Businesses can be competitive and environmentally-friendly

Resolute Forest Products is the recipient of the 2014 New Economy Award for Best Forestry and Paper Solutions. Seth Kursman tells us how the company is working towards its ambitious sustainability targets

Organisations such as Resolute Forest Products believe that businesses can achieve ambitious goals and promote environmental sustainability, contrary to what so many believe

At one time, it was believed positive decisions for business were inherently negative for the environment, and vice versa. In the 21st century, however, that paradigm has gone through a dramatic transformation – one where the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) are no longer viewed in isolation, but are, instead, inextricably tied to one another.

This new paradigm is driving progress in the area of sustainability, creating the foundations for a framework that helps companies such as Resolute meet their environmental challenges head on – without compromising their ability to compete in the global market. The New Economy got the opportunity to sit down with the company’s Vice President of Corporate Communications, Sustainability and Government Affairs, Seth Kursman, to discuss how Resolute has exceeded its sustainability targets, the positive work it has done with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and why “fringe groups” are doing more harm than good.

Sustainability is about balancing the environmental, social and economic imperatives

Three pillars of sustainability are mentioned frequently on your company’s website. How you have put those into action?
The three pillars together are really what sustainability is all about. This is consistent with the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. When the commission defines sustainability, they talk about development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. They talk about social development, economic development and environmental protections, and so the three pillars are inextricably linked together.

In the old paradigm, the view that many companies and environmental groups had was that, if you did something that was good for the environment, it was going to be bad for business, and vice versa. Now you can do things that are good for the business’s bottom line and also have an environmental benefit. For example, when we shut down our coal boilers at our Coosa Pines (Alabama) mill and replaced them with two gas-fired package boilers. There was cost involved, but people care about the future of our planet, and so, yes, we invested $12m, and, yes, we took out all of the coal use at our mill. Now we offer a product that we can market as having far less of an environmental footprint, which gives us an advantage in the fiercely competitive global market.

So, in summary, in your opinion, economic and environmental decisions are not mutually exclusive at Resolute?
That’s right. There’s mutual benefit, and that is really the difference between the new approach to sustainability and the old paradigm. Unfortunately, there are still groups out there who embrace the old ideal. They are combative and rely on dirty tricks,
deception, fabrication and misinformation. Such groups do a terrible disservice. Let’s go back to the idea of sustainability: it’s all about balancing the environmental, social and economic imperatives. It’s important to recognise and celebrate the constructive progress that is happening. When certain environmental activist groups launch market campaign activity and misrepresent reality, they are not just attacking a faceless corporation. Their actions have a detrimental impact on real people, their lives and livelihoods, and the growth and prosperity of communities across the world.

Is the handling of the issue by advocacy groups problematic in your opinion?
How you define such groups is a critical distinction. What some people label “advocacy” others consider fringe activism. There is important work being done by groups such as the WWF and they operate in the mainstream. They have a very collaborative approach, and it is a pleasure to work with them. The WWF Climate Savers programme provided Resolute with important support and structure that has contributed to our achievement of a 67.5 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 2000. Today, we’re also 100 percent on-site coal-free. And the WWF can take pride in our accomplishment.

UN scientists have said the world must cut CO2 emissions to zero by 2070 in order to avoid a catastrophic event. Do you think that is achievable?
My honest answer is, “I don’t know”. That said, when Kennedy said “we’re going to put a man on the moon”, I’m not sure we knew exactly how we were going to do that either. But we set a goal to focus on, it was aspirational and, in the end, it was achievable. Now, what you have asked me is an ongoing debate for the scientific community, but it is incumbent upon us, as a company, to do the very best that we can. We need to set targets and measure our progress. We work in a spirit of continuous improvement and aspire to be better tomorrow than we are today.

What are some of the technological developments that have helped Resolute to meet its GHG reduction commitments?
Fuel switching is big, as are conservation efforts. The payback can be quite significant. And innovation is critically important as well. A great example is our partnership with local investors in the Quebec Lac-Saint-Jean region to build what will be the biggest greenhouse in the province of Quebec. It is situated on land adjacent to our Saint-Félicien pulp mill. Imagine, a 35-hectare greenhouse – that’s huge. The project is currently underway, and the first cucumbers will be harvested in September 2015. Over the next five years, this project will provide jobs for over 400 people.

We have also teamed up with Mercer International to launch a new venture called Performance BioFilaments, and we are developing commercial uses for cellulose filaments, which are a biomaterial derived from wood fibre. It is entirely renewable and is a natural resource. Cellulose filaments can enhance the strength, stability, flexibility and longevity of a range of different products. They could be used for everything from more fuel-efficient cars to healthcare products.

These are the kinds of initiatives we as a company are involved in, and we are certainly not doing that in a vacuum. There are lots of other companies doing similar things, and there are many great stories to tell out there. That is why the old paradigm of “us versus them”, “good versus bad”, “environment versus economics”, as you said, is such an out-dated, oversimplification that is harmful to progress. In fact, it does a disservice to the great advancements that are taking place in our company, our industry and in society as a whole.

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