The Three R's at Work

Atlantic Paper and Supply Company

6. Clean Water and Sanitation 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action 15. Life on Land

Overview

As a paper and supply company, a lot of waste comes from the methods used to ship products to customers. David Spencer has developed a recycling system that he includes his customers (and even competitors) in for the sake of helping keep the environment healthy and involving others in reaching sustainable development goals 6, 12, 13, and 15.


Authors

Alexandra Meise

Alexandra Meise

Sarah Freeman

Sarah Freeman

Armen Eghian

Armen Eghian

Stephen Grivers

Stephen Grivers

School

Bryant University

Bryant University

Professor

Eileen Kwesiga

Eileen Kwesiga

Innovation

Atlantic Paper Company says that they recycle any materials they can from their own company, customers, and even competitors. In this service, Atlantic Paper and Supply Company picks up the other companies’ recyclable materials and takes them to the proper facilities for free with deliveries. Since David Spencer has adapted his supply route to efficiently include a stop at the recycling facility, it barely costs him to make the stop. He made this service free to encourage small businesses, which often lack excess funds, to join the sustainability movement. Spencer’s mindset guides the company to reach four goals for sustainable development issued by the United Nations: 6, 12, 13, and 15.

Recycling connects Atlantic Paper and Supply Company to 4 goals for sustainable development. The 6th goal -- for clean water and sanitation-- is supported by their immediate recycling of materials. That equates to less trash sitting outside the company which impacts them through keeping a cleaner environment and a nicer storefront. Considering the business location is surrounded by neighborhoods, this adds to raising the value of the community. Atlantic also advocates for greener sanitation methods by providing environmentally-friendly janitorial supplies. The 12th goal -- reasonable consumption and production -- is met through their work to “substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse” and ensure everyone in their contact has “relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles” related to preserving nature. The 13th goal -- taking climate action -- comes from the inclusion of a stop at a recycling plant on the route to limit greenhouse gas production from extra pick-up trucks moving to and from Atlantic Paper and the other companies they collect from. Plus the actual recycling of just 1 ton (of their yearly 10 tons) of cardboard saves 46 gallons of oil and reduces contribution to air pollution by 95%. Finally, the 15th goal -- life on land -- is carried out through recycling materials then reselling the recycled materials. This practice helps prevent deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats.

Each goal comes back around to help Atlantic Paper and Supply in some way or another. Whether it is through the way they can save money buying back the recycled products or by creating a healthier world for their business to survive in, the addition of recycling to Atlantic Paper and Supply Company's regular activities continues to benefit them for years to come.

The Three R's at Work

Inspiration

David Spencer, The CEO of Atlantic Paper and Supply Company has made it very clear that he only wants to run a sustainable company. His overall mission is to not give in to the pressures of a highly competitive industry, and wherever he can make improvements in sustainability, he will. Being a wholesale middleman, the company operates on extremely thin margins. Many managers take any opportunity they can to reduce costs, and in some cases, this is at the expense of the local community or environment as a whole. One can see the personal sense of pride Spencer has in fighting off these pressures. He believes the role of a company is more than just maximizing profit. It is also to make a positive impact on the community around it. David Spencer has always been a huge proponent of environmentalism. He is a passionate volunteer for organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club. Spencer has also spoken about environmentally friendly product choices to cleaning supply distributors at the annual International Sanitary Supply Association meeting.

Atlantic Paper and Supply Company is motivated by its mission, “…to identify and promote products and business practices that promote environmental sustainability.” Atlantic Paper and Supply is also a part of LEED. This is a green building rating system that gives guidelines on how to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. The will of Spencer to make room for sustainability in such a low margin industry proves that any company has room to grow in sustainability if they are motivated. One of David Spencer’s goals as a business owner is to be looked at as, “A nice guy in a competitive industry that still managed to do the right thing.” He learned that finding ways to recycle does not cost the company extreme amounts of money but still greatly helps the environment.

