In November, Domtar Corporation — North America’s largest manufacturer of uncoated freesheet paper — conducted a national survey fielded by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) Global that revealed, perhaps not surprisingly, that while many Americans have good intentions when it comes to sustainability, they’re stumped when it comes to the details.
“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.”
According to the survey of 2,500 adults, there were 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.
- 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 NGOs; 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.
To counter all of this confusion, Domtar has said it is determined to help customers make more informed and sustainable decisions through a number of initiatives: through its new Paper Made Here program, which aims to encourage consumers to think more about where their paper comes from; its EarthChoice Library, which helps customers learn more about the full lifecycle of paper, from sourcing to recycling; partnerships with WWF, Rainforest Alliance, and RecycleBank; and its new digital transparency tool called The Paper Trail, which helps customers assess and understand the gate-to-gate impacts of every paper order.
How to engage consumers as suppliers in a circular economy
Hear more from BBMG, eBay and Williams Sonoma on activating consumers as the critical ‘missing link’ in emerging circular models around clothes, footwear and other CPGs at SB'21 San Diego — October 18-21.
“At Domtar, we have always believed in the importance of educating the public about sustainability in the forest products industry,” Goff said. “This survey reinforces the need for continued transparency and clear communication. We look forward to making even more progress in the future.”