The Three Pillars of Sustainability


Our industry depends on natural resources and has a strong environmental stewardship record. AF&PA members adhere to strict environmental principles and work to maintain and improve the natural resources used to make their products to assure their availability for future generations.

Tons of paper recovered for recycling in the U.S. in 2016

U.S. pulp and paper mills' energy needs provided by biomass and renewable fuels, on average, in 2014

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

Paper Recycling

Due to voluntary industry initiatives and the millions of Americans who recycle at home, work, and school every day, the annual recovery rate has doubled since 1990. In 2016, 52 million tons, or 67.2 percent of paper consumed in the U. S. was recovered for recycling. Achieving our goal to exceed 70 percent recovery will require maximizing existing sources of recovered fiber, like office buildings and smaller commercial establishments, to recover more office-type papers and reaching out to new potential sources of recovered paper and packaging. AF&PA is developing new data on the drivers of recovered fiber flows to demonstrate how the recovered fiber stream is changing.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data for 2014 shows that recovery of paper and paperboard from municipal solid waste streams exceeds that of plastics (by nearly seven times), aluminum (by more than three times) and glass (by more than two times).

Award Winner

2015 Leadership in Sustainability Award for Paper Recovery for Recycling

Evergreen Packaging’s On-Packaging Recycle Logo Use Tracking Project

Surveys show that consumers look for a recycle logo on a carton to determine whether it is recyclable. Given the importance of on-package logo use, Evergreen Packaging developed and implemented a recycle logo tracking system for the cartons they produce. This information is used to work with customers to include the logo on their cartons and communicate to consumers that those cartons are recyclable, thereby increasing recovery.

Energy Production and Efficiency

In 2014, biomass and renewable fuels provided 66.8 percent of pulp and paper mill energy needs.

Award Winner

2014 Leadership in Sustainability Award for Energy Efficiency/Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Domtar’s Barge Unloading and Conveyor Project

Domtar’s Barge Unloading and Conveyor Project achieves GHG reductions and improves energy efficiency while transporting resources from the banks of the Ohio River straight into their Hawesville, Kentucky mill, boosting productivity in the process. The one-mile-long conveyor belt enables them to directly deliver wood chips to the mill, eliminates 54,000 wood chip delivery truck trips and drastically reduces truck traffic, related congestion and pollution.

Doing More with Less

Through the use of science and technology, AF&PA members strive for continuous improvements that “decouple” the demand for goods and services from the demand for natural resources and emissions. The graph below shows that, for decades, the industry’s production increased, while the amount of emissions and energy use is overall declining. As we get closer to background levels of emissions, it becomes much more challenging and costly to achieve continued reductions.

Award Winner

2015 Innovation in Sustainability Award

Verso Corporation’s Identifying and Mapping Vernal Pools on State Lands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Project

Verso Corporation engaged in a public-private partnership to identify and map vernal pools in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the company procures wood for its pulp and paper production. Vernal pools are small, shallow, temporary bodies of water that are important for healthy forest ecosystems because they provide food, water and habitat for a number of animal and plant species. Because vernal pools are small, isolated and dry for part of the year, they can be difficult to identify in the field, easily overlooked and unintentionally damaged or destroyed. The goal of the project was to enhance the understanding of vernal pools’ distribution and ecology in Michigan to more effectively manage and conserve them.

Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions

AF&PA members’ early attainment of their Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goal comes as a result of efforts reaching back to at least 2000. Since 2000, total direct and indirect absolute GHG releases at member pulp, paper and wood products manufacturing facilities have decreased by 42.2 percent to 51 million tons carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents. GHG emissions intensity, expressed as CO2 equivalents released per ton of product produced, has decreased by 23.9 percent to 0.7 tons. These reductions have come about through member adoption of efficient manufacturing production measures, increased use of less carbon-intensive fossil fuels and carbon-neutral biomass-based energy sources.

These reductions and the performance we report to show progress against our Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 goal underestimate the actual AF&PA member GHG reductions because of a conservative convention we use in our calculations. Due to state Renewable Portfolio Standards, environmental regulations and market forces, the GHG intensity of purchased electricity has decreased 15 percent between 2005 and 2012. To make our measurements more comparable over time, however, we have held constant at 2005 levels national GHG emission factors associated with electricity and steam purchased by our mills and not reflected that decrease. If we adjust our reduction calculations to reflect the changes in the grid and to reflect the locations of our members’ mills, they would have achieved a 20.4 percent reduction from 2005 to 2014.

For information on our GHG reduction goal and policies about greenhouse gases.

Combined Heat and Power Production

Paper and wood products manufacturing plants 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 50 to 80 percent, far beyond non-CHP electrical stations such as utilities which are only about 33 percent efficient. In 2014, 97.6 percent of electricity generated in the U.S. forest products industry was produced using CHP. The forest products industry is the second largest industrial sector producer of CHP electricity. Only the chemical industry produces more.

Self-Generated Electricity

AF&PA member pulp and paper mills self-generate the majority of electricity needed to run their facilities. In 2014, 56 percent of electricity needed to power member processes was self-generated. Forty-three percent of member mills generated more than half of their needed electricity. Eighteen percent of member mills also sold excess power to the grid. Much of this sold power was also renewable.


As a condition of AF&PA membership, AF&PA members agree to abide by a set of sustainable procurement principles for the wood fiber they purchase, thereby creating an incentive for forest landowners to practice sustainable forest management. AF&PA members owning forestland also agree to conform to credible forest management program standards. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) program, the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFCTM) all qualify for this requirement.

Members work diligently to guard against procuring fiber from illegally-logged sources. In pursuit of these objectives, companies maintain documentation regarding fiber sources, require suppliers to sign agreements, and use third-party certification of chain-of-custody systems that require risk assessments on imported forest products and other forest management practices. AF&PA advocates for funding of Lacey Act implementation and Forest Service International programs to prevent illegal logging and the importation of illegally harvested forest products. For information on our sustainable forest management goal and forestry policy, click here and here.

AF&PA members have been leaders in implementation of forest practices certification programs. 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the development of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®). Since the program began in 1995, more than 160,000 harvesters have been trained regarding water quality, biodiversity and other sustainable forest practice requirements. Nearly 10,000 harvesters were trained in 2015 alone. In 2014, almost all of the fiber delivered to SFI program participant mills was done by trained harvesting professionals. One hundred percent of harvest areas managed under SFI is reforested.


Water is essential for production of paper and wood products, and AF&PA members have taken important steps to improve and preserve water resources.  Between 2000 and 2010, AF&PA member pulp and paper mills reduced the amount of water needed to produce one ton of product by 15.2 percent.  In 2011, members established a goal of further reducing water needed for paper production by 12 percent by 2020, based on a 2005 baseline.  Reducing water use can lead to reduced energy demand and decreased GHG emissions.  For information on our water reduction goal and water policy, click here.

Most of the water used for production of paper and wood products (88 percent from pulp and paper mills) is returned to the environment after treatment in a wastewater system, meaning that only 12 percent is “consumed” (water that evaporates during the manufacturing process or that is in products is considered “consumed”).   The water that is returned to the environment is reused up to ten times in the mill before discharge.

Since 2000, pulp and paper mills have reduced total suspended solids (TSS) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) released in treated effluents by 18.5 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively.

Through the use of science and technology, AF&PA members strive for continuous improvements that “decouple” the demand for goods and services from the demand for natural resources and emissions. The graph below shows that, for decades, the industry’s production increased, while the amount of emissions and energy use has decreased. As we get closer to background levels of emissions, it becomes much more challenging and costly to achieve continued reductions.


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