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Sustainability in Motion

Aug. 1, 2012
Cascades Tissue Group shares key lessons learned from developing its ambitious, multi-year sustainable development plan.
In July 2010, I had the pleasure of discussing Cascades Inc.’s unique, multi-year sustainable development plan efforts in an EHS Today podcast. During the discussion, I mentioned that the project – which, at the time, was still being developed for its eventual launch in January 2011 – involved non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as key stakeholders throughout the process and aimed to concretely document the company’s corporate-wide Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) objectives. In other words, we were putting a measurable stake in the ground for all to see what kind of difference we intend to make in terms of the environment, the communities in which we operate and among our employees, customers, suppliers and investors.

We’ve now surpassed the halfway mark of our plan. Of the 18 key performance indicators (KPIs) we initially outlined, corporate leaders speculate that we’re definitely on track to complete half the objectives. As for the remaining KPIs, it may come down to a photo finish next spring when this particular plan draws to a close.

Would we prefer to have not involved so many others or gone public with our ambitions amidst these challenges and the uncertainty as to whether we’ll hit our sustainability markers? Quite to the contrary!  Will we change some things when we launch our subsequent SD Plan? Certainly!

Here’s a list of midstream lessons being learned or affirmed as Cascades continues to pursue and measure its sustainability accountabilities:

1. Collaboration –Sustainability isn’t meant to be accomplished in a vacuum; the saying that “green business is everyone’s business” definitely holds true in planning. Our impression of involving NGOs is that the listening alone has been valuable and the ability to diagnose and set goals in consort with industry is useful and adds both credibility and accountability. Sustainability is both a reality and a perception, we’ve learned, and by involving individuals outside the company, it’s been helpful to have a rich dialogue with informed sources about how we might better think and talk about making a sustainable difference.

2. Aggressiveness –Max DePree, who served as CEO of Herman Miller before becoming a leadership consultant and author, has been credited with saying, “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” By establishing smart and non-bland “stretch” goals, our company and employees are poised to think more critically, become more energized and operate at peak levels.  New innovations, insights and opportunities continuously are being developed that reduce tolls on the environment. It’s important, therefore, not just to maintain green practices, but instead to push the envelope to accomplish new levels of sustainability. Our experience has been that most green-informed citizens and corporate watchdogs expect as much.

3. Focus –While aggressiveness is good, a main regret from our SD Plan effort so far is that we set out to accomplish too many separate things, rather than consolidating our efforts on advancing a smaller number of particularly crucial items. Rather than listing 18 key performance indicators, a dozen probably would have been sufficient and allowed us to better ad more thoroughly concentrate our improvement efforts. Focus has to be key.

4. Honesty –It’s been Cascades’ view since day one of this effort that sustainability planning, just like sustainability reporting, is an exercise in transparency and the NGOs and other stakeholders involved in the process have more than once reaffirmed that belief. In order to succeed, sustainability plan measurables must be genuine and meaningful, and if they’re not, company watchers eventually will see through the window dressing and lash back. Given today’s rapid social media environment, that can mean instant problems and a major blow to an organizations overall credibility.

In the sprit of the original EHS Today podcast, and as a way of taking inventory of these still-formulating experiences and lessons, Cascades Tissue Group recently conducted a new audio recording and posted the content to our SUSTAIN blog here. We invite comments and questions about our experience, and in the spirit of bringing about more forward-looking sustainability measures, would love to converse or consult with any organizations interested in going about a similar undertaking!

Steve Ott, sustainable business development manager for Cascades Tissue Group’s U.S. Away-From-Home Division in Waterford, N.Y., is responsible for developing and expanding environmental initiatives within the company and communicating those benefits to sustainability-focused partners. He can be reached at [email protected] or (518) 880-3678. For additional information on Cascades’ measurable sustainable development objectives, including an interim SD Report, visit

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