The paper industry is among the most resource-intensive industries in manufacturing, both in its use of energy and water. As such, sustainability efforts by companies that operate in this sector offer opportunities both for big gains and big improvements.
Cascades Inc., Kingsey Falls, Quebec, is among manufacturers that are responding to such opportunities. To a degree, it always has. The company, which produces packaging and paper products largely from recycled fibers, got its start as a recycling business.
Today, sustainable development remains a key focus, according to Steve Ott, sustainable business development manager for Cascades Tissue Group's U.S. Away-From-Home (Commercial) Division. Products produced by his division typically are one-time-use items unlike printing paper, for example, which may be recycled six or seven times.
Steve Ott: "We feel we are ideally positioned right now for where the market has been orienting itself."
He recently discussed the topic of sustainability with IndustryWeek, sharing activities under way both at Cascades Tissue Group's Away-From-Home Division and at Cascades Inc.
"Since [Cascades Inc.] began our paper operations, we have been focused almost exclusively on manufacturing papers from 100% recycled fiber material," with high post-consumer content, Ott says. Using recycled fibers allows the company to produce its product using significantly less water than what is typical in virgin fiber manufacturing because recycled fibers bypasses the pulping process. He says the company also reprocesses its water 40 times on average before discharge.
"Another key part of our green manufacturing process is the fact that we are process chlorine free,'" with respect to bleaching recycled fiber, he says. As a result, the processing creates fewer harmful byproducts, he says. "In terms of processing our paper, we use no chlorine or chlorine-containing compounds."
Using recycled fibers is not without its challenges. Recycled fibers are not inherently as strong as virgin fiber because they are shorter "and in some cases may even have been recycled up to five times," Ott says. Ultimately, even recycled fibers have an end to their lifecycle.
The variation in recycled paper grades also presents a potential challenge, one that Cascades largely avoids because it is vertically integrated. A significant portion of its raw materials comes from its own waste-recovery efforts.
Additionally, in the case of Cascades North River brand, 100% of the electricity used to produce the products is offset with certified renewable wind energy.
Sustainability and Business Strategy
Sustainability "is part and parcel of our strategy," Ott says. He notes that his division of Cascades Tissue Group can't compete directly with larger players such as Georgia-Pacific and be cost competitive. The tactic, then, is to be a niche player focused on the sale of recycled products.
"We feel we are ideally positioned right now for where the market has been orienting itself and will continue to for the long term. The market is firmly interested in sustainable solutions," Ott says. "We stay away from companies who don't have a preference for recycled. The market is large enough, fortunately, that we can focus on that niche. It's truly a differentiator for us."
Cascades Tissue Group's commercial division also emphasizes its third-party certifications of sustainability. Its North River brand holds two, for example, in addition to the process-chlorine-free certification. For some customers, certification is a must.
"Well over 50% of our bid business requires environmental certification of some form. Over and above that, the rate is increasing. More and more bids are coming in with environmental requirements on them," Ott says.
Ott breaks the "green" market into two segments: light and dark. While the light green market is interested in green products, the dark green market is heavily invested in sourcing not only the most sustainable process possible, but also in assuring that the entire supply chain is "green" to "the highest degree possible," Ott describes.
Even with the interest in green, challenges remain. "The green trend among American industry is growing at a tremendous rate, but the caveat here is that all things equal, companies want greener solutions but they're not necessarily willing to pay more for them," Ott says. "The challenge on our end is to ensure we have competitive performing products at competitive prices that have those differentiating green benefits."
Cascades Launches Sustainable Development Plan
Cascades Tissue Group's parent company launched a sustainable development plan in April. The plan by Cascades Inc. outlines 18 objectives that the company will strive to reach by the end of 2012. What sets the plan apart from that of other firms is the emphasis the company placed on input from its stakeholders, Ott says.
He points out that the corporation worked with some 120 non-governmental organizations to help develop the sustainability plan.
"This [plan] isn't just our saying we have a green process," Ott says. "The plan from its inception was to work with the NGOs to develop the plan, to develop the objectives and then, at the end of the day, to validate the process and the results against those objectives."
A sample of the 18 objectives includes:
- Increase the re-use of paper-making waste by 6%
- Optimize the recycling program by reduce by 20% in the weight of solid waste send to landfill.
- Reduce by 6% the discharge of effluent.
- Improve the quality of treated water by reducing by 4% the biological oxygen demand and suspended solids in water that has been treated after being used to manufacture product.
- Reduce by 6% compared to 2010 the quantity of energy purchased to produce product.
- Increase by 10% sales of products that result from sustainable innovations.