As it nears 200 years in operation, Monadnock Paper Mills (MPM) remains one of the nation’s foremost manufacturers of technical/specialty, packaging and printing papers for a variety of markets. At its mill in Bennington, New Hampshire, nestled among vast swaths of forest and within a fishing rod’s cast from the Contoocook River, the company is central in a part of the country where preserving the greater environment is absolutely tantamount to locals and visitors alike.
The Contoocook is home to an extensive wildlife habitat, with 117 species of birds dependent on its preservation. The New Hampshire Fish and Game stocks the river for sports fishing, and it’s the destination for hundreds of boaters and kayakers every year.
Michelle Hamm, MPM’s environmental programs manager, is one of those “avid fisherman” who says she’s often on the banks of the Contoocook River during lunch. She has her personal reasons for protecting the river’s quality, but at her post, which she has held since 1993, she is responsible for maintaining a philosophy of environmental-friendliness and sustainability that has been a “key, core business value since day one.”
The ‘DNA’ of MPM
In its recently-released Sustainability Progress Report, the company outlined a few key critical areas of continuous improvement:
- Reduce electricity consumption by 2 percent annually.
- Reduce CO2 equivalent emissions by 2 percent annually.
- Reduce water usage by 2 percent annually.
- Reduce solid waste to a landfill by 5 percent annually.
The company says, “While these goals may not appear aggressive, Monadnock has been at this for well over 40 years.”
The reasons for such a strong sustainability program are many. On one hand, as mentioned before, the company has always committed to maintaining the quality of the local environment, and conducting business in a way that leaves as little an impact as possible.
Hamm says that when the Verney family bought the facility in 1948 — Richard Verney, of that same family, is currently the CEO — they “understood the importance of how the facility has to co-exist peacefully, not only with the community, but also the environment.” The family bought land surrounding the facility so that it could be conserved, and to protect the quality of the aquifer beneath the facility that provides its groundwater.
Even before her tenure as the head of sustainability operations at MPM, Hamm acknowledges that the Verney family has always been committed to staying years, if not decades, ahead of federal and state regulation. They invested in an on-site water treatment facility in the early 1970s, before the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Hamm says MPM financed the project alone solely to protect the Contoocook, and not because of the mandate.
She adds: “We’ve always been on the forefront of looking ahead, and trying to anticipate what’s coming our way, and to be the leader in reaching those goals first. MPM was actually the first paper mill in the United States to run under the draft standard of the Forest Stewardship Council Chain of Custody certification.”
This also helps when the company continues to work with some major consumer-facing brands, all of which want to conduct business responsibly and maintain their image. Lisa Berghaus, MPM’s manager of marketing communications, says, “We work with some of the largest brands in the world, and we thought it was important to be as open as we can. The entire organization is committed to these environmental impact reduction goals. It’s part of our DNA.”
Going ISO 14001-compliant
In 2004, MPM took a critical step in receiving ISO 14001 certification for having an environmental management system in place. At the time, Hamm says, that commitment made MPM the only uncoated text and cover printing mill in the U.S. to achieve such a standard — a note of pride for Hamm and other associates within the company.
ISO 14001:2004 is similar to ISO 9001, which covers quality management, in that it focuses on how a product is produced, and not the product itself. In order to qualify, a third-party auditor must visit the facility and ensure that all standards are met. With an environmental management system in place, these companies are expected to minimize how their operations negatively affect the environment, comply with applicable laws or regulations and continuously improve.
Hamm says the recently-published Sustainability Progress Report is part of that commitment — while the company has been tracking data internally for some time, it’s decided to make the details public so that customers can see the extent of their changes, and so that other companies might learn about new methods or philosophies in the journey to become more environmentally-friendly themselves.
She adds: “Our 14001 commitment does require continuous improvement, and we take that very seriously. We have plans to continuously improve our environmental impact reductions for as long as the facility operates. We, as an organization, believe that there’s always room for improvement. No matter what, we always believe there is always a possible way to do it a little bit better.”
Paper and water — a tenuous relationship no more
Being a paper mill, MPM requires a great deal of water. The facility is located above an aquifer that can withstand, according to third-party tests MPM had conducted, the removal of 2 million gallons without affecting its influence. And, because the company has been around for such a long time, it’s grandfathered into old legislation that does not regulate the amount of water it draws.
It sounds like a “blank check” for the company, but Hamm says a free reign over the aquifer doesn’t deter them from striving to reduce consumption numbers. Even without a regulatory threat, the company is investing heavily in new equipment, like water recycling units and water-restricting valves, which ensure equipment takes only exactly the water it needs to operate, to bring down that usage.
In the last year alone, these projects have reduced water consumption by 100,000 gallons per day. Over the last 15 years, water use has been reduced by 55 percent — well ahead of the company’s goal of a 2 percent reduction annually. Hamm says, “We do it because it’s the right thing to do, and we do it to protect the environment.”
And on the other side of operations, the company has invested heavily in treating wastewater so that it doesn’t bring any pollution or adverse chemicals back into the local environment. But this process doesn’t begin at the end of the papermaking — before a single chemical enters the plant, MPM scrutinizes it to ensure that it will not negatively impact their ability to treat the effluent and make it safe for discharge.
When the water used in the papermaking processes finally does need to be treated, it moves into MPM’s 9 million-gallon lagoon system. In the past, those pools would become filled with excess solids, which meant they would have to drain the water, scoop the material out, and landfill it. But in 2011, MPM purchased a “sludge sled” that removes solids from the bottom of the lagoon system and brings them back into the facility for further processing.
Those waste solids are blended with other process byproducts, and they’re “beneficially reused” when MPM gives that material to local farmers to incorporate into their topsoil.
