Domtar Corporation is one of the largest and most innovative paper companies in the world. Our company, PrintEco, is a two-year-old software startup with a mission to help save paper and ink and protect the environment. So when we announced our partnership with Domtar at SB ’13 in June, a lot of our friends were like, “Congratulations! Wait ... a paper company?” Admittedly, we’re a bit of an odd couple — but working with Domtar has taught us a lot about branding and about sustainable business in general. Here’s what we’ve learned:
1. Put your money where your mouth is
Domtar brands itself “The sustainable paper company.” Sounds nice, but isn’t that an oxymoron? Turns out, not in Domtar’s case. The company commits more resources to sustainability initiatives than you can imagine, including:
- Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC®) certification at 100% of its facilities
- Over a decade of collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance
- Contribution of over $1 million to World Wildlife Fund’s global conservation work over the past three years
- Donation of a year’s supply of Domtar EarthChoice® Office Paper to Recyclebank’s Green Schools Program
These programs provide a solid operational backbone for Domtar’s sustainability messaging and give the brand team plenty of specific achievements to share with its audience.
2. Beauty is more than skin deep
All these programs sound great. But surely any Fortune 500 company has some resources devoted to sustainability, so how do we know they really mean it? This was a real concern for PrintEco as we considered our own nascent brand, and whether we would become a true partner with Domtar or just another PR opportunity for its sustainability communications team. In truth, we had little to lose and plenty to gain either way — but each conversation with Domtar’s leadership offered further validation of their earnest commitment to sustainability and to the partnership. As Paige Goff, Vice President of Sustainability & Business Communications for Domtar, puts it, “Sustainability is a differentiator for Domtar. We’ve set the standard for what it means to be a sustainable paper company, and continue to raise the bar for the industry.” The sustainability team and its goals are actually integrated into Domtar’s overall strategic direction — how about that?
Between environmental issues and advances in paperless technology, the future of the pulp and paper industry is fraught with uncertainty. If people stop printing they won’t need PrintEco software, so the future of paper is important to us, and a topic that we were glad to borrow Domtar’s expertise in considering. Such a dynamic industry environment creates an opportunity for brands such as Domtar to be proactive in guiding the evolution of their industry, rather than being reactive. Here’s how we translated Domtar’s innovative approach to our own strategy:
- Through continuous fiber technology innovation, Domtar finds new ways to transform its primary resource — wood fiber — into new, sustainable products such as BioChoice™ lignin, the bio-based alternative to petroleum and other fossil fuels. In this way, Domtar is driving change in its own industry and creating opportunities for the future.
- PrintEco is developing a product suite for the Managed Print Services segment, to help MPS providers differentiate their offerings and supplement declining print-volume-based revenues with a SaaS model. Some MPS dealers fear solutions such as PrintEco that reduce page volumes, but many providers see the long-term value in differentiating their brand and driving additional value to their end-user customers. Through our MPS offering, we hope to drive change in the managed print industry and create opportunities for PrintEco and our partners along the way.
4. Create concrete value through your brand
Domtar launched its Paper Because campaign to educate people about the responsible use of paper. The campaign website tells you, “Paper has value. It’s sustainable, personal and purposeful — and the more we know about it, the more we can understand how to make smart choices about when and how to use it.” Sound like some cheesy marketing fluff? That’s what I thought, until I read some of the articles and actually learned a lot about paper — while taking intermittent breaks to laugh at some of their hilarious paper videos. ‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘responsible paper use. I’m onboard.’
Taking heed of Domtar’s example, we decided PrintEco’s brand should be more than just a warm-fuzzy for our audience. Here are some of the things we came up with that would allow us to promote the brand and simultaneously deliver value to our customers:
- Create a badge system to reward users for printing responsibly
- Develop a social sharing platform to allow users to promote their own sustainable actions while spreading the word about PrintEco
- Author a blog on ways to save paper, and to provide other interesting content to our eco-minded audience such as profiling celebrity environmental activism
5. Show, don’t tell (but still tell)
A lot of major brands tout sustainability initiatives with vague platitudes and debatable statistics. Two of the key branding lessons I took from working with Domtar are about transparency and integrity:
- Transparency — Domtar is committed to sustainability throughout the life cycle of its products, and to prove it, the company built an interactive online tool called The Paper Trail with which customers can learn the social and environmental impacts of Domtar products using data from the specific mills that manufactured your paper. So, there. Now you know.
- Integrity — Donations, sponsorships and certifications are great, and are ubiquitous among large companies and NGOs. But I’m willing to say that the decision by Domtar leadership to partner with PrintEco is a game-changer. People who use PrintEco software will buy less paper, and that’s the bottom line. To me, the partnership is Domtar’s way of saying, ‘We’re committed to sustainability, and we’re willing to stake today’s profits on it for the sake of tomorrow’s customers and our brand.’
While paper sales to existing customers will decline over time, Domtar’s genuine commitment to sustainability will resonate with a broad base of customers whose loyalty will bear future profits for the company. Meanwhile, we at PrintEco are very proud to be a part of it all, and have already learned a lot about brand leadership along the way.