Surviving the digital age

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Surviving the digital age


Thirawit Leetavorn

Thai-based Double A is setting out to show that paper manufacturers can minimize the threat they pose to Mother Nature with advanced and socially conscientious engineering practices.

While the paper industry is often condemned for being one of the major contributors of deforestation and global warming, Double A uses cutting-edge technology to produce a high-quality product without wreaking irreversible damage, said Thirawit Leetavorn, its senior executive vice president.

“We don’t log trees in natural forests,” Leetavorn said in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Nov. 2 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul.

“We plant a specific type of tree between rice fields. Once we strip the fiber out of the tree, the waste is used to generate electricity for producing paper. We also use rain water that is collected during the [Thai] rainy season.”

Leetavorn visited Seoul to attend an environmental awareness campaign that the company is running globally but which it only introduced to Korea in 2010.

Founded in 1985, Double A produces 600,000 tons of paper each year for more than 120 countries. The company has a total of 1,754 employees worldwide and last year raised a total of 19.4 billion baht ($632 million) in revenue.

Before joining the company in 2005, Leetavorn was the regional director of enterprise markets for Allied Domecq, an international liquor group that produces brands such as Malibu, Kahlua and Ballantine’s.

Q. How fast is the Korean market growing?

A.Korea is a top-five market for Double A. It is a fairly well-developed market and we are continuing to see double-digit growth. We organize a lot of brand-building activities here.

You claim to be able to reduce copy machine jams. How so?

The secret is in the fiber. And that’s something that you don’t see in the paper. In any copy machines, when paper is laid flat, the roller can pick it up quite easily. But if the paper is not flat, and bends at any of its sides, the roller will not be able to do its job. This is one of the main reasons why machines jam. Another issue is smoothness. If you have a very rough piece of paper, as the roller picks it up, that roughness creates dust. Dust that accumulates in the machine reduces the effect of the roller.

The other factor to consider is the edge of the paper. ... Our road-tree cutting machine browns the edges to make them smoother, and this also stops paper from jamming.

So what’s your fiber intake?

We use over 90 percent soft wood in each sheet of Double A to give it a finer texture, whereas most manufacturers use a combination of 75 percent Asian soft wood and 25 percent European hard wood. They need to do this because hard wood allows paper to retain its strength, and this also allows them to produce it at a very high speed. Paper machines run at a speed of 1,200 meters per second, so if you don’t use hard wood, the paper can easily break. Our machines are designed to use less hard wood while maintaining almost the same speed.

What are you doing to conserve the environment?

We grow trees between rice paddies. We have 400 million trees and these trees are planted in this manner.

This brings two benefits. First, we don’t log from natural forests. Second, these kind of trees can absorb much more carbon dioxide. Trees use carbon dioxide to grow and our 400 million Double A trees absorb 6.7 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

We have a cycle of renewable energy. We get the trees, we strip the fiber out, and the rest of the waste is used as to generate electricity, which we use to produce the paper. Meanwhile, we have a reservoir that collects rainwater for use in production, so we don’t disturb any rivers.

As more people go paperless, or digital, what does the future hold for Double A?

In terms of office paper, this segment will continue to increase. McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group do a lot of presentations, and they hand out whole stacks of paper to read. In many countries, the law still does not recognize electronic documents but requires a hard copy, especially for contracts.

What are the company’s future targets?

We would like to create the same impact globally that we have had in Asian markets. With [our current level] of capacity, we won’t be a dominant global player. But we are in the process of increasing our capacity by another 250,000 tons.

By Kim Mi-ju []

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