Port Hawkesbury Paper
On a mission of sustainability
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Port Hawkesbury Paper in Nova Scotia for our focus on the Forest Products Industry in North America
Idyllic Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia is home to a company that, through hard work and determination, has turned the odds in its favor to become a significant economic engine for the eastern part of the province. Port Hawkesbury Paper, located along the south-western coast of the island, is a supercalendered paper manufacturer with deep ties to local communities and an unwavering commitment to protecting and preserving the environment.
As one of Canada’s largest paper manufacturers, the company is on a mission to grow sustainably by investing in renewable energy sources and carbon-light manufacturing processes. Striking a delicate balance between growth and sustainability is not always easy, and most companies see it as an either/or situation. However, for Port Hawkesbury Paper, growth and sustainability are two sides of the same coin, with its leadership seeing sustainability as a key growth driver. To achieve this, the company must first contend with the challenges of an evolving paper market, along with an emerging post-COVID-19 “next normal” world.
Port Hawkesbury Paper manufactures supercalendered paper for the magazine, catalog, and inserts industry. Supercalendered paper, a non-coated paper variety, gets its name from the supercalender finishing process. The process adds a high-gloss finish to the paper by passing it through a series of rollers. Compared to coated paper, supercalendered paper provides a high-quality finish at a competitive price because it does not use clay as a coating agent but rather as an integral part of the sheet.
“Our paper is used for magazines, catalogs, direct mail, gift wrap, retail inserts and specialty packaging applications,” says Bevan Lock, Co-Mill Manager at Port Hawkesbury Paper. Although most other industry segments are going paperless, Lock sees the company’s wide range of competitively priced products and a specialized customer base as two reasons they continue to see steady operations amid the wave of digitization engulfing other industries.
“Port Hawkesbury Paper’s mill has been around since the early 1960s,” says Lock. “By the ’70s, the company had started manufacturing newsprint paper, which it continued to do over the following decades.” In 1998, the firm pivoted again, becoming one of the largest and fastest supercalendered paper mills in the world at that time.
In 2011, the plant shut down and remained closed until 2012 when Stern Partners, a private equity firm based in Vancouver, BC, purchased its assets, including its non-operational paper manufacturing plant. Lock reports, “through a series of strategic investments, the company underwent a radical transformation that has turned it into the vibrant business it is today.”
Port Hawkesbury Paper has its headquarters in an integrated facility located within a 240-acre lot off the shores of the Strait of Canso. “The facility houses our woodlands operation that performs long-term forest management planning for the Crown lands licensed to the company by the provincial government as well as managing private land purchases of wood fiber,” says Lock. “They also oversee the civic aspects of forest management to ensure the company manages forest resources sustainably and maintains all necessary forest certifications. Besides the woodlands operations, the facility handles all other operations that cover the entire manufacturing process from the scale house through to getting the finished product to the end customer.”
Running the facility is a workforce of around 325 internal employees augmented by an additional 400 contractors providing auxiliary services such as harvesting, silviculture, and trucking. As a company deeply integrated with local communities, many of its employees dedicate their careers to the mill. “We have a unionized workforce, and we continually work with the union and all staff on a variety of training initiatives such as equipment use, health and safety, and responsible forest practices,” says Lock. “One thing we’re very proud of is the continued improvement on our recordable injury rate and low absentee rate.”
Complementing its workforce is a network of partners like forest contractors, trucking and logistics companies, and local sawmills, some of whom have worked with Port Hawkesbury Paper for decades. Lock admits the list of valuable contracting companies and individuals they work with is too long to mention individually, but he underscores the value of the relationships developed with suppliers and contractors, from the producers of raw materials and equipment to the freight and shipping providers.
Operationally, Port Hawkesbury Paper relies on a two-pronged approach: automation and sustainability. Lock explains how automation plays a vital role in the manufacturer’s operations, noting, “Although there are aspects of paper manufacturing that are difficult to fully automate such as debarking and chipping, our combined operations are state-of-the-art by global standards.” The larger of our automated machines are thermomechanical refiners, and a cutting-edge paper machine and associated supercalenders.
On the sustainability front, forest management certifications play a critical role in helping the company meet its sustainability objectives. Andrea Doucette, Forest Sustainability Specialist at Port Hawkesbury Paper, recounts, “As a sustainability pioneer, Port Hawkesbury Paper was the first forest industry company in Canada to earn an ISO® 140001 environmental management certificate (1998), a dual certification of the Canadian Standards Association® (CSA®) Sustainable Forest Management Standard and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) Forest Management Standard in North America (2002), and a Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certification in the Canadian Maritimes (2008). Currently, the company is certified to the FSC and SFI standards for responsible forest management”.
The company is also currently FSC, SFI, and PEFC™ (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification™) chain of custody certified and has a public forest advisory committee encompassing forest interest groups, academia, contractors, environmental organizations, and government that is currently in its 20th year. “The committee participates in our forest management planning through discussions on what values are important from a stakeholder perspective, and we try to incorporate those values into our planning and forest management indicators that we monitor and report on annually,” says Doucette.
Alongside these long-standing programs, the company is also pursuing a wide range of sustainability initiatives like producing sustainability reports and actively working towards reducing water, steam, electricity consumption and solid waste generation. Of these initiatives, energy management will have the most significant impact on the plant’s overall operations. Being one of the largest energy consumers in the region, switching to use more renewable energy would be a substantial win.
“As a TMP pulp plant, we are very energy-intensive,” explains Allan Eddy, Business Development Manager at Port Hawkesbury Paper. “We represent about 10 percent of electricity consumption on the provincial grid.” To reduce this massive energy footprint, the company is performing due diligence on a proposed 112 MW wind farm, which, when complete, would be the largest in the province. Eddy acknowledges, “When fully operational, the wind farm could supply about a third of our energy requirements based on our facilities running at full capacity.”
Although the company is banking on automation and sustainability projects like the wind farm to fuel future growth, it does recognize that the paper industry is shifting. “I think the whole paper market has changed over the past several years,” says Jill Crossley, Marketing Manager at Port Hawkesbury Paper. “Mills are consolidating, and others are converting to different grades as capacity aligns with demand. Our customers understand that we are focused on the SC paper market and rely on us to be a long-term partner.
Despite these changes, Crossley sees paper remaining a crucial component of the overall marketing mix, as supported by several studies. For instance, despite COVID-19 lockdowns, the company has seen an uptick in catalog usage alongside a surge in online shopping. “Overall, printing and writing paper grades continue to shift,” says Lock, “but due to the quality of our paper, some of its unique characteristics, and the broad range of basis weights we produce, we continue to see strong demand for our products.”
Looking forward, the company representatives all agree that Port Hawkesbury Paper is on the right track and can continue its growth trajectory by sticking to its current strategy. “We plan to continue focusing on producing a high-quality product and growing our customer base in the area of printing grades and other innovative uses of paper while serving our present and long-standing customers with continued quality,” says Lock.
Crossley adds, “The business’s overall sustainability economically, environmentally, and socially will be equally essential growth drivers in the future. Our customers want to know that we’re going to be there for them in five years, so we plan to continue focusing on being even more efficient and effective.”
“Our growth strategy is to continue being a world leader in the production of supercalendered paper through sustainable and innovative methods,” says Eddy, a point that Doucette is quick to support, sharing, “From a forest management perspective, we plan to continue maintaining our certifications while actively communicating with and educating the public on what we do and how we do it.”
AT A GLANCE
Port Hawkesbury Paper
What: A leading North American manufacturer of supercalendered paper
Where: Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia
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