Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations have been around for at least 50 years. In the past, they were seen as enemies by most managers in the industry, and generally treated with derision, but nowadays there are a number of co-operative programs where pulp and paper companies are working along with ENGOs.
One recent article in an industry magazine described three company/ENGO relationships as "Perfect partnerships." I think that description is rather optimistic, but there is no doubt that relationships between ENGOs and some pulp and paper companies are much better than in the past.
One international indicator is that the WWF invited 70 major pulp and paper companies to participate in their Environmental Paper Companies Index (EPCI). There is detailed information here. The WWF EPCI looks at three aspects of companies: Fiber sources, mill environmental performance and environmental transparency. Rankings for 2013 are summarized in the attached table. One questions the validity of reducing a complex issue such as environmental performance of a company division producing a particular class of products to a single number, but there is no escaping the fact that the rankings are read by customers, investors and ENGOs
Twenty five companies participated in 2013, including five from North America (NewPage and Appleton from the US along with Resolute, Domtar and Cascades from Canada)
Sixteen companies are "thinking about participating next year," 16 more refused and 13 did not reply to the WWF invitation. This spread of responses is probably indicative of the range of attitudes to ENGOs across the industry.
A significant minority of the mills in the industry are still in conflict with ENGOs, although there is more positive dialogue than in the past. The strongest conflicts tend to be at the local level, and usually, involve mills that are actually discharging pollutants which, although legal, are offensive aesthetically, scientifically or both. Some conflicts are based purely on emotion on the part of the public, and poor communication by the industrial people.
Our industry has a poor environmental reputation, which was well deserved in the past. This, combined with historical aggression and obfuscation by many pulp and paper companies, led to the ENGOs being very aggressive, although usually not well informed on the technologies of the industry
One of the first projects I had as a young mill engineer was to rectify problems with our underwater effluent outfall. It was considered by management as a great step forward to discharge the effluent underwater, instead of cascading down a creek to the river. It was actually somewhat of an improvement, since the river was no longer covered with kraft mill foam from side to side, although our effluent kept the river reliably "fish free." Despite that, we were environmentally advanced for the times. We had primary treatment in a settling pond. Few kraft mills had any effluent treatment whatsoever, all used chlorine in bleaching, and discharges of black liquor and other nasty stuff were never measured.
Today, the discharges from a high proportion of mills have been reduced to below the level of scientific significance with respect to the environment, but many mills are still in conflict with ENGOs.
The industry has improved progressively and dramatically since about 1980. Having worked in the industry for 50 years, I have learned enough to estimate that today's better mills discharge something like 1% of the pollutants that were normally discharged in the 1960s. The large international ENGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF are now tending to focus more on the forestry operations than the mills, implicitly recognizing this improvement.
Few people in the industry of today realize how much the environmental performance of the industry has improved over the past 50 years. ENGO staffs tend to be younger than pulp and paper industry managers, so they have even less knowledge of the bad old days, although they may be driven by stories from the past.
ENGO workers have been attending industry conferences and training courses in recent years. When I taught several courses for TAPPI and PAPTAC, I went out of my way to encourage ENGOS to attend, and invited some as after-dinner speakers. Some older industry managers objected, but we went ahead. The results were positive, mostly because the ENGO people got to meet real people who ran the mills, instead of the spin doctors and deniers that they usually met. The mill staff likewise got to know the ENGO employees face to face, instead of hearing about them from same spin doctors.
The most spectacular ENGO-industry conflicts are over permits to install new mills. We have had all too little experience in new mills in North America over the past 25 years, the last greenfield mill being AlPac in Alberta. Its construction was preceded by a very costly battle between ENGOs and the company. A number of new mills have been built overseas with little serious opposition, while the most expensive ENGO-industry battle ever was over the mill at Fray Bentos in Uruguay, leading to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. This involved an environmentally advanced mill, preceded by poor communication with the ENGOs. Given the extremism of the ENGOs involved, perhaps the conflict was unavoidable, but I think it could have been avoided.
As mills age, we are approaching the situation in North American when a company will want to build a large new fiberline to replace several old ones, perhaps from two or three mills in same area. Whoever makes this move will have to develop good ENGO relationships as well as building an environmentally excellent mill.