The Three Pillars of Sustainability


Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 was founded with a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability. Our members rely on natural resources to manufacture essential products for everyday living. Five of our six goals demonstrate AF&PA members’ commitment to environmental stewardship across the entire value chain from the raw, renewable wood fiber that is harvested to the energy and water used in the manufacturing process to the recycling of paper and paper-based packaging that is used to make new products.

More trees in the U.S. than there were in 1970

of members' energy demand was met through carbon-neutral biomass energy, on average, in 2018

Number of times water is reused in U.S. pulp and paper mills before treatment and discharge, on average

For decades, the industry’s production has increased, while the amount of emissions and energy use has declined. These strides are due in part to innovation in manufacturing and updated infrastructure in pulp and paper mills. All member efforts to increase the sustainability of their manufacturing processes have merit and advancement in one area are often correlated to improvements in other areas. For example, recycling and reducing water can enable a facility to reduce energy demand and decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The industry is committed to making even greater achievements in environmental sustainability and AF&PA looks forward to the release of our 2030 sustainability goals, expected in 2021.

Award Winner

2019 Innovation in Sustainability Award

WestRock’s Recyclable Food Packaging

WestRock’s EnShield® Natural Kraft (ENK™) is an innovative, completely recyclable paperboard that has the same level of oil and grease resistance as plastic and plastic-lined alternatives. Manufactured at WestRock’s Mahrt, Alabama paper mill, ENK’s proprietary coating is achieved on the paper machine, eliminating the need for additional manufacturing steps. ENK has the natural aesthetics that Match consumers’ environmental preferences; meets the requirements for takeout food, baker and frozen food packaging; and allows WestRock customers to improve their sustainability profiles without sacrificing performance.


Well-managed forests provide a multitude of environmental, social and economic benefits, mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration and promoting biodiversity. When forest owners are confident that they will have a market for their wood, they are more likely to invest in practices that prevent disease and infestation and in regular maintenance that reduces the risk of wildfire and other natural disturbances, as well as to replant more trees.

AF&PA members adhere to sustainable fiber procurement principles, which assure that wood is received from suppliers committed to sustainable management and harvesting practices. In turn, members’ adherence to these principles creates incentives and provides resources for forest owners to commit to sustainable forest management.

In 2018, members procured 99 percent of the total wood fiber from forests, used for product, through a Certified Fiber Sourcing Program, an increase from the 87 percent baseline set in 2005.

Wood fiber that members sourced from third-party certified forestlands increased from 23 percent in 2005 to 28.1 percent in 2018.

Member Spotlight

Evergreen Packaging Supports Smallholder Access Program

Evergreen Packaging® is a founding participant in the Smallholder Access Program (SAP) led by The Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®). FSC, supports ecologically responsible, socially conscious forest management, and has worked to transform forestry practices globally for nearly 30 years through rigorous, science-based standards and a third-party certification system. Building off this experience, the Smallholder Access Program (SAP) is a two-year FSC pilot project designed to increase access to forest certification for woodland owners under 250 acres across Southern and Central Appalachia, encompassing parts of Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Read more

Combating Illegal Logging

Over the past decade, paper and wood products companies extensively divested their forestlands. As a result, AF&PA membership operates mostly manufacturing facilities. As a condition of membership, the few AF&PA members that owned forestland in 2018 conformed to credible forest management program standards, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative®, the Forest Stewardship Council® program, the American Tree Farm System™ or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

Members safeguard against fiber procurement from illegally-logged sources by documenting fiber sources, requiring supplier procurement agreements and using third-party certification of chain-of-custody systems.

To further prevent illegal logging and stop importation of illegally harvested forest products, AF&PA advocates for Lacey Act funding and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service International Programs. AF&PA also advocated for sustainable forest management provisions in the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Paper Recycling

The paper recycling rate has nearly doubled since 1990, thanks to voluntary industry efforts and the millions of Americans who choose to recycle at home, work and school every day.

In 2020, the U.S. paper recycling rate was 65.7 percent.

