The American Forest & Paper Association announced today an ambitious set of sustainability goals for its member organizations to aim for by 2020.

The goals for the industry cover several areas, including improved recycling rates, reducing greenhouse gases, increasing the amount of fiber procured from certified forest lands, better use of energy and lowering the number of injuries in the industry.

Jim Hannan, the chairman of the board of the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) and chief executive officer of Georgia-Pacific, said the sustainability goals were the result of 18 months of gathering information from customers, environmental non-governmental organizations, policy makers and consumers to find out what was important to them.

“We did the research to understand what people thought mattered,” Hannan said. “And, we did a lot of work internally to understand where we thought we could head and what would create value over time. The culmination of that has been the development of these, in some cases new, and increased goals.”

Many of the new goals build on the sustainability improvements the industry had already been working on for several years, said Hannan.

Donna Harman, the AF&PA president and CEO, said that having the goals will help focus resources and attention among its members in addition to reassuring the public of the industry’s commitment to sustainability.

“The purpose of this initiative is both to reach our customers as well as to reach policy makers, the general public and consumers who use our products so that they can feel comfortable that the products they’re using are made in a sustainable way,” she said.

Paper recycling

Among the goals, the industry hopes to improve the rate of paper recover for recycling by pushing the rate to 70 percent or more. According to the AF&PA, 63.5 percent of paper in the United States was recovered in 2010.

Office buildings will be one of the biggest targets for improving paper collection rates, said Harman.

While many people see recycling efforts underway in office buildings across the country, she said, much of the paper does not make it to recycling facilities. Oftentimes, building cleaning crews will take the materials in the recycling boxes and dump them into the regular trash bins where they end up in a landfill somewhere.

“That’s the dirty little secret,” Harman said.  

But, through education and improved logistics, she added, the paper industry hopes to recover far more of that recyclable material from offices throughout the country.

Energy efficiency

The industry generates a lot of its own energy by using the waste products generated in the paper manufacturing process.

Since 1990, the industry's overall energy use per ton of production at its facilities has been reduced by 8.2 percent. Over that same time period, the use of fossil fuels per ton of production has decreased by 26 percent.

By 2020, the industry hopes to continue its progress by lowering the amount of purchased energy (the energy not generated through its own waste products) by 10 percent compared to 2005 levels.

Greenhouse gases

The reduced use of fossil fuels and improved energy efficiency should help decrease the number of greenhouse gases produced by the industry.

At pulp and paper mills, the combined direct and indirect emissions intensity rate for 2008 was 14.1 percent lower than in 2000 and 1.3 percent lower than in 2006.

By increasing the amount of energy coming from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass, the AF&PA wants its members to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

Certified forestry

The AF&PA already requires all members that own forestland to use a sustainable forest management program. In addition, member organizations that purchase wood from forest companies must comply with sustainable procurement principals.

The new goals call for increasing the amount of wood procured from certified forest lands or through certified wood sourcing programs in the U.S. by 2020.

As part of this goal, the AF&PA says it will work with governments, industry and other officials to promote policies aimed at reducing illegal logging on a global scale.

Focus on safety

As part of its sustainability goals, the AF&PA is including a commitment to providing safe and healthy work environments.

Between 2006 and 2009, pulp and paper mill worker accidents and illnesses decreased by 17 percent and cases involving lost work time decreased by 13 percent. At wood product facilities, total case incidence rates were lowered by 19 percent.

As may be expected, the industry sees any injuries as unacceptable and wants to see them eliminated. In order to measure progress toward that goal, the AF&PA has said that its goal is to improve the safety incidence rate by 25 percent by 2020 as compared to 2006 levels.

Water usage

The AF&PA did not set a specific goal pertaining to water but said it is committed to gathering data on water usage in the industry in order to assess whether a goal should be created.

At the moment, industry facilities return 88 percent of the water they use back to the environment.

Since 1995, the volume of water discharged has decreased by almost 21 percent from member company pulp and paper mills.

Depending on what the future data suggests, the AF&PA may set a goal related to water consumption. In the meantime, the industry will continue to publish information on the volume of water discharged.

Reporting progress

The AF&PA said it will hold its members accountable for achieving the goals by transparently reporting on progress through the organization’s biennial sustainability report.

By and large,  the AF&PA members are aware of and support the new goals, Harman said. Many of the goals include initiatives already in place in the industry.

For his part, Hannan said he thinks the goals will have significant meaning for everyone associated with the industry.

“From my perspective all of these things make sense because they create value,” Hannan said. “They create value for all of our constituents. So whether it’s the companies being sustainable and profitable over the long-term, whether it’s the communities in which we operate or whether it’s our customers and consumers and what their needs are, I have a great degree of confidence that all of these things add value.”

Editor's note: Georgia-Pacific is a Mother Nature Network sponsor.