Paving the way to sustainability
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In July, WAN-IFRA announced that this year’s IFRA Expo in Vienna, 12-15 October, will be a completely carbon-neutral event, thanks to the association’s partnership with AbitibiBowater which will provide carbon credits that it has accumulated through its own energy-saving initiatives to offset all of the exhibition’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We spoke with AbitibiBowater officials about the partnership as well as a range of issues dealing with sustainability in the newsprint and newspaper industries. Here is an extended version of the interview we presented in the October edition of WAN-IFRA Magazine on page 26, due out at the end of September.
WAN-IFRA: What is the significance of certified paper from replenishable forestry for newspaper printing?
AbitibiBowater: The importance here is that the fibre has come from a well-managed forest and that it has been audited by a third party. It gives the assurance that the fibre is not coming from illegal wood. This is important, but in terms of certification standards we have different standards in North America and Europe but they are recognised internationally. If you look more closely at these standards, though, you will see that they have more similarities than differences. This is good because the challenge is more on getting more and more forests certified than the debate about which certification is more suitable. As soon as you have a certification that is internationally recognised, we should then focus on increasing the number of forests to be certified. That’s something that we are trying to do with our external suppliers, to help them get their forests certified. All of our own woodland operations are already certified, but we would like our suppliers also to be certified. But certification is indeed difficult because it requires resources, time and money, so that’s why we are talking to governments to try to see how we can facilitate the other forest companies to get certification.
WAN-IFRA: There is a very small percentage of forests certified today?
AbitibiBowater: That’s true, something like 10 to 12 percent. And I think the challenge is not just for the forest industry, but for communities, NGOs, and governments to try to increase that number. The objective should be to have the majority of forests certified.
WAN-IFRA: Since there is only a small percentage of forests certified worldwide, supplying the market completely with certified paper seems out of the question… What else are suppliers doing to secure energy efficiency in their mills and transport, for example? How does recycled paper factor into this equation?
AbitibiBowater: First of all, we are the No. 1 supplier of recycled paper to the North American market and one of the top in the world, so we understand the significance of recycled paper. But you have to look at the big picture and sometimes using recycled fibre may not be the most ecological way to produce paper. You have to take into consideration the carbon footprint of your recycled fibre, especially when you have to ship that far away to a paper mill. The other thing is recycled content can only be recycled a certain number of times, which is seven times. You always need to include virgin fibre in the production of paper. When you take all of this into consideration, you have to strike the right balance between recycled content, virgin content, the quality of the paper, and the environmental footprint you use, the chemicals you use. … If you have to de-ink, for example, then that will mean more chemicals and more waste, so how are you going to dispose of this waste? So if you want to have a global perspective, you have to analyse all of these aspects to give you a better ecological footprint of your product.
WAN-IFRA: Can you give some specific examples of what/how your company has done to reduce GHG emissions?
AbitibiBowater: Energy efficiency: We put in place projects to recapture heat and reuse it in the mill. We also find ways to generate more renewable energy while reducing the consumption of fossil fuels at the mills. We also review our transportation mode, using more and more railway than trucks. We switched also the fuel needed at our mills, using fuel that has less impact or generating less greenhouse gas, switching sometimes to natural gas or even electricity. So that is the type of actions we have taken in the last few years.
WAN-IFRA: Obviously, this was not a “flip of the switch” change in strategy, but was there a defining moment when your company said, “OK, we really have to do something significant, or even drastic”?
AbitibiBowater: I think it is more of an evolution. An evolution of delivering and producing. You really need to see the results to believe in it. The two companies that formed AbitibiBowater were already working on their own programmes to reduce their carbon footprints before we came together, but when we did come together we reviewed and analysed what we doing on a more global scale. And the executive board realised that there would be a real competitive advantage for us to embark and act in a very structured approach to sustainability. So we set out a Sustainability Road Map and identified four key aspects on which the company will intensify its work: First, being climate change. Now we have an aspiration to be a carbon-neutral enterprise. Secondly was responsible fibre sourcing. Now that we are 100 percent certified, we want to have fibre coming from external sources that would use a certification process. The third one is product choices. We want to manufacture paper products with less impact on the environment to help our customers. So we are producing papers that require 50 percent less energy and fibre for the same volume of paper. Less water, less energy; that’s the type of philosophy we have internally. Then the fouth one we have is stakeholder engagement. We cannot do everything in our office; we need to partner with our stakeholders.
WAN-IFRA: What advice would you give that newspaper that is contemplating a broad environmental management policy/strategy?
AbitibiBowater: Again, look at the big picture. Don’t be stuck on specific issues, such as percentage of recycled content, what type of certification is being used… If a publisher would like to really embark on sustainability, it has to have a long-term vision, trying to balance the various aspects. You have to always strive to improve, but it’s true today that you have to balance what you are doing: the economy with ecology. Still, strive for continuous improvement. We should be proud of how our products are being produced. And I also think they have an obligation to readers to serve as a model of how to tackle the environment in everything they do. It’s indeed a long-term vision but I think the expertise is there to help attain sustainability, as well as the medium to communicate it.