When I assumed my current role with Sappi our leadership made it clear from day one that we would not shy away from tackling tough issues. We made a commitment that our sustainability communications would be grounded in facts and science – and the tagline of “proof versus empty promises” from our first eQ Journal remains my mantra.
While society as a whole continues to make great strides in thinking more holistically – considering environmental and social impacts of products from material acquisition through disposal – there remain huge gaps in understanding on some basic issues. When it comes to paper, the myths and facts about the use of recycled content are still being debated.
A common myth: using recycled fiber is always better for the environment.
The facts: it depends on the product and the mill of manufacture.
Paper is simply not one thing – paper products are used in a wide variety of common applications like tissue, packaging and communication papers. And there are a host of specialty applications ranging from building materials (eg. insulation, counter tops and flooring) to automotive applications (like gaskets and brake liners). Different types of paper products require different types of pulp fibers to produce them - and in some cases, using recycled fiber simply doesn’t make sense – environmentally or economically.
I often ask people to pause and consider the differences between an egg carton and a premium printing grade like Somerset web. Egg cartons are often made of recycled newsprint; mottled grey in appearance because the paper didn’t have to be deinked. For our use, post consumer waste must be deinked, bleached and cleaned to remove any type of contaminant. Intuitively, many people can see that given a choice – it makes more sense to use recovered paper in applications that require less treatment and creates less waste.
To help further quantify the overall impacts, we embarked on a cradle-to-gate analysis of greenhouse gas emissions for our mills. This type of analysis is complex and it literally took us years of work to select a modeling tool, learn the tool, and then build a model for our operations.
The results are clear: adding recycled fiber to products made at our Somerset Mill in Skowhegan, ME actually increased the carbon footprint of those products. Specifically, adding 10% recycled content raises the carbon footprint by 16% over the same product made with virgin fiber.
For a detailed look at our LCA journey, readers can download copies of our whitepaper series. We have completed three issues on the Life Cycle Assessment of Paper Products as follows:
Volume 4.1 Part One - The Basics
Volume 4.2 Part Two - The Impact of Methodology on the Life Cycle Analysis of Paper Products
Volume 4.3Part Three - The Carbon Footprint of Sappi’s Somerset Mill and the Impact of Recycled Fiber
Rest assured: we are strong advocates for recycling outreach and education. All of Sappi’s coated fine papers are recyclable and we always encourage the use of “please recycle” logos and claims on printed pieces. As individuals, we all have opportunities to recycle more paper. Once paper is recovered, the key is to put that fiber to best use.
In support of best practices in marketing claims, we have long warned our customers against using industry average data to make environmental claims about recycled fiber in coated fine papers. Now, more than ever, we urge corporate marketers and advertisers to do their homework.
In October 2012, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated their “Guides for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims” more commonly referred to as the “Green Guides”. In their summary document, highlighted on the cover page, readers will find this statement:
Claiming “Green, made with recycled content” may be deceptive if the environmental costs of using recycled content outweigh the environmental benefits of using it.
Clearly the federal government has seen enough evidence that in some cases recycled content can actually increase the environmental impact. And in fact, this is true for our paper mills in regard to greenhouse gas emissions.
At Sappi, we have studied the impact of using deinked market pulp (recycled fiber) as a substitute for our virgin kraft pulp made on site at our Somerset mill (Skowhegan, ME). Recently published results show that adding 10% recycled fiber increases the carbon footprint by 16% as compared to a product made with 100% virgin fiber. Meanwhile, the EPN’s “Paper Calculator” indicates that for coated freesheet paper (the type we manufacture) adding 10% recycled fiber decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 3%.*
Sappi’s integrated mills use over 80% renewable energy – far more than the industry average – resulting in a lower than average level of greenhouse gas emissions. It is clear that the “Paper Calculator” does not accurately reflect the performance of our mills.
Sappi has fully embraced transparency in reporting and we include a comprehensive set of key performance indicators in our regional sustainability report. We have been long time supporters of the Environmental Paper Assessment Tool wherein users can study and compare actual mill data which is updated annually. With access to so much current, mill specific data, there is no need to resort to using averages for making claims. Worse yet, doing so could lead to deceptive claims.
*Environmental impact estimates were made using the Environmental Paper Network Paper Calculator Version 3.2. For more information visit www.papercalculator.org.
The consumption of water and energy is connected in many ways. As such, when one focuses on saving water there is often a reduction in energy consumption and vice versa. This is true whether we are looking at personal usage or industrial usage.
Consider, for example, the water used for a long, hot shower. Shortening the duration of the shower will save on the quantity of water as well as the energy associated in heating the water. Additional water conservation activities such as running a clothes washer or a dishwasher only when full, save both water and energy.