A history of hydroelectric
In the early 1920s, MPM purchased five hydroelectric turbine facilities, considered “low-impact” energy sources, which are still in-use and maintained to this day. In fact, MPM even invested heavily in rebuilding one of the generators, to eke out a 30 percent increase in hydroelectric generation from that facility. Today, those five turbines can produce up to eight million kWh of renewable energy on-site — roughly half of MPM’s current power needs.
With two decades of experience in overseeing and establishing environmentally-friendly policies within a manufacturing organization, Hamm has become a trove of information about resources manufacturers could look into when thinking about how they might become more sustainable. A timeline for implementing a similar solution, along with relevant resources:
- The first step in any green plan is to assign someone the role of managing and overseeing the project — from within the company or out, whichever is the best option.
- Next, decide how far you want to go. Are you looking to simply comply with current or impending regulation? Or do you want to establish more ambitious goals?
- Identify resources to help aid in the roll-out of the new plan. Existing suppliers and customers are a good start — they know better than most the inputs and outputs of your particular industry.
- Go to local regulatory agencies. Hamm has found a great deal of value in being involved in the local rivers committee, which has become a partner of sorts in ensuring the Contoocook remains in the best shape possible.
- Branch out to state-wide regulatory bodies. Many states offer grants for energy audits so that there’s no cost to get an overview of the situation.
- Get involved in the state legislature. While it’s one thing to stay apprised of EPA regulations, it’s just as important to not fall short of state rules. By working with these policymakers, Hamm has been able to stay aware of any critical changes.
- Speaking of the EPA, they can be a great source as well. Their Wastewise program can help detail how a facility can reduce, reuse and recycle what they’re already using.
- Finally, document the progress. Without proper documentation, there’s no chance of going ISO 14001-certified, much less ensuring that your investments are actually paying off.
The company says, “Our relationship with the river is symbiotic: We harness low-impact hydropower from the river, and, in exchange, we act as stewards to preserve and improve the quality of water.”
All manufacturers use a great deal of energy, and even the slightest reductions in usage can have major impacts on the bottom line. And while MPM has already tackled much of the “low-hanging fruit” on energy usage, they’ve also continued to push some innovative initiatives for maintaining consistent reductions.
The company is also looking into other types of environmentally-friendly sources of energy, like biomass, but for now, they’re offsetting the balance of energy that must be purchased with certified wind power Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which help support the development of renewable energy sources that will, ideally, reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to generate that necessary electricity. MPM is buying them on a completely voluntary basis, and not due to any government mandate, and has increased that commitment by 270 percent in order to cover 100 percent of production.
The results are in
MPM isn’t investing in energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly equipment and processes in a vacuum — every purchase affects the bottom line, and, as with any business decision, demands a certain degree of return. But on that front, according to Hamm and Berghaus, the company is well into the black. Since the 14001 certification was incepted in 2004, MPM has cut a minimum of $2.5 million off the bottom line. That’s an annual, sustainable number that is growing every year, even as they continue to make more investments.
Hamm says that result alone should be enough for any major manufacturing outfit to consider the value in hiring someone to oversee the entire company’s sustainability efforts: “The amount of money [MPM] invests for my salary and for my participation is paid back ten-fold in the amount of return that they receive from the projects and the initiatives that have come out of this department.”
The organizational structure of MPM’s Green Team also helps facilitate better progress. All the department directors have input into this team, which means that there’s collaboration between the maintenance department, or electrical engineers, or production managers. Departments can better coordinate improvements or cross-reference knowledge to generate ideas that might have otherwise gone undeveloped.
And having the right people on-board is critical to the success of MPM’s sustainability efforts. Verney is “shrewd” as a CEO but has always been supportive of projects to lower environmental impacts. In addition, it’s a major benefit to have an on-site management and executive team, which means they can get all the key players in the same room quickly. The less time rolling out each project, the longer they can make an impact to the company’s long-term goals.
Onward on the Contoocook
Naturally, with the annual reductions goals in place, the company needs to be increasingly creative about how it reduces its environmental impacts. While it has tackled much of the low-hanging fruit, Berghaus says there are still plenty of options open. There’s different types of fuel the facility might use, or changes to make to equipment or the processes themselves.
One area Hamm consistency pursues is ensuring that the materials MPM brings into its walls are as environmentally-friendly as possible — there’s less opportunity to pollute if the materials are inherently less toxic or caustic to the environment.
And while the company has its own internal standards for improvement, driven in part by the ISO 14001 certification, MPM’s own customers are demanding more environmental-friendliness amid a general public trend toward corporate responsibility. The GAP brought in a third-party auditor for a week to verify every one of the company’s environmental claims. Berghaus says that if the company hadn’t already implemented all these fixes, they would be significantly more at-risk of losing customers who demand responsibility, which eats at the bottom line. And they say the future for companies who aren’t pursuing sustainability is getting ever-darker.
Both Hamm and Berghaus are confident they will be able to pursue the stated reductions goals on-pace, if not faster, for the years to come. The company already has more plans on the docket, and is even encouraging another generation of manufacturing employees who care about the environment by offering facility tours for young people to teach them about the “importance of manufacturing and sustainability, and peaceful co-existence.”
Hamm adds: “We’ve been here since 1819. It’s always been a family-owned mill. The Verney family lives on the property, and they have an open-door policy — if someone in the community is concerned or has questions about what goes on here, they’re extremely open and very responsive. Anybody that’s doing the type of operations we do could be open to all sorts of scrutiny. If anybody had a mind to make life difficult, they could, but we’ve done our homework. We try to walk the talk, and we’ve made a huge difference.”
Learn more about Monadnock Paper Mills at www.mpm.com.