04/18/2014 11:48 am ET Updated Jun 18, 2014

Partnering for Impact: A Q&A with Domtar

Sustainability is one of the most far-reaching issues of our time. To impart measurable change, neither individuals nor companies can do it alone. This makes partnerships across public and private company lines especially critical.

While working together toward this common goal is extremely important, it's not always easy. Developing successful and impactful marketing campaigns and partnerships is trying in any industry.

For sustainability-focused, for-profit companies, trying to engage your audiences around the weighty issue of sustainability can be even more difficult, as some find it challenging to manage a delicate balance between financial goals and staying true to a mission to do what's right. And having to address multiple stakeholders -- including other companies, consumers and the public sector -- only complicates the equation further. One company I've seen rise to that challenge especially well is Domtar, the sustainable paper company.

Domtar created a guiding strategy for its partner eco-system, the "EarthChoice Lifecycle," with the goal of engaging partner companies who could help it enfuse eco-responsibility throughout the lifecycle of its products -- beginning in the forest and continuing through production, usage and recycling. Though the percentage of paper recovered for recycling remains higher than materials like glass, aluminum and plastic, paper still makes up 28 percent of all municipal solid waste (MSW). As a champion for responsible paper usage and disposal, Domtar is committed to its partner ecosystem, and provides a great case study in partnering for impact.

To learn more about the driving forces behind the EarthChoice Lifecycle, Kate Durkin, vice president partner solutions here at Recyclebank, and I sat down with Domtar's VP of Sustainability Paige Goff. Below we highlight what Paige has learned being part of a sustainability-focused company in an industry that gets a bad rap when it comes to the environment.

Q: How did the EarthChoice Lifecycle come about and what does it mean from a marketing perspective?

A: Being in the paper industry, there are a lot of misconceptions about sustainability. The EarthChoice Lifecycle "Loop of Responsibility" is something we developed to illustrate our efficiencies, certifications, fiber development and how our products are made. Throughout each of its stages, we're engaged in projects and partnerships that promote increased responsibility and help customers make more informed decisions

That means we only work with like-minded companies such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Rainforest Alliance and Recyclebank. We also work with all our partners to educate and engage around responsible usage and the proper recycling of our products. For example, there are certain things that need to be printed and others that don't. That's why we've created a strategic relationship with PrintECO, who developed a program that optimizes what you print from digital sources. Rather than printing ads and comments, PrintECO ensures you're only printing what you need.

Q: Why are like-minded partners so important for Domtar and in the sustainability industry in general?

A: While we are a for-profit company, we also have our mission and values which are rooted in sustainability. Everyone in our company from the CEO down believes in these ideals so, it would be counterintuitive to have partners that didn't. Revenue is important and increases shareholder value, but we also need to do the right thing. Companies that do what's right for their employees and the environment are the ones that survive and thrive it today's marketplace. This is most vital within the sustainability industry because no one action can right the environment -- we have to work together.

Q: What should other marketers take away from your partner program about marketing to green consumers?

A: We're very selective with partners. A partnership needs to be mutually beneficial and respectful, ensuring that everyone involved is making the world better. With Domtar, it's about the quality of our partnerships, not the quantity -- and that makes a big difference in how we communicate and tell our story.

Q: What challenges have you faced in developing such a curated program in your industry?

A: One of the main challenges we've had to deal with is that we are not a consumer-facing company -- I think that's something a lot of B2B companies with similar missions struggle with. So, getting "Domtar values" out there takes some effort. Through our partnerships we're able to educate those that we wouldn't otherwise reach.

Q: What advice do you have for other sustainable companies?

A: Stay committed. Some people thought "sustainability" was a phase, and we know that's not accurate. It is part of doing business today, and it is our responsibility to provide products and support that help our customers make better choices.

Q: How do you measure the impact of a partner program like this?

A: It's hard from an ROI standpoint, but it's important to remember you can't always measure goodwill or value. Whenever we get opportunities to share our story, we are grateful. Partnerships help amplify our message and provides insight into our ongoing journey towards increased responsibility throughout the fiber lifecycle.