Domtar Sustainability: Unlocking the Secrets of Watergate

Aug 31, 2017 10:15 AM ET

Domtar 2017 Sustainability Report

A catch phrase often associated with the political intrigue of Watergate is “follow the money.” However, at Domtar, “following the money” is our way of unlocking the gate to improved water management.

Domtar is in the favorable position of having all of its mills located in areas with abundant water resources. While the company works diligently to maintain and improve the quality of the water in the rivers on which we depend, reducing our use of water has not historically been a high priority.

This should not be surprising since 90 percent of the water we use is returned to the watershed, and most of the remainder returns to the atmosphere through evaporation. Moreover, the water that we borrow from nature is used about 10 times in our mills before being returned. In other words, although our water utilization is high, our water consumption is not.

Given this reality, maintaining a focus on water efficiency was an organizational challenge. Yet we knew that, thinking longer term, it was a smart idea to make water efficiency a more important part of Domtar’s sustainability agenda. To get started, we decided to focus on something that we have historically tracked more carefully than water: money.

We brought together cost accountants, water treatment system operators, engineers and other colleagues to begin the process of unravelling complex data to gain a better understanding of the full cost of our water utilization. Although the water itself is essentially “free,” it quickly became apparent that our pumping, filtering, demineralizing, heating, treating, reusing, cleaning and returning of water is anything but.

The problem we faced is that the factors that influence water utilization costs—including electrical power, chemical supplies, permit compliance costs and maintenance—were inconsistently tracked across our mills and our three water categories (process water, boiler feed water and effluent).

By following the money, we are now establishing a better line-of-sight into the true costs of using water. This, in turn, has enabled us to begin building a model that will provide our managers not just a truer picture of their water costs, but more precisely where they should focus their water efficiency improvement projects for the greatest benefit. This model is now being tested in some of our mills and will be improved as we learn more.

Absent any scandal or intrigue, we nonetheless found that following the money unlocks important secrets to advancing sustainability.


Domtar’s 2017 Sustainability Report details the company’s endeavor to take a longer term view of creating and preserving value for our shareholders, customers, employees and communities.  For more inspiring stories about Domtar's sustainability efforts, visit the Domtar Newsroom. To view the full 2017 Sustainability Report click here.