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Charging Toward Growth, Insights from Sonoco’s Palace Stepps

Years ago, an inspiring leader named Willis Potts told a then college senior he would be qualified to be in the paper and wood products industry, but first Potts needed to know how he would treat his people. That college senior was Palace Stepps, who is now the President and General Manager of Sonoco Recycling. And it’s still the people who give Stepps inspiration.
“I have been blessed to have worked for leaders who have sought to challenge me to do more,” said Stepps. “I have strived to follow the example of several leaders who value people and who see opportunity in change.”

Stepps is proud of the fact that the paper and wood products industry has been operating one of the most sustainable systems on the planet. Yet, he says, we have often shied away from tooting our own horn so we can get the job done of taking used paper-based items and turning them into new products.
Though he’s been in the industry for a while, Stepps only recently stepped into the recycling side. He’s called it a time of great change and transition. What’s the biggest difference he’s seen over his career? How much more global the industry has become and the impacts of technology. 
“We are learning how to do more with less when it comes to optimizing the packaging that we produce,” said Stepps and there’s only room for growth. “I see the industry using more recycled fiber in all of its products and those products being made on the most efficient assets available.”
Stepps is passionate about this industry and how he helps it charge toward being better in every aspect of its operations.
 “We are sustainably managing forest land in ways that provide great ecological benefits, we are using more recycled fiber than ever, our products are some of the most recycled products in the world, and we are leveraging technology to make lighter and stronger packaging from our products.”

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recycle resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative —Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper