Papermakers partnering with cloud computing experts on key sustainability issues Go

There is an endless stream of information regarding the impact of e-media in the realm of communications; impacts affecting business trends – as well as environmental impacts. 

On the business front, it seems for every article I read about declining magazine ad sales or a lost title, there is a counter story about new channels driving print revenue.  Magazine publishers report that online media drives high traffic for new print subscriptions. Televisions shows and video games are leading to new titles.  In advertising, the pendulum swing that resulted in huge growth in social media spending seems to be falling back.  Focus is shifting to integration of the media mix and leveraging the strengths of both print and digital applications to drive efficacy.  At the end of the day, advertisers and communications experts want to reach their audiences, and we all absorb information in different ways.

Just as our society has long depended on paper (and will continue to do so) we simply cannot function without electronic devices.  Our papermaking operations depend on computerized control systems. Our sustainability metrics are tracked, monitored and managed using data.  Digitally stored data.  While we offer the eQ Journal in print, our eQ platform is hosted on a website and this very blog is an element of our sustainability communication strategy.

Amid a turbulent business environment, it troubles me that some marketers have opted to leverage unfounded emotional arguments (usually about saving trees) to drive users online instead of using paper.  The benefits of certain electronic applications are very clear.  Speed of use, centralized information storage and reduced costs of mailing can make transactions like paying bills seem archaic on paper.  But marketers also know that when it comes to pulling heart strings, paper works.  Ask anyone in fundraising whether they plan to discontinue their print campaigns and subsist solely on digital outreach.   

First and foremost, communication channels should be selected based on effectiveness. And, of course, we also need to consider environmental impact of our choices.

Is electronic communication “better” for the environment than printing?  The answer is far too complicated to condense into generalizations.    Every life cycle analysis that I have seen attempting to contrast “paper vs pixels” is dependent on a vast number of assumptions.   There are more exceptions than rules and thus conclusions are hard to defend no matter how hard one tries.

We certainly don’t want people feeling guilty about using trees.  Sound forest management is supported by strong markets for wood products.  But environmental impact extends beyond the forest.  Our position on this front is clear: Sappi does not promote wasteful consumption of resources—renewable or otherwise. We want our customers to use paper wisely and purposefully.  And we also want to create an understanding that one need not feel guilty about the impact on the forest when products are sourced responsibly. As an industry, we must strive to meet society’s needs for wood and paper products.   

So where does that lead us?  Rather than continuing to fight meaningless battles, how about working together to drive meaningful change?  Toward that end, we recently hosted a visit of sustainability practitioners from EMC.  Yes, EMC – the global leader in cloud computing, digital storage, big data.      

We came together to learn from each other about issues that keep sustainability practitioners awake at night: 

  • We discussed strategies for enhancing employee engagement. 
  • We explored the concept of zero waste manufacturing.
  • We talked about challenges in defining metrics that are both meaningful to stakeholders and can be translated into practice in our operations.  
  • We put our heads together over supply chain management issues and chain of custody systems. 
  • And we reviewed emerging issues surrounding water disclosure and risk management.  

Making paper has environmental impact.  As does the manufacturing of electronic devices.  And cars.  And food.  And clothing. And furniture. And so on.  The key is to source, use, and dispose of “stuff”  responsibly.

Finger-pointing never solved a problem.  But collaboration can lead to discovery.

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