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Sustainable nonwovens in Latin America: What next?

In the lead up to the third edition of OUTLOOK™ Plus Latin America in May, we caught up with Maria Luiza de Oliveira Paiva, Sustainability Director at Suzano, to discuss sustainability initiatives in the nonwovens sector.

Marines Lagemaat (Scientific and Technical Affairs Director, EDANA): In Sao Paulo you will join us to provide insight on sustainability initiatives in Latin America. How have you seen sustainability develop as a priority in this region?

Maria Luiza de Oliveira Paiva: Given sustainable nonwovens the current outlook of growing populations and demand on one side, and depleting resources on the other, we have simply run out of time. In Brazil particularly, we suffered severe droughts that impacted all sectors in 2015 and 2016. Some of us are still reaping the effects of such a climatic issue. Aggravated social divide has led to conflicts such as the truckers’ strike in 2018, which also impacted the population at an individual-level, company-level and national-level. Sustainability is not only a priority but part of our operational context, our “new normal”. Companies must consider all aspects systemically and their bottom line must include social and environmental criteria. If they don’t they will, at some point sooner rather than later, stop delivering value and risk their survival in the long-run. So to answer your question, I have seen great examples in Latin America of companies that are addressing sustainability systemically, as is the case with the rise of green bond issuances in the region in order to attract capital to deliver solutions to our collective environmental and social challenges. However, we have to do more and act quickly. We need to partner and work together to ensure that we evolve and advance at the speed and scale that is required to revert to the current direction. 

ML: How do you judge Suzano’s role? You are active through initiatives like the Ecofuturo Institute for example.

MLOP: Suzano is the world leader in market pulp and responsible for the production of several innovative products such as lignin, paper products that will substitute fossil fuel derivatives and Eucafluff. Due to its sheer size, Suzano should and does play a huge role in embedding sustainability into business strategy and adding value with its customers, suppliers, investors, communities, etc. Suzano manages 2 million hectares of forest, almost half of which is designated for conservation of native forests, ensuring the formation of ecological corridors and protecting local biodiversity and its ecosystem services. Together, these eucalyptus plantations and native forests play an essential role in carbon capture and storage. Our social projects span over 300 municipalities and benefit more than 8000 families ensuring income generating initiatives that ensure that the communities organize into cooperatives and eventually stand on their two feet. With Ecofuturo Institute, Suzano manages the Neblinas Park that spans 6,000 hectares and plays an essential role in the conservation of Atlantic Forest habitat and providing environmental education to local schools. These are simply some of the initiatives that Suzano is very committed to and responsible for, and in my role as Director that responds directly to the CEO, I need to ensure that sustainability plays a strategic role and that social and environmental aspects are being introduced and considered in all of the Company’s processes, may it be in: IR’s quarterly presentation to the market, with HR and its culture developing processes, or talking to our value chain and embedding sustainability value into the commercial relations.

ML: What are the main challenges and opportunities for players on this field in Latin America?

MLOP: Though our operations are only in Brazil, our context is very similar to other Latin American neighbours. Our country suffers an economic crisis, that aggravates social disparity and environmental pressures, especially in the regions in which we have forest operations. These are challenges and can be extremely complex to deal with, but I personally prefer looking at it through an opportunity perspective. It means that Suzano must understand the context in which it operates at a local, regional, national and global scale, in order to continue to produce products that ensure hygiene, education and well-being of the growing populations, at the same time that it measures and shares value with its various stakeholders along the way. We must align our collective strategies and intentions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that we are contributing to local and global challenges. It also means that we have a responsibility and an opportunity to play a role in developing society especially in the regions in which we operate, through dialogue, engagement, public policy and partnership.

ML: What technical innovation or new business practice has excited you the most recently?

MLOP: I am extremely excited to explore and advance on product innovations that are embedding sustainability into the end product and delivering better results to the end user and to society as a whole. One of these is the Blue Cup Bio, which is a biodegradable and carbon neutral cup that can and will substitute plastics in this field. I am also very interested to the response of the market to Eucafluff, which is a champion product. A few years ago, no one would believe that Fluff could be made with our pulp, but our teams explored this option together with key customers and can now demonstrate that it not only works but it can deliver more value to the end product be it child or adult diaper.

ML:What other sessions on the programme at OUTLOOK are you most looking forward to?

MLOP: The entire Outlook programme looks great, however, I am particularly intrigued and keen to learn more on the Product Design and Innovation and the New Materials and Technology sessions since I believe they will address key strategic topics and serve as inspiration. At Suzano, we practice the concept of ‘innovability’ since we believe that we can only create transformational solutions to today’s challenges by embedding these two lenses together.

For more information about OUTLOOK™ Plus Latin America, please visit the dedicated page:

EDANA | Avenue Herrmann Debroux 46-B-1160 Brussels, Belgium | Tel: +32 2 734 93 10