A Word from the General Manager - April 2015

April 1, 2015

Figuring Out Sustainability

Brian Isard

One of our long time members recently shared an insight with me about a frequent challenge that comes up on his sales calls. “When I visit a customer these days, I am getting asked more frequently about pallets and sustainability.” He asked me if we can do something as an association to promote sustainability within our industry. 

I talked about this in last month’s column. There is a new competitive environment whereby if your products or services are perceived as not contributing to positive social and environment features customers will look elsewhere for suppliers that meet this need. 

But for association members what does a sustainability program look like in practice? How does it actually work? What’s different from the business practices we operate in today from the practices we engage in the future? Perhaps most importantly, how can we clearly present our sustainability initiatives so that they are fully recognized by customers as accurate and credible?

In putting together a sustainability program for the wood packaging industry one has to deal with a broad misconception: that wood packaging uses up forest resources by cutting down trees.

In fact, only a tiny amount of Canada’s extensive forest lands is actually harvested every year. According to Natural Resources Canada 0.6 million hectares of forest were harvested in 2012, which represents less than 0.2% of Canada’s forests. The entire harvest is then regenerated each year through natural regeneration or replanting. (Source: The State of Canada’s Forests Natural Resources Canada 2014 Report)

However when we talk about a sustainability program, it is hard to figure out the road map for our industry to pursue.

One sector of our industry, the pallet pooling companies, have demonstrated their commitment towards sustainable principles in the management of our nation’s forests by ensuring that all lumber is purchased from forests that are sustainably managed and verified by international recognized certification programs and ensuring that no waste ends up in landfill. 

Several years of participation in Sustainable Value Networks with a major global retailers provided some insights into how to integrate sustainability practices into a business. I learned two important features:

  • that to be accepted and believed in the market your sustainability effort must be quantifiable and supported by data 
  • a properly implemented program can improve price competitiveness

Sustainability is best explained as a three-legged stool comprising environmental responsibility, economic viability, and social desirability, where all three have an equal weighting. 

Companies who incorporate sustainability into their business usually focus on achieving results around:

  • reducing reliance on extractive resources such as coal and oil
  • reducing energy consumption and its future greenhouse gas emissions liability
  • achieving zero waste 
  • using non-toxic chemicals that are either biodegradable or that can be recycled
  • improving health & safety performance
  • procuring raw materials from certified suppliers using sustainable harvesting practices

By taking this approach, where results are achieved through benchmarking and targeted improvement objectives, companies set a direction of travel towards more sustainable practices.

The CWPCA has taken the following steps towards developing a sustainability initiative:

  • Leadership Commitment– our Board of Directors have committed $60,000 in funding over the next five years to establish Nature’s Packaging, an initiative that promotes the sustainability of wood packaging.
  • Business Impact -  the wood packaging industry is a North American business and Canadian industry working is isolation is not going to have much of an impact. We have been actively building partnerships with other industry associations on a joint initiative.
  • Branding –we have adopted Nature’s Packaging as a brand, which is focused on providing facts showing that wood is a renewable and sustainable resource, and that wood packaging is repairable and recyclable.
  • Messaging – The wood packaging industry uses every part of a harvested tree, from smaller logs and offcuts from construction grade timber. This ensures that the whole log is used – a highly effective mode of resource management. Any discussion on sustainability has to focus on recycling. Over the past two decades the recycling of wood packaging, especially pallets, has increased significantly. What doesn’t get reused to build or repair pallets gets ground up as mulch, animal bedding or biomass fuel. 

I would like to invite our members to attend our Annual General Meeting on May 25th in Toronto where we will be making a joint announcement with NWPCA on what steps we are taking to make Nature’s Packaging a reality.

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