Overall impact

Recycling’s short term impacts include: easy disposal, environmental protection, lowers the waste management fees, and employee happiness. Unlike normal garbage pick up, recycling done while en route for deliveries saves them on paying for an extra dumpster on site and from gas emissions from extra sanitation vehicles. By keeping the extra waste out of dumpsters and in proper treatment plants, this avoids toxic chemicals from getting into the surrounding environment. When a business practices sustainability, its employees are happier to work there knowing that they contribute to helping their communities. These lead to long term effects such as conserving natural resources, cutting down on waste, creating jobs, and improving the company image. Less waste and a cleaner environment preserves natural resources at a greater quality which allows all businesses to manage resources more efficiently. Recycling also creates jobs at the plants; the more tons of recyclable goods coming in, the more people needed to process them. Lastly, Atlantic Paper and Supply upkeeps a positive image as a business that practices sustainability. Not only has their announcement of their efforts been noticed, but their clients often come to CEO David Spencer for advice on how to reach Atlantic Paper’s level of sustainability.

Business benefit

Atlantic Paper and Supply Company alone recycles an estimated 10 tons of paper and plastic products. Currently, Atlantic Paper doesn’t receive any direct monetary compensation for its recycling, but it does benefit through the development of a good public reputation, a happier employee network, and a cleaner environment. Since David Spencer acquired Atlantic Paper over 25 years ago, the company has continuously added to its list of sustainability practices. The recycled paper takes 70% less energy to create than new paper so this comes back around to help lower the cost of recycled goods that Atlantic Paper and Supply buys and sells. The company’s revenue is now at 4.5 million annually and growing. Its customers continue to come to Spencer for advice on how to progress their own sustainability efforts. The company's employees also actively involve the mission in their lives by using reusable utensils and dishware in the company on-site kitchen. Just through this slight adjustment, they save around 3,000 disposable coffee cups a year -- that’s approximately 81 pounds of non-recyclable products a year. When employees practice sustainability at the office, they are more likely to carry it out in other aspects of their lives. Since the beginning of his recycling journey, Spencer has seen a 1% increase in recycling participation related to Atlantic Paper and Supply Company. This does not sound like a lot, but according to him, recycling was a rare sight in the industry before Atlantic Paper and Supply started to make it happen. No amount of progress is too small.

Social and environmental benefit

The innovation benefits society and the environment. The benefits of recycling reach farther than one might expect.

Through its drive to keep the business location clean through the removal of potentially recyclable waste. Considering Atlantic Paper and Supply Company is located across from a residential neighborhood, this keeps the immediate surrounding community clean and therefore healthy. It also raises the value of homes in the area. Another societal impact of this innovation is that the more tons of recyclable materials being delivered to the recycling plants, the more workers needed to process it. This creates jobs and lowers unemployment in the community. Lastly, David Spencer's endless discussions about sustainability and using the 3 R's educates those around him and provides them with the choice to act in favor of the sustainable development goals.

Their environmental benefits are more obvious. As stated earlier, recycling paper products takes only 30% of the energy that making new paper products would. Plus, it reduces the gallons and gallons of oil and 95% of the air pollution caused by production. Recycling protects the environment from harmful outputs of manufacturing, as well as the destruction of natural resources and habitats to create those new products.

Atlantic Paper and Supply leads by example to teach other businesses how beneficial setting up a program for sustainability can be.

Interview

David Spencer, CEO and Owner

Photo of interviewee

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Atlantic Paper and Supply Company

Atlantic Paper and Supply Company

Pawtucket, Rhode Island, US

Business Website: https://www.atlanticpaper.com/

Year Founded: 1948

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

Atlantic Paper and Supply Company buys, stocks, and resells paper products, packaging products, office supplies, janitorial supplies, and safety equipment. Their wide variety of clients includes local businesses like ABC Manufacturing and larger businesses like Acme Markets Incorporated.