News Deeply, in partnership with Sustainable Brands*, has produced a series of profiles looking at how brands are tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. The goal is to examine trends and gather insights from a new wave of corporate citizenship — in an era when the private sector is increasingly expected to play a positive role in improving our lives and societies. This is the 15th article in* the series.
If a company is truly committed to being sustainable, says Michele Bartolini of Rolland Paper, it should be transparent about its sustainability initiatives — and also about the progress and overall success of those programs.
Rolland hired an outside agency to conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) in 2016 — analyzing the company’s efforts in climate change, water availability, water quality, human health, biodiversity and nonrenewable resources — and made the results available on the company website.
“It’s great you claim you’re ‘green’; just publish your LCA if you are green,” said Bartolini, marketing director at the 135-year-old company based in Saint-Jerome, Quebec. “That would be my only advice. Just be transparent. Consumers are very smart these days. Access to information is very easy to get."
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“We’re the only paper company that publicizes our LCA report. You can download all 129 pages of the full report, how the study was conducted and where we rank as an organization. We really are practicing what we’re preaching, so we’re very proud of that.”
She said the report “allowed us to see how we’ve changed since 2012, and I’m very proud to say that we have evolved in a lot of aspects.”
Bartolini recently spoke with News Deeply about Rolland’s efforts and the challenges of establishing sustainable practices in the paper industry.
Rolland is one of the most environmentally friendly paper manufacturers in North America. Could you give us an overview of your sustainability program and objectives?
Michele Bartolini: Our objective is to produce the best paper in the industry with a balance of environmental sustainability. I’m not from the paper industry and I’m really impressed with the quality of sheet we produce. Recycled paper used to be yellow or turning yellow, or had a very dull look. Rolland’s sheets are a minimum 94 percent brightness, up to 98 percent, which is extremely close to virgin paper.
Everything we do in producing our paper, from sourcing materials to shipping it out, we look at sustainability in our supply chain. We purchase all our recycled content in Quebec, Ontario and the U.S. We are very conscious about not taking trees from ancient forests. We also do not use chlorine or derivatives in the production of our paper.
Another big reason we have the smallest footprint in the industry is that we use 93 percent renewable energy instead of using solely coal. Our annual carbon emission is 73,000 tons less than most paper producers, which equals about 23,000 cars. One reason is, in 2004 we installed biogas, a renewable energy. We capture the fumes from garbage gas and put it through a pipeline all the way to our mill, then use that energy to power the way we produce our paper. This initiative shows the passion of our people at Saint-Jerome. They came up with the idea by asking, how can we minimize our footprint in the environment? It took a while, but the project took off in 2004 and we can now prove that we lowered our footprint.
Sustainability is really a business model at Rolland. It’s not driven from the top down. It’s a model that the organization passionately believes in — we started making recycled paper in 1989, way ahead of most organizations. We are in a waste society. We buy, we waste, we buy, we waste, and we don’t realize the effect. But now we do, because more and more NGOs talk about the harm to the environment. At Rolland, it’s really about the passion and the people, and about offering an amazing product with a balance with the environment.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had and how have you overcome them?
Bartolini: One of the biggest challenges is that paper is perceived as a commodity, and the paper industry hasn’t evolved in a long time, so we need to educate individuals about our paper. It’s a lot of branding, a lot of awareness, education – and the price point. When you’re a commodity, it’s all about price. We make paper and we sell to distributors, and distributors just want to sell their paper.
We’re trying to influence the corporate sustainable organizations that put policies in place and drive a pull-demand. They’re saying, “I want to use recycled paper” to their purchasers, to their procurement. We’re starting to see a request for our paper. In Canada we’re quite well known, we’re piercing the U.S. market, and as we see the movement of sustainability in organizations, with organizations putting out a mandate, we are getting attention.
You don’t have to not use paper because you’re hurting the environment. You can! We’re not cutting down trees — we’re recycling. Sure, Information Technology is great, but I don’t think paper is going away. I’m printing out emails, writing notes on paper, but I’m not feeling bad about it because I'm using 100 percent recycled content.
What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned as a company?
Bartolini: The most important lesson we’ve learned is to be true to ourselves and to not derail. It’s been a challenge to educate individuals about sustainability, about the preconceived notion that using paper is cutting down trees — but it’s not. It depends what type of paper you’re using. Once we told that story, we started seeing the doors open for us. It’s really staying true to what you value.
You mentioned that the idea to use biogas to fuel paper production came from a single employee, who had the idea after watching a television program on the reduction of greenhouse gases. How does Rolland foster a culture of sustainability?
Bartolini: We don’t even have to push it. It’s ingrained in the company and in the culture of the organization. We have people who are passionate about paper and passionate about nature. It has created a culture in our office. We don’t have plastic cups or Styrofoam cups. When you come into the office, we’ll serve you water in a glass cup. We will pay extra to live that sustainability throughout the organization. We also have recycling bins at every printer. We don’t teach people to be that way. We just are, every day.
Rolland also encourages sustainability among its suppliers. How do you do that?
Bartolini: We get as much information as we can on their footprint and their philosophy. Rolland is a niche company with a niche product and a niche way of fabricating it. We align ourselves with organizations very strategically that have the same philosophy we do. We have blacklists of suppliers we don’t do business with. We rely a lot on the Forest Stewardship Council, on NGOs, on the instruments they provide us. A lot of the research they’ve done allows us to understand who we do business with, and to know whether they share our philosophy.