Change from the inside: Q&A with Pascale Lagacé, VP, environment, energy and innovation at Resolute
By Kristina Urquhart
Pascale Lagacé is the vice-president, environment, energy and innovation at Resolute Forest Products.
Pulp & Paper Canada talked to Lagacé and several other women working in the pulp, paper and forestry sector for a weeklong series to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. In her Q&A below, Lagacé shares how an industry in transformation makes her excited to go to work every day as an agent of change.
Who: Pascale Lagacé
Role: Vice-president, environment, energy and innovation
Employer: Resolute Forest Products
Lives in: Montreal, Que.
Years in industry: 28
Pulp & Paper Canada: What do you do as the VP environment, energy and innovation at Resolute?
Pascale Lagacé: A large part of my job is about compliance, but on the environmental side, there’s continuous improvement like greenhouse gas (GG) reduction, reduction of the air emissions or water quality, and tracking regulatory changes and helping [to ensure we] comply. And then on the energy side, it’s energy procurement – so purchases of natural gas and electricity, and electricity sales as well. On the innovation side, it is coordinating and leading the R&D – everything we do in innovation with respect to new products. So we’re looking at biomaterials, biofuels and biochemicals.
I have 11 people working for me. I try to ensure we all work together because I think the three files are somewhat related. Environment is frequently related to the new products we are looking at. There’s frequently an environmental or a greenhouse gas aspect to them. And then all of the GG reduction efforts are really linked to energy. We are always trying to find synergies and ways to connect things together and improve many things at the same time. We work really closely with all of our operations – woodlands, the sawmills, the pulp mills, the paper mills – to try to improve things and find better ways of operating. And we try to build links with the regulators, with the government, with communities.
PPC: What is your favourite thing about your job?
PL: What I like most is the openness and desire to make changes and improve; to look at what we’re doing and see how we can do things better or different. It’s not bureaucratic, so if you have an idea and you really believe in it and you find a way to move forward, you can always find supporters to help.
I feel happy because I feel that what I’m doing is in line with my values. Sometimes, when I [speak] to students at certain schools, people think that there is a disconnect with working in the environment for the pulp and paper industry – that they can’t work together. I find that it’s the contrary. Because if you really believe in something, you can only change things from the inside. And I feel that I do have the power to change things and make them better.
PPC: Can you point to a specific project you’ve completed or that you’re working on that you would consider your biggest achievement?
PL: There are many! One we’re working on really intensely at the moment is our TMP bioplant that we have in Thunder Bay. We just completed construction and we are in commissioning right now. It’s really interesting to merge everything together – operations and product applications and how to link that with the mill process and environmental benefits. We are used to pulp and paper and lumber, but when you work on these projects, you start looking at lots of other things like plastics. I think that’s quite interesting to see that starting to happen.
PPC: What drew you to a career in the pulp and paper industry?
PL: I did mechanical engineering in school. I grew up in Rivière-du-Loup [Quebec], which has a pulp and paper mill. So my first job as an engineering intern was at that pulp and paper mill in the engineering department. That decided on everything else in my career – every other job I had after that was kind of linked, because that was the experience I had.
One of the first jobs I had when I graduated was for an environmental consultant for the pulp and paper industry, so this is where the environment aspect came in. And then, I really liked the industry. It is a renewable industry; we’re using renewable resources.
I like the fact that it’s a heavy industry, so environmental challenges are very diversified. So it makes your job really interesting. And now it’s even more interesting because the industry is transforming, so you get all of that innovation – the aspect that we have no choice but to transform and adapt.
PPC: What did that first pulp and paper mill look like in terms of gender representation?
PL: There were some women in the offices, but I don’t remember any other women in the mill. And even when I was in consulting, there were some women, but when you went to the mills you interacted almost only with men.
But I didn’t find it a challenge. At school, I was mostly with men and it didn’t matter, really. Only maybe once. When I was a student, I noticed it because we were trying to find an industrial partner to do a student project with, and in my team it just so happened that we were three female engineering students. When the man at the company saw that, he actually declined providing us with the project. But that’s the only time. After that, if you have humour and you don’t take things personally, I think it’s easy to navigate. Everyone has been very supportive.
PPC: How has the makeup of the workforce changed since you’ve been in the industry? Would you say it’s diversified?
PL: I would say that on the environmental side there’s quite a bit of women. But in the mills it’s still hard on the operations side. We interact a lot with the operations side. If you go into maintenance or paper machine operation, you have a few women but not that much. At Resolute, we’re really working hard to try to hire more women in the operations. But it’s a challenge and I’m always wondering why more women don’t want to do that. Even when I chose engineering and working in the pulp and paper industry, my father was like, “are you sure you really want to work in a dirty, noisy environment?” I guess it wasn’t really the normal place that women were expected to work. But not just women! Even [my dad] didn’t find it so attractive.
PPC: What advice would you give to a young person thinking of studying engineering or entering the pulp, paper or forestry sector?
PL: I think that because [the industry] is transforming, and because it’s hard to hire people – not just for us but also for many companies – it creates opportunities. So if you enter in one specific job and you see something else that is interesting, there is potential to grow and learn quickly.
We had examples within our company of people that went from environment to operations, or from operations to finance. So really, I would say don’t be afraid to get in, even if you’re not certain that’s what you want forever.
Sometimes there are challenges and it’s not just with [being a] woman – there are peer groups that may face the same types of challenges. If you have other people who you can bounce ideas with and discuss how you can move forward through certain difficulties, I think that’s always useful.
I really try to set an example – an example not just in excellence but also in trying to show other women and younger people – men as well – that it’s an industry that’s fun to work in. And that it’s possible to have a really interesting job and be happy to get up on Monday morning early and show up at work.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry project celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow on social media with the hashtags: #WomeninForestry as well as #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual.