated conversation about this.” Says Lewis Fix. Pixel and Print Logic is an online decision-making tree designed to respond to consumer need for information on arriving at the best environmental choice.

For those who want to learn more about paper production and lifecycle, Domtar’s 2011 Sustainable Growth Report provides environmental and social performance in both qualitative and quantitative metrics. Fix remarks that while transparency is very important, the information being shared needs to be communicated in a way that is relevant to the audience. Hence The Paper Trail – an interactive, resource calculator website. Inspired by Patagonia’s The Footprint Chronicles, The Paper Trail allows users to learn about a product source, calculate their environmental impact, and learn why it all matters.

A big area of challenge and transformation is the adoption of e-readers, computers, and transactions that have evolved over time. Responding to the challenge, Fix notes, “We are not trying to tell people to go backwards technologically. But rather, help people understand where paper is appropriate.” He describes the Paper Because campaign as a way to connect with corporate and individual consumers about the value of paper. “When making the case for paper, you have to show that it’s functional, purposeful, and helps do business,” he explains. “People have an emotional connection to paper. We believe that’s one area that we should continue to talk about.” Fix notes that for the consumer it’s about choosing a supplier that manages the resource responsibly throughout the lifecycle.

An opportunity at a critical phase for the industry

“People are looking at trees in a much different lens, rather than as a 2 by 4 or a stack of paper,” says Fix. He points out that Domtar is transitioning from a pulp and paper company to a fiber innovation company. “Millions of tons go through a system. Some comes out as pulp, some as paper, and even nanocrystalline cellulose – a material that is stronger than steel.” Another example is the use of lignin, which is extracted from pulp. Lignin can be used to replace petroleum based adhesives and coatings.

For Domtar, a year and half of ramping up innovation is about “placing small bets on different industries,” says Fix. He concludes, “We’ve got to continue to innovate beyond our core market and be willing to invest money into it. Demonstrating our commitment to sustainability is at the core of all of these efforts.”

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WATCH! 3BL Media’s video Today’s Paper Chase: To Print or Not to Print, According to Domtar

Originally posted on Justmeans

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Image: Domtar’s Windsor Mill, Courtesy of Domtar Corporation