The Three Pillars of Sustainability


Our industry depends on the efficient and wise use of natural resources to make socially beneficial products. AF&PA members adhere to important environmental, health, safety and sustainable forestry and procurement principles. This ensures that our industry fulfills its responsibility to future generations.

Tons of paper recovered for recycling in the U.S. in 2017

U.S. member pulp and paper mills' energy needs provided by biomass and renewable fuels, on average, in 2016

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

The Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 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 sources and water used in their manufacturing processes to recovering paper and paper-based packaging to make new products.

For decades, the industry’s production increased, while the amount of emissions and energy use declined due to infrastructure updates and innovation. As we get closer to background levels of emissions (i.e. emission levels not due to human activities), it becomes much more challenging and costly to achieve continued reductions.

All member efforts to increase the sustainability of their manufacturing processes have merit and advancement in one area often directly correlates to improvements in other areas as well. For example, achieving water use reductions can allow a facility to reduce their energy demand and decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Paper Recycling

Paper recovery for recycling allows paper and paper-based packaging to go to their highest end-use: the manufacture of new products.

In 2017, the industry’s recovery rate for paper consumed in the U.S. was 65.8 percent.

The recovery 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.

To achieve our goal, AF&PA focuses on recovery access and education with policy makers and the public. We collaborate with The Recycling Partnership to build recycling infrastructure in communities across the U.S.; deliver STEM-based curriculum materials to 5th grade classrooms through our youth education initiative with The Responsible Package; and, provide resources for stakeholders and the public to improve the quantity and quality of paper recovery for recycling on our dedicated website

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 production was 11.6 percent lower in 2016 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.

To reduce the need to purchase energy, AF&PA member pulp and paper mills self-generate the majority of electricity needed to run their facilities. In 2016, 55 percent of electricity needed to power member processes was self-generated. Forty-six percent of member mills generated more than half of their needed electricity. Twenty-two percent of member mills also sold excess power – much of it renewable – to the grid.

In 2016, 98.5 percent of electricity generated in the U.S. forest products industry was produced using combined heat and power (CHP). The forest products industry is the second largest industrial sector producer of CHP electricity after the chemical industry. CHP produces both electricity and steam, with total system efficiencies typically in the range of 60 to 80 percent. In comparison, non-CHP electrical stations like utilities are only about 33 percent efficient.

Award Winner

2017 Innovation in Sustainability Award

WestRock Company’s Moving Products the Green Way Project

WestRock enhanced and deployed a software tool that allows its manufacturing facilities to calculate the optimum product cargo load pattern and weight per truck, railcar or intermodal container. The tool facilitates reduction of the amount of shipments needed to provide on-time delivery of products to their customers, while saving money, avoiding fossil fuel use, and reducing greenhouse gas and other air emissions associated with their transportation footprint.

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 forest biomass fuel for energy.

In 2016, member GHG emissions – measured in carbon dioxide equivalents per ton of production – were 19.9 percent lower than in 2005.

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 2016, carbon-neutral biomass and renewable fuels provided, on average, about 66.6 percent of member facility energy needs.

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 about 25 percent between 2005 and 2016. To make our measurements more comparable over time, however, we have held constant at 2005 levels national GHG emission factors associated with electricity 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 approximately a 27 percent reduction from 2005 to 2016, instead of a 19.9 percent reduction.

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 60 to 80 percent, far beyond non-CHP electrical stations such as utilities which are only about 33 percent efficient. In 2016, 98.5 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 2016, 55 percent of electricity needed to power member processes was self-generated. Forty-six percent of member mills generated more than half of their needed electricity. Twenty-two percent of member mills also sold excess power to the grid. Much of this sold power was also renewable.

Award Winner

2016 Innovation in Sustainability Award

Georgia-Pacific’s Protecting Endangered Forests and Special Areas Project

Georgia-Pacific used scientific methodology to map and rank woodlands within more than a dozen Southern states, identifying 6 million acres that met the criteria as endangered forests and special areas. The company will only buy fiber from these areas in unique situations where active forest management is needed to improve habitat for endangered, rare and/or vulnerable species.


Sustainable forestry practices keep forests plentiful and support the sustainability of our entire industry. Abiding by sustainable procurement principles for the wood fiber they purchase, our members create an incentive for forest owners to practice sustainable forest management.

The amount of wood fiber members procured from certified sourcing programs increased from 87 percent in 2005 to 99.1 percent in 2016.

Wood fiber that members sourced from third-party certified forestlands increased from 23 percent in 2005 to 29.1 percent in 2016.

AF&PA members that own forestland also conform to credible forest management program standards, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) program, the American Tree Farm SystemTM (ATFS) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFCTM).

Members continue their efforts to combat illegal logging by safeguarding against fiber procurement from illegally-logged sources. This includes documenting fiber sources, requiring suppliers to sign agreements, and using third-party certification of chain-of-custody systems.

In addition, AF&PA advocates for funding of Lacey Act implementation and United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service International Programs to prevent illegal logging and the importation of illegally harvested forest products.


Water is an essential part of the pulp and papermaking process. Members therefore continue to seek ways to reduce, reuse and recycle the water they use in their manufacturing processes.

In 2016, AF&PA member pulp and paper mill water use decreased by 6.6 percent from the 2005 baseline year.

Improved technology and innovation enable water to be reused and recycled at least ten
times throughout the pulp and paper mill process before discharge.

Eighty-eight percent of the water used for production of paper and wood products 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”).

Air Emissions Reductions

Since 2000, member mills have achieved made major reductions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions; two priority air pollutants for EPA and states. The dramatic three quarters reduction of SO2 results from mills using less coal and fuel oil in their power boilers as well as improving energy efficiency. The significant one third reduction in NOx 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.