Integrating Sustainability Into Your Business’ Supply Chain

Concept of circular economy with businessman

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Businesses have an important role to play in helping societies reduce their environmental impact. Renée Yardley, a senior vice president of Sustana Group, the parent company of Sustana Fiber and Rolland paper manufacturer, shares with Earth911 her thoughts about the need for businesses to implement sustainability practices and to close the loop on their materials sourcing and disposal.   

November 15 marks America Recycles Day, the only nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States. On this day, it is important to recognize that the recycling industry — in the U.S. and beyond — is rapidly changing in response to political, financial, and environmental factors. At the same time, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of and vocal about the current sustainability issues that face our society today.

It’s clear that producing products that are merely “recyclable” is no longer enough. Consumers expect businesses to take action beyond the recycling bin. To meet consumer demand — and address environmental responsibility — business leaders must take steps to seamlessly integrate sustainability into their organizations, starting with their supply chains.

Embrace the Circular Economy

One way that businesses can start to approach their supply chains more sustainably is by understanding and adopting the circular economy model. This model is built upon the principle of a closed loop, in which the life cycle of products and materials is extended — even after they’re used — while waste and pollution are eliminated. More than recyclable, products are “made to be made again,” or from renewable, reused, or recycled materials that can be recycled again.

For example, at Sustana Fiber, we can source post-consumer recycled content from the “urban forest” — discarded sorted office papers, promotional materials, school and business documents, paper cups, and cartons. From these materials, we create recycled fiber by leveraging our state-of-the-art proprietary recycling process that minimizes water and energy usage as well as waste. This recycled fiber then goes on to be used by paper mills to manufacture paper and paperboard for new paper cups, packaging and containers, and food-grade packaging.

representation of circular economy

The circular economy is built on the notion that the life cycles of materials and resources that have already served a purpose for end users can be preserved and extended. Image: Sustana Fiber

Understand Your Environmental Impact

When it comes to building a sustainable supply chain, it is important to understand the impact of your business’ products, partners, and processes on people and the planet. Businesses should conduct a formal analysis of their supply chains, identify priority sustainability focus areas, and set goals that incorporate key objectives from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as input from internal and external stakeholders. Once these goals have been established, transparent measurement is just as important to ensure accountability.

As part of Sustana’s sustainability strategy, we conducted a Life Cycle Assessment to measure the full environmental impact of our fiber products throughout their entire journey. We found that the impact of our EnviroLife™ recycled fiber on climate change is 26 percent lower — and uses nine times less water —than virgin, or non-recycled, paper fibers.

Encourage Continuous Innovation

Sustainability is a moving target, and businesses need continuous advancement through innovation to ensure an environmentally responsible supply chain. A good place to start is from within. Business leaders must create a culture that encourages and empowers their employees to constantly seek new, sustainable solutions. This is vital because employees are essential extensions of the business and understand its internal systems and processes.

Some of the best ideas come about this way. In fact, one Rolland employee’s “lightbulb moment” eventually changed the company’s entire supply chain. Paper manufacturer Rolland, a subsidiary of Sustana Group along with Sustana Fiber, invested in biogas, which comes from decomposing waste that’s been captured to prevent its release into the air at a local landfill site. Biogas now fulfills 93 percent of the paper mill’s energy needs. It is transported by an eight-mile pipeline to Rolland and used as thermal energy to produce paper, effectively replacing fossil fuels.

As the recycling industry continues to evolve in the coming years, businesses will need to take an updated approach to sustainability — one outside of the recycling bin. Integrating sustainability into the supply chain, through circularity, transparency, and innovation, is a critical first step.

About the Author

Renée Yardley. senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sustana GroupRenée Yardley is senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sustana Group, the leader in sustainable, recycled fibers and paper products. She has more than two decades of experience in global organizations, including Tembec, CCM, and General Motors, and holds a Bachelor of Commerce and MBA from McGill University and an MA in General Management from Harvard University. Active in the Montreal community, Renée has served as president of Literacy Partners of Quebec, and she currently sits on the board of directors for the Lakeshore General Hospital Foundation and mentors MBA students at McGill.

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