Most Americans purchase and use forest products all the time, from cardboard boxes to gift bags to copy paper. However, how many people truly consider the environmental impacts associated with the items they buy? As “sustainability” moves from being a buzzword to a necessity, understanding these impacts is becoming increasingly important.
In November 2014, Domtar Corporation conducted a national survey fielded by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) Global, including a representative sample of 2,500 adults. The results revealed that respondents have good intentions when it comes to sustainability – but when it comes to the details, many Americans were stumped.
“There is a strong opportunity for businesses to step up to the plate and provide information to help consumers make more informed decisions,” said Paige Goff, Vice President of Sustainability and Business Communication. “Whether you are choosing between two products or deciding how to dispose of an item after use, Domtar wants to be there as a valuable resource.”
The survey identified four key areas of confusion:
Americans care about the environment – but they don’t always connect the dots when making purchasing decisions. The survey found that Americans are at least somewhat concerned about air pollution (77 percent), landfill and waste (70 percent) and deforestation (69 percent). More than half of Americans try to act on these concerns by looking for products whose packages have visible symbols indicating they were produced responsibly. However, only 51 percent of Americans often think about the raw materials that are used to make the products they purchase. In other words, people care about the effects but don’t dive deep into the causes.
Americans love the idea of recycling – but blue bin confusion is a widespread phenomenon. While 83 percent of respondents recognize the recycling symbol, only 26 percent are completely sure about which products and materials can actually be put in the bin. Consumers need to take the next step, moving from good intentions to tangible outcomes.
Americans see recycled paper as a primary solution for protecting forests – but they may not recognize that it isn’t the only viable option. 49 percent of respondents believe that, when it comes to purchasing paper, buying recycled content is the best way to ensure the protection of forests. However, recycled fiber is only one part of the equation. Responsibly produced virgin fiber is also an important piece of the system. Although Americans may not recognize it, certified fiber actually plays a key role in preserving forests, because third-party organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) have robust guidelines in place to ensure responsible harvesting. In fact, as a result of sustainable management practices, total forest area in the country has been stable for the past century.
Americans seek out advice about which products are the most environmentally friendly – but there is a lack of consensus about who is best suited to provide answers. Respondents rely on a variety of sources, ranging from peers to online news sites. 21 percent listen to environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs); 24 percent trust companies that have responsible track records; 31 percent lean on their friends and family members; 26 percent believe in third-party certifiers. With all of these competing voices giving potentially different advice, the right decision is often hard to discern.
So what can businesses do to combat this confusion? As North America’s largest manufacturer of uncoated freesheet paper, Domtar is determined to help every customer make more informed and sustainable decisions.
- Domtar houses fact sheets, white papers and self-driven modules in its EarthChoice Library, which helps customers learn more about the full lifecycle of paper, from sourcing to recycling.
- Domtar works closely with leading ENGOs that protect wildlife and conserve animal habitat across the country, including Rainforest Alliance and World Wildlife Fund, so that customers can feel confident that their products were produced sustainably. The company also has an ongoing partnership with Recyclebank to increase the amount of forest products that are recovered after use.
- Domtar offers a digital transparency tool called The Paper Trail to help customers assess and understand the gate-to-gate impacts of every paper order. The website, which was completely redesigned in January 2014, includes mill-specific environmental, social and economic information from all 13 of Domtar’s North American mills.
“At Domtar, we have always believed in the importance of educating the public about sustainability in the forest products industry,” said Goff. “This survey reinforces the need for continued transparency and clear communication. We look forward to making even more progress in the future.”
The survey was conducted using the online omnibus field services of TNS between November 18and 22, 2014 among a nationally representative sample of 2,500 Americans ages 18+ (balanced to census). The margin of error for total Americans is ±1.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. If the study were to be replicated, we would expect to get the same results within 1.9 percentage points 95 times out of 100.
Domtar Corporation (NYSE: UFS) (TSX: UFS) designs, manufactures, markets and distributes a wide variety of fiber-based products including communication papers, specialty and packaging papers and absorbent hygiene products. The foundation of its business is a network of world-class wood fiber converting assets that produce papergrade, fluff and specialty pulps. The majority of its pulp production is consumed internally to manufacture paper and consumer products. Domtar is the largest integrated marketer of uncoated freesheet paper in North America with recognized brands such as Cougar®, Lynx® Opaque Ultra, Husky® Opaque Offset, First Choice® and Domtar EarthChoice®. Domtar is also a leading marketer and producer of a broad line of absorbent hygiene products marketed primarily under the Attends®, IncoPack and Indasec® brand names. In 2013, Domtar had sales of $5.4 billion from some 50 countries. The Company employs approximately 9,000 people. To learn more, visit www.domtar.com.
Dan Persica, Sustainability Communications Manager, LEED AP O+M
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