June 26, 2019  
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Facing the Market


(Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the May/June issue of Paper360°, and is offered here for Ahead of the Curve readers who may have missed it. Find the complete article at www.paper360.tappi.org.)

An historic name has had a rebirth in the Canadian fine paper industry.
Rolland, synonymous with fine paper, has roots dating back to 1882 when Jean Baptiste Rolland founded the company, building mills in Mont Rolland, QC, about 50 miles north of Montreal; as well as St-Jérôme, about 15 miles south of Mont Rolland. The Mont Rolland operation closed in the 1980s but St. Jérôme has found new life under Sustana Group.

The tower at Rolland's St-Jérôme mill, bearing the 1882 founding date.

Over the years, the company built a reputation for high-quality, linen-based security papers. Tough economic times forced the family to sell to Cascades in 1992 and the mill became part of Cascades Fine Paper. When Cascades opted to concentrate on the packaging and tissue markets, the St. Jérôme mill was no longer a core asset.

Sustana Group's pulp and paper assets operate under two arms. One arm is Sustana Fiber, which includes pulp assets, consisting of two recycled pulp mills: Fox River Fiber in Wisconsin and Breakeyville, QC. The other arm is Rolland, which includes the St. Jérôme mill as well as a nearby converting plant.

Phillip Rundle is president, Rolland. In describing Rolland's strategy, he says, "We invest and make our assets better." He notes that the company has spent significant capital on its mills and converting center since 2014.

The two pulp mills now produce a total of 250,000 tpy of recycled pulp, while the paper mill can make about 150,000 tons of uncoated fine paper with a recycled content of up to 100 percent. Rolland produces fine papers, offering both 30 and 100 percent post-consumer waste (pcw) options.

Rundle talks about the acquisition of the St. Jérôme mill. "What we saw was a unique position in paper, a niche with recycled. The recycled world is a small one of small players. We thought we could add value."
The company is proud of its sustainability record and low environmental footprint; Rundle says it is in the company's "DNA." This includes very low water consumption, a company policy of transparency, and the extensive use of biogas at the St. Jérôme paper mill. The biogas project was done a few years ago under Cascades. The mill uses methane gas collected from a landfill about 10 miles away. It is piped to the mill and treated (the heat value is not as high as natural gas). The biogas makes up about 93 percent of the mill's energy needs.

Addressing the product, Rundle says St. Jérôme produces excellent quality recycled paper. "Many OEMs—HP, Xerox, Canon—certify our digital paper line. We keep our capacity at 150,000 tons because we feel it is the right size for the industry."

He adds that Sustana has tapped into the market that has evolved that identifies with recycling and sustainability. "The LCA (life cycle analysis) metrics favor us, so our customers also benefit. We see ourselves as activists with these people. We become part of their customers' supply chain.

"Our customers investigate us," Rundle points out, citing clothing maker Patagonia as one example. He explains further, "We want to be a market-facing organization instead of a manufacturing-facing one. We help build brands and tell a story."

Bringing back the Rolland name was integral to this strategy. "The Rolland name is very important to us; it's a name that has been known since 1882."

Rundle also mentions how valuable the cooperation with Rolland's key customers has been: "They talk about us and why they buy from us." In addition to Patagonia, customers include such well-known names as Lush cosmetics, Cirque du Soleil, Air Canada, and Ford.

Rolland's paper has various end uses, including annual reports, books, catalogues, direct mail, and copy paper. While these all remain focus areas, they are moving strategic focus further away from copy paper. The mill still produces security papers (e.g., passports) with linen content. This is done on the oldest machine, PM 6, which also produces other specialty grades, but it is a very small part of the business.

As Rundle says, Sustana's work has not been limited to the St. Jérôme paper mill. At the Fox River pulp mill, Sustana Fiber has developed a recycled pulp line, EnviroLife, that has been US FDA approved for food contact.

For example, Starbucks' disposable coffee cups now have at least 10 percent of EnviroLife pulp in them. Sustana Fiber has initiated a Cup-to-Cup project with Starbucks.

Rundle adds that the technology has evolved so that the poly liner in disposable coffee cups can be extruded and the cup recycled.

"This is all driven from customer demands," he says, citing the recent move to paper straws as a similar example. In the future, Sustana Fiber will look at other food containers such as those used for ice cream or popcorn.

EnviroLife currently accounts for more than 15 percent of Fox River's production, but Rundle believes this will grow significantly. Although St. Jérôme is integrated to some degree with the Breakeyville pulp mill, most of Sustana Fiber's production is sold on the market.

Sustana Group is particularly proud of its achievements in sustainability, especially water consumption. Its water use is about 17 times lower than the industry's average. It claims to recycle water 30 times before it is released and, even then, it is cleaner than when it first entered the mill's processes.

As with the rest of the pulp and paper industry, and other industries as well, Sustana is feeling the effects of an ageing workforce—the "Silver Tsunami," as it has been described. Richard acknowledges this: "The next big thing here will be the evolution of changes in our hourly people. There will be a lot of retirements. We need to teach the art and craft of papermaking along with the technology. For 2019, we have developed a healthy training program."
The "art and craft" of papermaking is especially true for any specialty manufacturer, particularly the St. Jérôme mill, considering the age of the mill and the grades it makes. With some older machines making security grades, Richard says papermaking is very much an art.

Graeme Rodden is senior editor, North and South America, for Paper360°. He can be reached at: grodden@tappi.org.

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