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Sappi environmental efforts add up

The Sappi paper mill in Cloquet has cut its carbon footprint dramatically over the past 10 years, with reductions in emissions and waste, recycling and keeping products out of landfills. It didn’t happen by mistake, said Environmental Manager Rob Schilling. Jamie Lund/

While the words “environmentally friendly paper mill” may seem like an oxymoron to some, the Sappi mill in Cloquet just might fit the bill.

Last October, the mill — which produces both top quality coated paper and chemical cellulose from wood pulp — received the Minnesota Waste Wise Foundation Leader award for being a leader in sustainable business practices.

Environmental Manager Rob Schilling said it was the result of years of planning and implementing practices to make the mill and its processes better for the environment.

The conservation efforts go across Sappi North America, which recently announced that its mills have the lowest reported carbon footprint among domestic competitors, thanks to the consistent focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“A corporate commitment to forest certification, waste reduction and a smaller carbon footprint are all very important, but it takes a committed and trained workforce to achieve measurable improvements in our business,” said Mark Gardner, president and CEO, Sappi North America, adding that the company’s commitment to training helps, with an average of 74 hours of training per person during 2014.

When Sappi retrofitted their mill in 2013 to begin dissolving wood pulp into specialized cellulose, staff recognized a great opportunity to reduce waste and increase recycling.

Large amounts of fiber and raw materials waste are commonly generated during papermaking. This waste, or combustible derived fuel (CDF), was historically burned on site in boilers producing steam and electricity, but CDF is more valuable as recycled material.

Minnesota Waste Wise connected Sappi with Sandstone nonprofit PHASE, an organization that provides employment-based services to adults with disabilities. One year later, PHASE has recycled more than 1 million pounds of CDF for Sappi. Waste Wise also assisted Sappi in doubling can, bottle and glass recycling by implementing single sort collection.

Waste reduction is just one of many major sustainability initiatives that save Sappi millions of dollars each year.

Sappi operates numerous reuse programs for its industrial byproducts. Boiler ash/dregs and organic degritter material are approved for land application, such as for roadbed fill, and Sappi distributes lime mud under a program managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Reuse has tripled the life expectancy of the mill’s landfill and reduced disposal costs, according to Minnesota Waste Wise.

Schilling has served on the Sustainability Council as the Cloquet representative since it was formed in 2006, something that happened partially in response to customers’ questions about how “green” the company was compared to other places they might do business.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What do we want to be when we grow up?’ and decided we wanted to be a leader in sustainability,” Schilling said.

In 2007, the council came up with three goals to make the company more environmentally sound:

  1. To increase use of fiber certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and also Forestry Stewardship Council certification programs.

  2. Responsible sourcing of natural resources is also a key priority. According to Sappi North America, much of the sourcing improvement that Sappi North America achieved company-wide in 2014 was due to an increase in certified fiber use on the paper machines at its Cloquet mill.

  3. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent over five years. “We crushed it,” Schilling said of the Cloquet mill. “We achieved something like 40 percent.”

  4. To reduce organic content put in the landfill by 10 percent, because it uses up space and decaying organic material produces methane gas.

“One pound of methane has 25 times the warming potential for greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide,” Schilling said, adding that the local mill also “far exceeded” that goal.

Like the international climate treaties, Sappi North America then convened for another round of goal-setting, this time in 2011.

The first goal, to decrease the amount of certified fiber used, remained the same.

Goal No. 2 was to use 10 percent less energy per ton of product, something Schilling said the Cloquet mill is hoping to achieve by 2016 through a number of smaller initiatives rather than one large project.

The third goal is to reduce the amount of waste by 10 percent (which the Cloquet mill achieved by the end of 2014).

“We pay for expensive raw materials, and if those end up in the sewer, then we’ve paid to buy it and we’ve paid to treat it,” he said. “We pay twice and don’t get anything back.”

And yes, being a more environmentally sustainable business also helps the bottom line, he said. Using less power, wasting fewer products, recycling and reusing materials … it all helps the company financially as well.

Schilling talked about the “three Ps: People, Planet, Prosperity,” explaining they are the proverbial three-legged stool for the company.

Some efforts are a wash financially — like giving lime mud to farmers to use instead of putting it in a landfill — but better for people and the planet.

“If something is a ‘planet’ goal and also hits ‘prosperity’ and ‘people,’ it’s a home run,” Schilling said.

More information on the company’s efforts to achieve its regional five-year goals for 2012-2016 can found in Sappi North America's 2014 Sustainability Report.


Using 2005 as the baseline year, the Sappi mill in Cloquet has reduced waste as follows:

Land Application: 300,000 tons

Sub-Grade Fill: 40,000 tons

CDF (combustible derived fuel) Recycling: 800 tons

Beverage Container Recycling: 10 tons

Metals Recycling: 2,500 tons

Used Oil Recycling: 100,000 gallons

Ash/Fiber: 1,250 tons

Energy: 7,000,000 MMBTU

Source: Minnesota Waste Wise