CEF Spotlight

Why Bold Sustainability Targets Make Good Business Sense

By Teri Shanahan, Vice President of Sustainability, International Paper.

Trees are International Paper’s primary raw material, so sustaining healthy, abundant forests is critical to our business success and we have been doing this for more than 100 years.  Growing trees is a long-term business and takes long-term commitment; the average forest matures in about 35-60 years, depending on species and location.  We are proud of the fact that our products give landowners a reason to continue growing trees, but we aren’t complacent.  We are intent on making IP better and we believe voluntary goals– including ones specifically related to forest certification– are a great way to demonstrate this commitment.

IP’s Sustainability Steering Team, a group of team members with expertise in both our business operations and our environmental and social performance, meets regularly to inform the company’s sustainability strategy. In conjunction with this group and our senior leadership team, IP launched 12 voluntary sustainability goals to guide our operations through 2020.

The goals span eight impact areas: energy efficiency, air emissions, safety, waste, water, fiber, supply chain, and philanthropy and include specific commitments like; reducing absolute greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing by 20 percent and increasing third-party certified fiber volume by 15 percent globally.

Public commitments like this may appear risky from a business perspective–these efforts cost money, and missing targets could invite negative attention—but our company believes voluntary goal setting, with quantifiable targets, is a crucial strategy to improve our operations.

As I mentioned earlier, healthy forests are a cornerstone for our business and the global environment.   IP is currently focused on a number of fiber-certification projects to help meet our goal of a 15 percent global increase in certified fiber volume. This goal demonstrates how economics, environmental stewardship, strategic partnerships, and customer responsiveness are deeply interconnected. However, it is important to note that progress cannot be made simply by acquiring new capacity.  With our recent acquisition of Temple Inland, we will adjust our goal from the original 2010 baseline.

The Economics of Certification 

Buying certified wood fiber from our suppliers is incredibly important, but getting more third-party certified fiber isn’t easy.  Landowners can be reluctant to add expense to their forest management efforts, and agreeing to host regular audits can feel onerous, especially for small landowners and families.  We work hard and use significant resources to help our suppliers understand the benefits of certification.   In addition to the value for the land and landowners, this expanded certification enables IP to offer expanded choices to our customers who want to buy certified forest products.

Recycling Paper

Recycled fiber is another important tool in our efforts to be sustainable.  Paper is the most recycled product humans use and the recovery story is already a good one.  Making the best and most efficient use of recovered fiber is our goal. From our perspective, “down-cycling” – putting recovered fiber into lower value products that don’t require re-bleaching – makes the most sense.    We also offer recycled printing papers for those customers that prefer them, and we have a wide range of recycled corrugated box products as well.

Environmental Stewardship

IP sees environmental stewardship, including responsible forestry, as imperative for both the planet and the health of our business. Fiber certification can greatly reduce potential for deforestation and irresponsible practices, which means we’ll still be able to source the fiber we need well into the future.

The goal-setting and oversight processes we use for fiber certification also helps inform our other environmental efforts. Issues such as forest preservation, efficient resource use, and climate change are deeply intertwined, and we believe they all impact our company’s long-term performance. 

Strategic Partnerships

Third-party wood fiber certification represents the highest standards of stewardship, traceability and transparency. Organizations like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council set standards for sustainable forestry that IP is proud to support. IP also partners with other recognized programs, including the American Tree Farm System and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

The small, private landowners that supply 90% of our fiber are crucial partners as well. IP works closely with landowners to aid them in the certification and auditing processes.

Customer Responsiveness

Our sustainability goals are driven by our desire to make IP better, but they are also closely connected with what our customers want.  In many cases, we are just one component in a complex supply chain and almost all our customers (and in many cases suppliers) look to IP to help improve their sustainability footprint.  So feedback from our customers and other stakeholders is an important part of how we form our sustainability goals.

As you read International Paper’s 12 sustainability goals, you’ll find this common thread: linking business results to improved communities and improved natural environmental systems.  We think our current goals are a good start, with about one third of these goals identified as “pretty doable.”  Another third are unclear, with numeric goals identified but the picture on how to attain them remains blurred.  For the final third, we aspire to improve, but don’t really have any roadmap yet on how we will get there.

One thing is clear: we are confident we will accomplish these goals by 2020, that working to achieve the goals will drive business results, and that we will build on progress with a constant cycle of newer and stronger goals.

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