Celebrating the History of Sustainability in Forest Products

Apr 19, 2018
AF&PA Guest Blog by Nina Butler
Chief Sustainability Officer, WestRock

For more than 100 years, our industry’s foresters have developed and promoted practices for responsible environmental management and harvesting of forestlands. There are 20 percent more trees in the U.S. today than there were on the first Earth Day in 1970, a testament to the success of these sustainability efforts.

The forest products industry is proud of its long history of sustainability and excited about its future as an important player in the circular economy. The primary raw material used in paper products is wood, which is a renewable resource. Wood pulp can be made into a variety of paper-based products such as corrugated boxes, beverage carriers and to-go containers. These items, which we use in in our everyday lives, can be recycled, collected, shipped to paper mills and turned into new products. Wood fiber can be reused in this cycle five to seven times, and the paper products made with this fiber are recovered for recycling in the U.S. at a rate of more than 60 percent. 

Beyond making paper, many people don’t know how many uses there are for byproducts of papermaking.  The Kraft pulping process generates a byproduct that’s a source of renewable fuel. This fuel then generates steam and electricity that powers paper mills. The same Kraft pulping process also generates a byproduct that is sold to other companies and is then turned into ingredients used in common consumer products such as cleaners, furniture wax and medicines. Organic residuals generated by paper mills are also rich in nutrients, making them cost-effective agricultural soil additives and fertilizers for crops, as well as excellent composting materials. 

As Earth Day 2018 approaches, our industry remains passionate about providing people with the products they need, while protecting and enhancing the value of the resources that make these products possible. At WestRock, we are focused on People, Planet, and Performance. Our commitments to all three pillars of sustainability are helping us to be good stewards of our natural resources and forge a path for those who will work in our industry over the next 100 years.

Note: Nina Butler is chief sustainability officer for WestRock. Previously, she was senior vice president and senior environmental counsel for RockTenn. Nina joined RockTenn in 2011 with the acquisition of Smurfit-Stone, where she served as senior environmental counsel.