International Paper is the largest producer of packaging, paper, and pulp. It has three business lines: industrial packaging (65% of revenue), which includes producing containerboard and corrugated packaging; consumer packaging (13%), which includes producing paper cups, containers, and lids; and paper and pulp (22%), which includes producing paper for printing and imaging. Part of the company is vertically integrated. For production, International Paper operates 24 pulp, paper and packaging mills, and 188 plants for converting, packaging, recycling, and bags. For raw materials, International Paper owns or manages approximately 335,000 acres of forestland in Brazil and has harvesting rights Russian forestlands .
Paper production accounts for 40% of industrial wood harvesting . It’s effect on the environment is doubly deleterious: not only is deforestation responsible for 15% of CO₂ emissions , but deforestation robs Earth of the very trees that take CO₂ out of the atmosphere. Furthermore, part of the paper production process is chemical. Chemicals are used to remove the lignin, which binds the fibers in wood together, and then the fibers are dissolved in vast quantities of water before it is dried and rolled. The industry is the fourth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the United States , and International Paper is the largest pulp and paper company in the US.
Given that International Paper’s operations contribute to climate change, it will first think about approaches to reduce its carbon footprint, from the procurement of wood to the manufacturing of paper and packaging. Strategies to reduce its footprint include reducing GHG emissions, improving manufacturing efficiency, and/or changing production to reduce reliance on specific raw materials. Mechanical grinding, for example, is an alternative to chemical pulping. Adaptation tactics appear limited given the necessity of wood as a raw material, but alternate production methods include the use of recycled products, or producing wood-free paper from different raw materials .
Growing concerns over deforestation, clear cutting, and other unsustainable practices by pulpwood plantations may inhibit the supply of acceptable wood. Fiber can be certified by a series of third-party organizations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) in the US or Certificacão Florestal (CERFLOR) in Brazil . Certification is important because it designates that the source of wood fiber is sustainable and maintains the supply of global forestland.
In an attempt to promote mitigation tactics more broadly by the industry, the national trade association, American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), set six goals to address the issues the industry faces regarding sustainability and climate change . Similarly, International Paper published a vision for the company to hit certain climate change goals by the year 2020 . A comparison of select goals is in the table below.
Fig 1. Comparison of select AF&PA’s and International Paper’s sustainability goals
It is promising that International Paper is more aggressive than the industry standard when its comes to GHG emissions and purchased energy efficiency . This has been mostly been done by reducing combined heat and power (CHP) emissions . Example of this include transitioning from coal power to natural gas as a way to power the pulp and paper mills , or by using larger trucks to minimize the number of trips that need to be taken from the mill to warehousing . However, there remain opportunities for International Paper lead the industry in addressing climate change.
Reduction in water use from mills remains an additional goal. While the AF&PA seek a 12% reduction, International Paper’s stated goal is merely to “map water usage […] by 2013; develop site-specific plans by 2015 to reduce use […] by 2020”. A reduction in water usage would help International Paper reduce raw material usage, and in turn its carbon footprint.
An additional opportunity for International Paper is better handling production waste. One of its goals is to “reduce manufacturing waste to landfills 30% by 2020”. However, there is an opportunity to change this “cradle to grave” mentality and invest in technologies that can convert waste to biomass energy , which is renewable and carbon-neutral.
Lastly, it is worth nothing the effects that competition may have on International Paper, particular on its supply chain. A majority of the forecasted growth in paper production is going to occur in China . This could present a challenge not only to International Paper, but the entire pulp and paper industry in the United States, because most pulp and paper companies in China remain state-owned and are subject to lax emissions standards . International Paper will have to balance between achieving its goals to ameliorate climate change while staying competitive in a price-sensitive commodity industry.
Fig. 2. The Rise of Paper Comsumption.