Papermaking: Doing More with Less

In order to thrive in an ever-changing world, companies must constantly review their business strategies.
Aug 26, 2015 9:30 AM ET

Sustainable production and consumption depends on using materials and energy efficiently so that there are ample resources available for future generations. Consideration must be given to the full life cycle of a service or product to fully understand its impact. At Sappi, we take a holistic view of papermaking and understand that our sphere of influence extends beyond our mill gates from responsible sourcing through to the end of life of our products.

Our greatest ability to impact the life cycle of our products is by focusing on our production operations. At each mill we strive to do more with less—to make paper as efficiently as possible, maximizing the use of resources and minimizing waste.

Our sustainability goals reflect this overall strategy. While we have high levels of renewable, carbon-neutral energy, we strive to reduce our total energy intensity and set a goal of a 10 percent reduction over our 2011 baseline. Reducing energy results in significant cost savings and will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We also have a goal specifically targeting the efficient use of raw materials. We are aiming to control losses of both fiber and papermaking materials and set a goal to reduce losses by 10 percent in both the pulp mill and papermaking areas at each of our mills.

Success depends on a combination of efforts across each mill and in numerous operating areas. For example, in 2014 the Westbrook Mill reached a milestone by achieving a level of 1 million pounds of coating materials reclaimed (see story on p. 22). Prior to 2009, coating materials that were not consumed during a production run would be discharged to the sewer, putting organic load on our wastewater treatment plant and adding to the cost of manufacturing by wasting these materials. By developing a means to reclaim the materials and use them in subsequent runs, we eliminate the cost of replacement materials as well as reduce the environmental impact. Our Cloquet and Somerset mills also have coating reclaim units on each of the paper machines.

Return on Capital
Beyond energy and materials, successful businesses must also utilize capital employed to its greatest capability. At Sappi we focus on minimizing debt and work in process as well as managing our inventory of goods. This strategy extends to managing our working capital for machine clothing and parts. Because all three paper machines at the Somerset Mill are built to the same machine width, it is possible to share parts and minimize working capital.

Recent paper machine investments have been shown to yield long-term benefits. In addition to improvements in quality and expanded product offerings, the mills are realizing chemical and fiber savings as well as increased productivity. Our Somerset Mill has achieved record productivity with consistent performance across all three paper machines for two years in a row. Because of prior investments in the utilities and recovery area, we have also achieved record pulp productivity.

Made Efficiently in the USA
There is a growing trend in the US of “on-shoring” manufacturing. Instead of looking overseas for advantages in labor costs, major companies are bringing jobs back to the states. In addition to concerns about social and environmental performance as well as the ability to protect intellectual property, additional factors driving this trend include reduced energy costs, increased levels of automation, a highly skilled work force, volatile overseas transportation rates and stable infrastructure.

These factors have also influenced the success of our operations. By utilizing modern technology and because of our highly skilled workforce, we are making more paper per employee than ever before. Figure 1 depicts our productivity per employee at our Somerset Mill.

Read the full Sappi North America Sustainability Report 2014 by downloading an online PDF version directly from our website here or for more on sustainability, check out our eQ microsite at: