Every day, many people drive by a Flagstaff business that epitomizes being green. It has earned rankings as one of the most sustainable corporations in the world. SCA Tissue, on Butler Avenue (across the street from HomCo Ace Hardware), has a nondescript storefront. But behind its doors, an impressive recycling process is underway most days of the year, providing material for tissue and hand towels.
SCA is an acronym for Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget, which translates to Swedish Cellulose Incorporated. The company was started in 1929, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. It entered the U.S. market in 2001. Last year’s global sales reached about $15 billion.
SCA’s Northern Arizona operation is a regional facility serving the southwest using a business-to-business model. They sell supplies for restaurants, offices, and hotels under the Tork brand name. More than half of the restaurants in the U.S. using paper napkins use these products, creating what is referred to as a closed loop in recycling.
Along with the Flagstaff plant, SCA has another facility in Bellemont. On Butler Avenue, paper is recycled and made into large rolls that are then transported 13 miles along Interstate 40 for processing into products.
In advance of Earth Day, the regional director of Southwest operations, Don Jordan, invited Flagstaff Business News on a tour of the Flagstaff facility, to better showcase the sustainable operation.
The tour began in a large storeroom, where used paper, which appears to have been shredded, is grouped and stored from ground level to the high ceilings. It is moved to a processing area and placed in a large agitator. Inert material like clay and ash are removed from the paper. Staples and paperclips are also extracted from the pulp. This process uses and reuses heated reclaimed water. The cleaned up recycled paper is then sent to large paper machines that thin it out. A product looking like fabric is converted into giant rolls of paper to be transported to Bellemont.
Jordan says the 100 percent recycling process just a way of doing business. “For us, it’s not looking around to see, ‘are we greener than the next company, are we more sustainable?’ It is a business model that says we want long-term sustainability for the organization for the business and part of that is having a sustainable model including processes.”
Jordan, who has 25 years in the paper industry, joined SCA in 2009. While he recognizes the benefits to being green, he says it has to be part of a bigger picture.
“You can’t have a sustainable environmental model that costs you more money in the long run to run your business. And you can’t have a sustainable business model that depletes all the natural resources you need. They aren’t two separate competing interests,” he said.
For SCA, the sustainability model is working well and praised internationally. In Arizona, water conservation at the Flagstaff mill earned the Arizona Governor’s Prize for Water Management and Customer of the Year by the national WaterReuse Association. The Flagstaff facility also earned certification by the national Environmental Choice Program for meeting strict environmental standards in manufacturing.
The sustainability model has an additional benefit locally. The clay and ash removed from the recycled paper creates tons of sludge each year. The City of Flagstaff picks it up daily and takes it to the landfill, where the odorless gray colored material is used to cover refuse. “If they didn’t use our sludge,” said SCA’s Chris Kelm, “they would have to haul some from elsewhere.”
The cover also helps landfill materials decompose more quickly and keeps things from blowing away. “To meet state code, the landfill has to put a six to eight inch layer of something (over the trash) to keep rodents, birds and other animals out,” explained Mike Yoder, a manager at SCA.
The company also promotes sustainability by awarding environmental education grants. SCA Tissue North America has given nearly $120,000 to 56 schools, including more than $13,000 to schools in the Flagstaff region. This year on Earth Day, SCA Tissue will announce the opening of the application cycle for the latest round of environmental education grants. “This year, the company is making available a total of $25,000,” said SCA Communication Manager Diane Engler.
As the tour of Flagstaff’s SCA facility wrapped up, Don Jordan talked about the future of the company. “We are continuing our work around energy efficiency.” Company policy includes seeking input from the 259 local employees to further increase productivity and sustainability, added Jordan. “We only purchase and retrofit high efficiency motors throughout our operations because this is a high energy consumption business.” FBN