The Three Pillars of Sustainability


The economic health of the U.S. paper and wood products manufacturing industry is vital to its sustainable future. AF&PA advocates for government policies and regulations that allow the industry to remain competitive in order to manufacture products that people use and need. AF&PA believes that market forces should be the primary drivers of sustainability initiatives.

Average wage for a U.S. paper industry employee in 2014

Total capital spending by the U.S. paper and wood products industry in 2014

U.S. pulp and paper mills located in rural areas

Contributions to GDP

The paper and wood products industry contributed over $84 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2014; the pulp and paper sector accounted for $55.5 billion in GDP and the wood products sector, $28.7 billion. Overall, the forest products industry accounted for 4 percent of manufacturing GDP in 2014. The industry is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 47 U.S. states.


The forest products industry employed 914,000 people in 2015. Of these, 102,000 people were employed at pulp, paper and paperboard mills, 271,000 at paper and paperboard converting plants, 380,000 at lumber and wood panel facilities, and 110,000 at wood kitchen cabinet plants. Industry employment declined sharply during the Great Recession but has been rebounding during recent years. Much of the gain has taken place at lumber and panel plants that have seen demand for their products increase with the corresponding increase in new home construction.

Forest Products Industry Compensation

Total forest products industry employee compensation amounted to $51.4 billion in 2014. Paper industry employees were paid an average of $54,712 a year in 2014.

Capital Spending

Total capital spending by the paper and wood products industry rose to $10.2 billion in 2014, which marked its highest level since 2007. The 2014 level of spending was up from $6.2 billion in 2009, which was a recession year. In 2014, 89 percent of paper industry capital expenditures went for equipment and the remaining 11 percent for structures. The corresponding percentages for wood products were 83 percent and 17 percent.

Trade Balance

Despite slow economic growth abroad and the strong dollar, the U.S. paper industry has maintained a trade surplus during recent years. The surplus first emerged in 2009 and expanded to 3.3 million tons in 2011. It subsequently contracted to 1.9 million tons by 2015, possibly due to the above-noted headwinds of weak economic growth abroad and the strong dollar.

Paper and Paperboard Production

U.S. paper and paperboard production (exclusive of wet machine board and the construction grades) fell to a recession-induced low point of 78.3 million tons in 2009. It rebounded to 83 million tons in 2010 and has declined gradually since then reaching 79 million tons in 2015. The average rate of decline for the five-year period from 2011 through 2015 was 1 percent a year.


The paper and wood products industry realized operating profits of $14.0 billion in 2015, which was above the industry’s long-term average annual level of $12.3 billion from 2002 through 2015. Operating profits fell to a low of $7.6 billion during the recession year of 2008; the high point occurred in 2005, when the industry’s operating profits exceeded $16 billion.

Economic Impact on Local Communities

AF&PA member facilities are often located in rural communities where they serve as the largest employer. In fact, more than 75 percent of all U.S. pulp and paper mills are located in counties that are more than 80 percent rural. As a result, local economies can be highly dependent on the economic sustainability of these facilities.


Our industry provides jobs and products that contribute to a healthy economy.