On an industrial scale we see similar effects. For the most part, in paper mills water is delivered to mills from local rivers. The incoming water temperature varies seasonally, but suffice it to say river water in Maine and Minnesota (where our mills are located) is cold. Yet most of the water we use within the mills is hot. And it takes energy to heat that water. Therefore any initiatives that mills undertake to conserve water will typically result in energy savings as well.
Saving electricity also generates indirect savings of water. In fact the thermoelectric power sector accounts for nearly half of all water consumed in the US (roughly 200 million gallons per day). So simply turning off lights and other electrical devices can also lead to water savings.
While many individuals and businesses are motivated by the financial savings associated with conservation, there are also significant environmental benefits to be had. The EPA estimates that if just one percent of American homes was retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kWh of electricity per year and avoid adding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
For recycling in general, the major barriers for increasing recovery rates are access and education. In other words, people need to understand what can be recycled and where. While most of us quickly become familiar with recycling programs at home, we may experience different programs at work and in public venues. Or worse yet, we may not have access to recycling in some places.
For paper products specifically, the US is at an all time high recovery rate. In fact, paper recovery increased by 1.2 million tons in 2011, lifting the recovery rate to a record-high 66.8 percent. That’s up from 63.5 percent in 2010 and 33.5 percent in 1990.
Digging deeper into data reveals that printing and writing grades lag behind other products like corrugated containers. As an industry segment, we can, and should do better. While some paper products can never be recycled (e.g. hygiene products like bathroom tissue and towel) all of Sappi’s coated fine papers can and should be recycled. And 87% of Americans have access to curbside or drop-off paper recycling programs. So recycling of magazines and catalogs is not limited to access, but perhaps simply by awareness. For this reason we are strong supporters of recycling education and outreach and encourage corporate marketers and graphic designers to use “please recycle” claims and logos on all printed pieces.
If you are unsure whether something can be recycled the best solution is to seek out information rather than err toward landfilling. Resources like earth911.com can help identify recycling facilities.
In July of 2011 two separate wind events damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of forests in Minnesota and Wisconsin. A fact sheet recently prepared by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources includes the following observations:
- It is roughly estimated that a total of 600,000–700,000 cords worth $12 million–$14 million was lost.
- Salvage logging operations started shortly after the government shutdown in July 2011 and have continued ever since.
- Approximately 40 percent to 50 percent of damaged timber has been salvaged to date. (Aug 2012)
- The sale of this damaged timber will continue as long as there is blowdown to appraise and loggers to purchase it.
Of course, the loggers must have outlets for their timber sales. According to our records, we have purchased nearly half of the damaged timber from Minnesota for use at our paper mill in Cloquet.
I recently had a chance to visit a logging operation near a horse camp in the St. Croix Valley State Park. While I was able to take a few pictures, the images don’t fully capture the impact of the damage – nor do they convey the sense of frustration I felt in watching loggers work to harvest fallen timber. In this condition, it is extremely challenging to harvest and remove the timber for use. It’s slow, difficult, and expensive to cut – only certain equipment is even capable of doing it. Fellers must be capable of cutting vertically and often cutting tools are hitting dirt, kicking up debris and dulling saw blades. Trees are bent and create snags. Broken trunks require at least twice as many cuts for the given length of timber.
And it creates a significant wildfire hazard if simply left as is.
The picture on the left shows an example of the damaged trees. Try to imagine hundreds of thousands of acres of the forest in this condition. The second picture shows results after the damaged trees were cut and removed allowing the area to begin regenerating. These two pictures were taken from the same spot standing in a road looking left and right. A remarkable contrast showing the benefits of the loggers working to help repair the damaged forest. Just one year later the (assisted) regeneration is remarkable.
As noted, we are buying much of this timber for our mill – some of it is certified – some if it is not. But the fact that we are willing to buy it provides an outlet for the wood – the underlying economic support to get it cleaned up. And it comes at no bargain. The sale of the timber goes to the logger at a reduced value – however, they must work so much harder to get at it that the delivered cost to the mill is on par with normally harvested standing timber.
This was an act of nature, but it is arguable that much of this loss could have been prevented through better management practices. The trees that were damaged were primarily over mature aspen. While some younger stands were damaged in the wind storms, it appears they have not have suffered the same extent of damage.
In our video on sustainable forestry, Gary Erickson remarks: “A lot of people have the idea that by leaving things alone, they’re always going to maintain the forest exactly the way it is today. But that honestly is not an option. If we don’t make a choice to manage it, nature will change it with fire, or bugs, or wind, or something else.”
We recorded the footage in June of 2011; one month before the blowdown.
At Sappi we do not own our own forest lands. As such we rely on a breadth of private and public landowners to provide wood to our mills in Skowhegan, ME and Cloquet, MN. In an effort to assist landowners, Sappi has established the SFPNA Sustainable Foresty Program. Staffed with a full complement of licensed foresters this program offers education regarding certification, estimates on timber value (as well as help with developing and managing harvest plans. Landowners do not pay for our assistance, but we will often negotiate for timber rights – i.e. we wil enter into purchasing agreements with the landowners.
One of our foresters, Katie Cousins (who is also an associate wildlife biologist) is working with the Penobscot County Conservation Association (PCCA) to help oversee their timber harvest. Consistent with their mission, the PCCA has expressed that their primary objective is to manage their acreage to benefit wildlife habitat. As such, there are several features within their management plan that are somewhat unique:
- Fruit and nut trees have been identified and marked for keeping
- Select species are being untouched (e.g. oak and smooth barked beech) to help retain food for species like deer, bear, turkey, small birds and mammals
- Dead trees which do not present a safety hazard for operators are to be left behind (woodpeckers especially love dead trees)
- Two pine clearcut areas (totally roughly 14 acres) will be (partially) re-planted as foodplots
- Roughly four are being replanted with chestnut trees (with support from the Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation)
The general approach is described as an “overstory removal with reserves”. Essentially, older mature trees will be removed to open up the canopy (letting in sunlight) and allow younger established trees to flourish. There is no replanting in the overstory removal and only in a few selected areas will trees be replanted (e.g. the Chestnut trees). Re-growth will occur through natural regeneration. Consistent with best management practices there are many additional features of the plan which will help protect water and soil quality as well as promoting regeneration of certain higher value species. For example:
- Mature spruce is being removed whereas young spruce will be retained to provide diversity within the stand (mostly balsam fir and poplar), in addition to a component of eastern hemlock and cedar, both important components for white tailed deer wintering habitat.
- A wind-firm stand will be left within a riparian area along a major stream which will protect water quality as well as act as a travel corridor for wildlife
- Roads are being improved for access but will then be gated to control vehicle access upon completion
For recreational purposes, skid trails will be cleaned of slash to allow for foot traffic after the harvest on a few major trails. Slash will be left in the other trails for soil stabilization, nutrient retention, and cover for small mammals, birds, and invertebrates.
Like most landowners, PCCA is balancing their primary objective with economic considerations. The group seeks to derive income to support scholarships, and to sponsor students at a conservation camp. Their land is not certified in accordance with a forest management program – but the wood removed clearly meets the SFI’s fiber sourcing requirements as well as the FSC’s controlled wood standards.
While this harvest does not support our overall goal of increasing certified fiber – it is gratifying to know that our foresters helped in the development and execution of the plan – and that the money Sappi paid for the timber will be put to good use.
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.
I grew up in Massachusetts and did my undergraduate studies at the University of New Hampshire. When I went to graduate school in Atlanta, GA it was the first time I had ever been south of the Mason-Dixon line. As an inquisitive extrovert - always wanting to learn and eager to embrace a new culture - the first time I ate in an authentic southern restaurant I found myself inquiring, “What is Brunswick Stew?”
The waitress, no doubt feeling somewhat sorry for my ignorance, smiled and patiently replied, “Well honey, it’s everything but the squeal.”
With that, I knew it was a pork dish. And because I’m an engineer, it also struck me that this was a very efficient use of the pig. It actually occurred to me that if “squeal” had no mass, it might even be 100% efficient.
I often tell this story when explaining how we use wood as a resource within our paper mills.
When roundwood (logs) first enters the woodyard at a mill, the first thing we do is remove the bark – but we don’t discard the bark, we burn it to create steam and electricity for the mill. The logs are chipped and fed to a pressure vessel (a digester) mixed with chemicals (primarily sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide) and cooked to create pulp. In the cooking process, much research has been done to optimize the pulping yield. Wood is a complex substrate comprised primarily of cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin. You can think of this as trying to liberate the cellulose based fibers which are glued together by lignin. We gently cook the wood so as to not damage the fibers and maintain their strength. In cooking the wood, the lignin dissolves and the fibers separate and can be used for papermaking.
Like the bark, we don’t discard the lignin and other dissolved organic materials. We wash it out of the pulp and then burn it to create steam and electricity for the mill. This blend of materials, along with the chemicals used for cooking, is known as black liquor. In addition to the organic materials we are also recovering the cooking chemicals so that we can use them over and over again in the process. The combustion of black liquor is an essential step in the chemical recovery process and is the key to getting the rest of the squeal out of the tree. Roughly speaking, about half of the wood entering the process ends up as paper fiber and the other half is used for energy.
This efficient use of wood is why the pulp and paper industry has such high levels of renewable energy. Our use of bio-fuels at Sappi (primarily woody biomass, bark and black liquor) gives us an energy profile that is over 80% renewable energy, minimizes our need for fossil fuels, and results in a low carbon footprint.