Our success with this goal is rooted in AF&PA’s strong advocacy and outreach to policymakers and consumers. We collaborate with The Recycling Partnership to build communities’ capacity to improve recycling across the United States and participate in the U.S. EPA’s America Recycles Workgroup to take action with others to address the challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. recycling system. We also provide resources for stakeholders and the public to improve the quantity and quality of recycled paper and packaging through our online platforms.

Energy Production and Efficiency

Purchased energy used by AF&PA member facilities is the total of all purchased fuels (fossil and biomass), as well as electricity and steam purchased from other providers. Members continually seek to use these purchased energy sources more efficiently.

Member purchased energy use per ton of product was 13.3 percent lower in 2018 compared to the 2005 baseline year.

Reductions in purchased energy are primarily driven by new, typically more efficient, boilers and auxiliaries and other energy efficiency projects undertaken at mills.

Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from manufacturing processes are an inherent part of our industry’s environmental stewardship and are supported by our members’ use of carbon-neutral biomass fuel for energy.

In 2018, member GHG emissions – measured in carbon dioxide equivalents per ton of product – were 23.2 percent lower than the 2005 baseline.

Like with purchased energy, reductions in GHG emissions intensity are driven by decreased coal and oil use, and increased use of less carbon-intensive natural gas. Members also avoid fossil fuel-based GHG emissions by adopting efficient manufacturing production measures and generating carbon-neutral biomass fuel on-site.

In 2018, carbon-neutral biomass and renewable fuels provided, on average, about 65.2 percent of member facility energy needs.

Combined Heat and Power Production

Paper and wood products manufacturers use electricity to drive manufacturing equipment and steam to provide heat needed to cook pulp, dry paper and produce wood products. The combined heat and power (CHP) process used at member facilities produces both, with efficiencies in the range of 60 to 80 percent, far beyond non-CHP electrical stations such as utilities which are only about 33 percent efficient.

In 2018, 98.9 percent of electricity generated in the U.S. paper and wood products industry was produced using CHP. The paper and wood products industry is the second largest industrial sector producer of CHP electricity. Only the chemical industry produces more.

Award Winner

2018 Innovation in Sustainability Award

WestRock: Cutting Weight, Keeping Strength

Through a proprietary lamination process, WestRock’s TechniFlute™ uses multiple lightweight papers to produce a corrugating medium with high unit strength. The strength enhancement of combined corrugated board can vary depending on the liner grades that are used in conjunction with the TechniFlute™ medium. Since corrugating medium is only one component in a corrugated box, this strength enhancement can translate to a 20 to 40 percent fiber savings.

Self-Generated Electricity

In 2018, AF&PA member pulp and paper mills self-generated 55 percent of the electricity needed to power their mills, most of which was renewable using carbon-neutral biomass manufacturing residuals. Thirty-eight percent of member mills generated more than half of their needed electricity and twenty-one percent also sold excess power – much of it renewable – to the grid.


In 2018, AF&PA member pulp and paper mill water use per ton of product decreased by 6.9 percent from the 2005 baseline year, largely unchanged from recent years.

Members’ increasing focus on water stewardship has resulted in greater water use reduction when those reductions are beneficial in the context of a mill’s location. Based on this approach, AF&PA members reduced their water use by 13.1 percent between 2005 and 2018.

Specifically, the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) categorized AF&PA member mills as to whether they are located in regions designated as “water-stressed” pursuant to the World Resources Institute (WRI) Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas. Water used by each mill is multiplied by its WRI Overall Water Risk factor, which increases for more “water-stressed” regions, effectively giving more weight to reductions in water-stressed regions when calculating association-wide performance.

Air Emissions Reductions

Since 2000, member mills have achieved major reductions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions; two priority air pollutants for EPA and states. The dramatic 82 percent reduction of SO2 between 2000 and 2018 results from mills using less coal and fuel oil in their power boilers as well as improving energy efficiency. The significant 48 percent reduction in NOx between 2000 and 2018 helps reduce ozone and particulate emissions and comes from better combustion systems and efficiency gains.


Our industry works to ensure that its natural resources will be as plentiful in the future as they are today.