Improved Energy Efficiency: Benefitting the Industry and Beyond

Oct 08, 2014

  By Jerry Schwartz
  Senior Director, Energy & Environmental Policy

  Paper and wood products are essential components of modern life. 
  They encompass an incredibly wide range of products with nearly
  limitless everyday uses. People across the country and the world
  rely on our industry’s products to communicate and inform, provide
  shelter and hygiene, package and deliver necessities, and capture life’s memorable moments. New and innovative forest products are being developed while constant improvements are made to existing products.

American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) members – representing the U.S. pulp, paper, packaging and wood products manufacturing industry – are able to ensure that these useful products and the resources required to make them will be as plentiful in the future as they are today through continued sustainable business practices. We are committed to sustainability along the entire value chain, from the renewable resources our members acquire to make their products to the efficiency of our manufacturing processes to leading efforts to promote recovery of our industry’s products for recycling.

AF&PA’s recently released 2014 Sustainability Report details our progress on the Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 sustainability goals; one of the most extensive collections of quantifiable sustainability goals for a major U.S. manufacturing industry. The goals focus on increasing paper recovery for recycling, improving energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting sustainable forestry, improving worker safety, and reducing water use.

Focusing on Energy

Energy constitutes the third largest expense category for the forest products industry; the cost of materials such as fiber ranks first, and employee compensation comes in second. But energy generation and use at forest products mills is one of the industry’s lesser-known success stories.

By improving our industry’s energy efficiency, we are able to produce more with less, maximizing our output while carefully managing natural resources for future use. It also allows us to keep costs down and save resources, allowing us to invest more in our manufacturing operations and our communities.  

The benefits of improved energy efficiency reach beyond the industry alone; it also helps to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is part of worldwide effort to improve the environment.

Getting to our Goal
AF&PA members are nearing the Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 goal to improve their purchased energy efficiency use by at least 10 percent from 2005 to 2020. Purchased energy is defined as fuels used to produce electricity and steam on-site, as well as steam and electricity purchased directly. Improved energy efficiency has led to a reduction in purchased energy of 8.8 percent. Or, purchased energy use was reduced to 11.8 million BTUs per ton of production. Purchased energy use in the 2005 baseline year was 12.9 million BTU per ton of production and our goal is to reduce it to no more than  11.6 million BTUs per ton.

Our members are able to reduce their purchased energy use in several ways.  First, when producing solid wood products, pulp, paper, paper-based packaging, and other wood-based materials, residuals that do not end up in products can be used as an energy source for manufacturing or used to generate electricity that is sold to the grid as green power.  As a result, member mills self-generate most of their own energy needs: on average, about 66 percent of the energy used at AF&PA member pulp and paper mills is generated from these residuals, which are also known as carbon-neutral biomass. Carbon-neutral biomass comprises various renewable materials, including bark, sawdust, wood shavings, and other woody material as well as liquid biomass fuel. The U.S. Global Change Research Program’s (USGCRP) Third National Climate Assessment, released in May 2014, states that “[f]orest biomass energy could be one component of an overall bioenergy strategy to reduce emissions of carbon from fossil fuels, while also improving water quality, and maintaining lands for timber production as an alternative to other socioeconomic options.”

Second, in order to use all energy as efficiently as possible, many members have implemented comprehensive multi-year programs to identify cost-effective projects or process changes that can significantly improve efficiency.  This is important whether the company is small or large, as demonstrated by the impressive member company energy efficiency programs that have received AF&PA Sustainability Awards for their energy efficiency improvements. Finally, companies are seeking new manufacturing innovations that could yield even greater efficiency improvements.  

Another important component of the industry’s energy portfolio is the efficient combined heat and power (CHP) generation process to produce the electricity and steam needed to manufacture its products. In this process, which the industry has relied on for a long time, exhaust steam from electricity-generating turbines is used directly to dry wood and paper and to heat production processes or buildings before being condensed and recycled back to steam generation boilers.

The use of CHP results in efficiencies in the range of 50 to 80 percent at forest products plants, in comparison to non-CHP electrical stations, such as utilities, with typical efficiencies around 33 percent. In 2012, 96.4 percent of the electricity the industry generated was through CHP, which enabled many mills to efficiently generate significant portions of their electricity.

The forest products industry produced 30 percent of CHP electricity generated by manufacturing facilities in the U.S., making them the second largest producer of CHP electricity. Of all manufacturing sectors, only the chemical industry produced more.

A Global Reach
The carbon-neutral renewable energy generated and used by our members limits the need to purchase fossil fuels for energy generation, which, in turn, avoids fossil fuel-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition, using biomass residuals left over from the manufacturing process to produce energy diverts these residuals from landfills, which also curbs potential GHG emissions.

Members are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their facilities and came close to reaching the Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 goal to reduce their emissions by at least 15 percent, reaching a decrease of 14.5 percent from the 2005 baseline.

Reducing our members’ GHG emissions is part of a global environmental effort that is further supported by our goal to increase paper recovery for recycling, which keeps paper out of landfills, avoiding the GHGs that would be released when it decomposes. In addition, the sustainable management of forests supported by the industry plays a large part in the cycle to offset carbon emissions. In 2011, U.S. forests and wood products captured and stored roughly 16 percent of all carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuel consumption in the United States.

Leading the Way
By establishing the Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 sustainability goals, we raised the bar for ourselves; by achieving the goals, we are raising the bar for defining sustainable manufacturing. Our members are united in the objective to ensure the industry’s long-term success, through economic progress, an improved environment, , and stronger communities – while showing other industries that improvement is both possible and practical.

To learn more about the industry’s sustainability progress, visit